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Labor Law as an Evolving Practice Area

published December 27, 2012

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
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( 5 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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Changes in the tenor and scope of the work force, developing economic conditions, and differences in the enforcement and interpretation of labor-related government regulations all have a great impact on the growth of labor law as an area of specialization.

Economic conditions have by far one of the strongest effects on labor practice. As an Atlanta attorney states, a weak economy tends to cause a corresponding decrease in union organizing activity. Additionally, layoffs and unemployment seriously undermine unions' ability to cover legal fees, as their resources are based upon union dues. Thus, union-side labor practitioners experience a decrease in size of case load and limitations in negotiating ability.

For example, a union-side attorney describes a contract negotiation in a state which, by referendum, instituted a cap on taxes. Upon entering the bargaining session, he was handed a copy of the city budget, annotated to show both the increase allowed by the "cap" and fixed costs (rent, heat). He was then told he could divide up what was left over (a minimal amount) in any manner he and the union so desired. He experienced frustration and the union employees were angry at their inability to bargain effectively for even cost-of-living increases.

Conversely, management-side labor practitioners typically experience an increase in size of case load as a result of an economic downturn. Organized workers frequently file grievances over termination, reductions in benefits, changes in work load and responsibilities. Thus, management-side lawyers are retained by management to handle such litigation.

Labor attorneys in nonunion organizations will often find that their litigation practice expands as employees who have been terminated, passed over for promotion, or had job responsibilities adjusted to reflect a reduced profit margin file employment-related discrimination charges and disputed unemployment benefits claims. Attorneys representing individual workers and management interests in nonunion organizations experience similar increases in their litigation practices.

Changes in the tenor and scope of the labor work force are also a factor in the growth of labor practice. Unions are strongly reflected in the industrial blue collar and public service work force, but they are not growing as quickly in the expanding employment area of high technology manufacturing. High technology employs a higher percentage of educated professional work force members who consider themselves part of white collar America and who remain almost untouched by union organizing. Consequently, union-side practitioners lose business.

Additionally, individual members of the work force have become, in recent years, increasingly knowledgeable about their rights as workers. One Boston management-side attorney's experience reflects this trend. Ten years ago, his practice revolved almost totally around collective bargaining issues involving unions—contract negotiations, grievance proceedings, and strike-related negotiations. Five years ago, his practice began to shift to more litigation-oriented concerns—specifically, discrimination cases involving sex- and race-related discrimination (more recently expanding to include age-related discrimination). Last year, his practice began to shift once again—to defending non-unionized
employers who are being sued by individual employees for wrongful discharge.

Another factor affecting labor practice is the effect of the federal government's regulation and enforcement authority. As with all other aspects of labor practice, union and management find themselves on different interpretive sides of this issue. One labor practitioner stated, "Discussions of the NLRB and the courts, indeed even the makeup of the presidentially appointed Board membership, either encourages or discourages union activities and the legal work related to such activity."

Regardless of how practitioners picture the future growth of unions' activity, the economy, the nature of the future work force, or the regulatory impact of governmental intervention, they convey a strong sense that work is consistently expanding and available for a flexible, trend-conscious labor law practitioner.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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published December 27, 2012

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 5 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.