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How To Be a Successful Labor Attorney

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An even temper, a good sense of humor, an ability to relate to a variety of people, flexibility, creativity, aggressiveness, persuasiveness, and people-orientation were some of the responses given when labor attorneys were asked to describe a successful labor lawyer. It is clear that strong interpersonal skills are of paramount importance to the successful labor attorney. Most practitioners spend a large percentage of their time dealing directly with clients.

One Houston attorney's experience as a new lawyer seems representative of most labor attorneys' entry into the field. She stated that in her office, she was expected to have substantial direct client contact early on—at first, answering telephone questions, observing collective bargaining representative elections, and as litigation support in most court cases. Within six months she was working with clients on contract issues and was handling arbitration hearings herself. Her experience was echoed by a Kansas City practitioner who indicated that as a new attorney he was expected to become involved with litigation immediately, under direct supervision, and within two years he was expected to become entirely self-sufficient.

Most labor practitioners, especially those involved in contested collective bargaining negotiations, emphasized the need for special skills and well-developed instincts. Law school courses and supervised field experiences (i.e., related clinical programs or part-time employment) give a student the opportunity to learn procedures and strategies, but this is only one aspect of labor law practice. A labor lawyer must also have a special sensitivity and a well developed knowledge of negotiation techniques, which can only be learned in the field by working with an experienced labor attorney. With years of hard work, dedication to clients' causes, and the ability to learn new approaches to difficult problems, a person can become successful in a business described by one attorney as "fun if you enjoy conflict." It is a specialty that, regardless of the side you're on, will always involve high emotions and clients who really care if they lose.


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