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Do Labor Attorney Salaries Match Their Tough Career Schedules?

published April 09, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing

( 276 votes, average: 5 out of 5)

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The lifestyle concerns of labor law practitioners revolve around a variety of practice-related issues. Many labor law practitioners mention the necessity of always being available to meet client needs: the unexpected telephone call announcing a strike, walkout, work stoppage, or labor dispute can wreak havoc with a carefully planned schedule. The attorney must be prepared to pick up and go to the location where the dispute is taking place. Negotiation sessions attempting to resolve the problem can take many hours, sometimes days.
Do Labor Attorney Salaries Match Their Tough Career Schedules?

One disadvantage of the constant travel required of some labor practitioners is described as the lack of enough personal or family time. Some attorneys feel that their family life has suffered greatly from the demands of their work. One management-side practitioner feels it is difficult to plan any vacations, or even community or bar activities because of the need to be available to provide an instant response to emergency situations and to travel on little or no notice to out-of-town clients.

Stress and burnout are mentioned as results of an intense litigation or negotiation schedule. One Atlanta union-side practitioner believes the best way to combat stress is to stay conscious of the intensity of the practice, the pressures inherent in trying to meet the immediate needs of the client, and the often lengthy time requirements necessary for successful negotiation sessions. He feels it is very important to set a personally appropriate work pace; based on the knowledge of one's own limits.

Labor practitioners feel strongly that an alternative practice approach, such as working part-time in a very active labor firm, would be extremely difficult. Most clients like to work with one particular individual at a firm. When a walkout occurs at a company, both union and management clients, want the lawyer with whom they have developed a personal relationship.

Union-side attorneys frequently mentioned how difficult it is to maintain an emotional distance from clients. An attorney's involvement can easily become personal, especially when dealing with high-stress negotiation sessions on behalf of individuals who might lose jobs, benefits, or income as a direct result of the outcome of the negotiation. Yearly vacations are emphasized as necessary, in order to regain some balance and objectivity.

Management-side attorneys feel it is extremely important to be able to relate comfortably with business owners and managers. As one attorney states, clients develop a personal relationship with their labor lawyer over time, and they like to do business with lawyers who have the same "business outlook" as they do.

Generally, the attorneys who remain in labor law practice as a specialty tend to like the high level of activity, travel, and client involvement typical of the practice. While they feel it is important for firms to carefully monitor stress that could lead to early burnout.

Labor attorneys may be compensated for their services by one of a number of different payment structures. Both in-house management and union attorneys are paid on an individually negotiated salary. Their benefits depend upon the benefit package provided to all employees of the employing corporation or union. These might include health, life, and disability insurance, as well as pension contribution.

One corporate in-house labor attorney mentioned being a part of the executive stock option program. A union in-house attorney described being able to take advantage of low cost medical prescription services offered to union members. Each benefit package described is different and reflects the benefits offered to all employees.

Government labor attorneys are also salaried but their yearly rate is set in accordance with federal or state salary structures. Labor law attorneys practicing in private firms most frequently bill their clients on an hourly basis, per billable hour, for work performed. The rate per hour is usually established with the client at the initial interview. Most attorneys ask for a cash retainer, amounts differ depending upon the case involved, or advance payment of an agreed-upon percentage of the entire cost estimate. Moneys will be drawn from the retainer until it diminishes to a certain level, at which time the client will be billed. The idea is to maintain an agreed-upon amount in the account at all times.

Court time for a private practitioner is usually paid at a fixed rate per day, outside of the hourly fees for investigation and preparation of the case, except for contingency fee cases. An attorney from Dallas reports charging a fixed sum for an agreed-upon number of billable hours for any negotiation session. Any time over that agreed upon is negotiated and billed at an hourly rate.

Another common manner of charging clients is through contingency fees. This method is usually used in tort cases, e.g., discrimination suits, in which the attorney agrees to accept a percentage of the court award or out of court settlement as the fee.

All of these fee arrangements provide the resources necessary to pay the operating expenses and overhead costs incurred by a private law firm. Attorneys at the firm receive compensation with fringe benefits according to their status: associates receive a fixed salary, often with a bonus, while partners receive a salary with a split of the profits at the end of the year. Each partnership decides how the split will be divided-evenly among all partners according to billable hours worked according to new business generated or some combination of these and other factors.

Generally, union-side attorneys earn less than management-side practitioners, because they work for nonprofit entities that lack the resources to pay high legal fees. A union's funds, for example, are derived from dues and fees collected from employees, which means their resources are limited by the number of employees they represent.

Salaries also differ according to the geographic location of the practice. When private sector attorneys were asked to estimate average salaries for attorneys practicing labor law for five and then ten years out of law school, the range of answers was quite diverse and was distinguish able by region. Most labor attorneys in the ten-year group, and a smaller number in the five-year group, are partners, so their salaries reflect this.

While the sample size from which the above was drawn is small, the ranges of salaries do reflect the fact that union-side attorneys tend to earn a lower salary than management-side attorneys and that there is some difference in salary as a function of geographic location.