Employment laws, also known as labor laws, govern the relationship between employees and employers. These laws set forth employer obligations and ensure a person’s rights are protected in the workplace. Unfortunately, in some situations, employers fail to comply with the laws and this can have a negative impact on an employee’s life. Employment lawyers provide legal assistance to employers and employees when disputes occur in the workplace. Keep reading to learn more about employment lawyers.
What Does an Employment Lawyer Do?
Enacted on both the state and federal level, labor laws regulate nearly all aspects of employment. Not only are they intended to keep workers safe, prevent unfair treatment, and establish a minimum level of economic support, but also to protect employers’ interests. This broad area of the law covers many subjects including:
- Employee benefits
- Sexual harassment
- Wrongful termination
- Workers’ compensation
- Workplace safety
Some employment law issues arise more often than others, and one of the most common is the illegal termination of employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from firing an employee because of their race, gender, disability, age, ethnicity, or religion. This law also applies to making promotion and hiring decisions.
Another well-known employment issue is violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Enacted during the Great Depression, the FLSA dictates how much an employee must be paid by establishing a federal minimum wage. There are also local and state minimum wages, and employers must pay the highest out of the three. The FLSA also covers overtime, equal pay, record keeping, and child labor laws.
When an employer wrongfully terminates an employee, fails to comply with FLSA, or violates another employment law, they can face hefty fines and/or civil liability. Individuals involved in employment disputes may be able to recover their job, lost wages, and other compensatory damages.
Employment attorneys are familiar with labor laws, and can advise both employees and employers on the legal standards set by the different levels of government. They can also review employment contracts, act as a mediator between the employee and employer, or represent one of the parties in a civil lawsuit.
An employment lawyer has an initial meeting with potential clients to determine whether they have a basis for a case. If the client and attorney agree to work together, they may sign an agreement, which outlines the attorney/client relationship. Once hired, the attorney deals with all legal aspects of the employment issue.
Because labor laws cover so many different subjects, employment lawyers tend to specialize in one or two aspects in their field of practice. For example, if you intend on appealing a workers’ compensation decision, hire an attorney that has experience in administrative procedures and is familiar with workers’ compensation laws.
Professional Requirements to Become an Employment Lawyer
Any employment lawyer begins their career by earning a bachelor’s degree, which is a prerequisite for law school. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, the student must take and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This timed test consists of 5 multiple choice sections to assess the individual’s reading comprehension, logical, and verbal reasoning proficiency. LSAT scores are one of the major factors used by law school when selecting students to admit.
Law school is a 3-year program and students spend that first year taking basic classes such as property law, civil procedure, and contracts. The following 2 years, students can expect to spend more time focuses on a specific area of the law. While in law school, students can opt to complete internships, clerkships, and other programs to gain experience.
After receiving a Juris Doctorate degree (J.D.) in law school, aspiring employment lawyers must become a member of their state bar association before they can practice law. The rules and procedures for becoming a member vary by state, but most require attorneys to pass the Multistate Bar Examination, a 6-hour test made up of 200 multiple-choice questions covering different areas of the law. Some states also require applicants to take a multistate ethics exam.
Additional Education and Experience
A Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree is available for individuals wanting to delve deeper into the world of employment and labor laws. This internationally recognized postgraduate law program provides lawyers with global credibility and can also act as admission into some law firms.
Additional Licensing Requirements
Almost every state requires continuing legal education for practicing employment lawyers, either each year, or every 3 years. Available through the bar association and law schools, the courses keep attorneys up-to-date with new laws, case precedent, and issues in their perspective practice area. The number of course hours required varies by state. Professional legal associations also hold seminars and other events that may count towards credit hours.
Where Can You Work as an Employment Lawyer
Employment lawyers have several options when it comes to employment. They can work as solo practitioners, in private practices, or in law firms, but other options include working for non-profit advocacy groups, government agencies, and labor organizations.
There are several advancement opportunities for experienced employment lawyers. For instance, after years of experience, a lawyer can open an independent law firm, become an ownership partner of a firm, or obtain a judgeship.
Generally, lawyers work full-time in an office setting. However, they will also attend court hearings, travel to meet clients, or visit different places while preparing for a case.
How do Employment Lawyers Get Paid
Employment lawyer fees vary greatly depending on the complexity of the case, the strength of the legal claim, and the geographical location. Commonly, employee workplace cases are handled on a contingency fee basis. This means that the attorney agrees to work for a fixed amount or percentage of the amount recovered in the lawsuit.
There is no set percentage for contingency fees, but in most cases, employment lawyers charge around 30% to 40% of recovered damages. If you win the lawsuit, the lawyer is paid directly out of the money awarded to you. If you lose — the lawyer does not receive any compensation. If a lawyer works for a contingent fee and agrees to take your case, it usually indicates that he or she believes you have a strong claim.
Hourly fees can be advantageous if the legal issue is relatively simple, such as reviewing a contract. Because lawsuits are complicated and, in some instances, take years to resolve, a client can end up paying tens of thousands of dollars with no guarantee that the court will rule in their favor.
If a case is routine, an employment lawyer may charge a flat-rate fee. This fee is agreed upon when the attorney is hired and it remains the same, regardless of how long it takes to resolve the case. The amount of the fee is generally based on how complex the lawyer expects the case to be.
It is not uncommon for employment lawyers to require a retainer fee, whether they charge hourly or a flat-rate. A retainer fee is paid to the attorney up front, and placed in a special to cover fees and costs as he or she works on your case. The lawyer keeps a detailed log of how the money is spent and is required to provide clients with a copy of this accounting regularly.
It is important to be aware that many times, flat-rate and hourly fees do not cover extra out-of-pocket expenses such as filing fees, travel, and courier services. Ask the attorney what the fee does and does not include before you sign any agreement.
Employment Lawyer Salary
The average annual pay for attorneys in 2018 is $119, 250 ($57.33/hr) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. This accounts for all lawyers however, as the BLS does not list the average salary for each area of practice.
Typically, employment lawyers in large firms tend to fall on the high-end of the salary spectrum. With enough experience, seniority, and expertise, an attorney can make $200,000 or more annually. Location also plays a part in how much a lawyer earns.
Employment Outlook for Employment Lawyer
According to the BLS, the demand for employment lawyers is expected to continue since individuals and businesses require legal services. The employment rate is projected to grow at an 8% rate and this is average for all U.S. occupations.
Hiring an Employment Lawyer
If you are dealing with a workplace dispute involving your employer, and the issue is not resolved with open communication, you should consider hiring an employment lawyer. This is especially true if you were fired due to discriminatory reasons, or are owed a large amount of unpaid wages.
Labor laws can be a very complex legal issue, and an attorney can help you understand how these laws apply to your situation. Your employment lawyer will also ensure your rights are protected throughout the legal process.
After narrowing down your selection of employment lawyers, set up consultations with a few of your top picks. Consultations are generally free of charge and these initial meetings give you the chance to explain the situation and express your expectations of the case. This is also a great time to inquire about the attorney’s experience and legal fees. You should choose an employment lawyer that you are completely comfortable discussing all aspects of your case with.
How to Find the Right Employment Lawyer
Once you decide to hire an attorney, you must begin searching for the right one. Word of mouth is your best resource for finding the right employment lawyer. Ask family and friends if they know of a labor attorney they would recommend. If you know of a lawyer that practices in another area of the law, you can ask them to provide a recommendation for an employment lawyer.
If you are unable to get a person or professional recommendation, or just want to learn more about an employment lawyers, there are several reputable databases available. These databases list information about each attorney such as location, experience, expertise, and disciplinary records. Another option is using your state’s bar association website to find a list of local employment lawyers. Local legal clinics and private referral services can also pair you with a lawyer that can help with your case.
Before setting up any consultations with labor lawyers, do your research. Visit the attorney’s website or search for their online profile to learn more about their background and experience. You can also visit the state bar association website to ensure the employment lawyer is in good standing.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) in law is optional|
|License/Certification||Licensure in state of practice|
|Key Skills||Time management, oral discussion, analytical, research, observant, effective communication|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||792,500|
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$119,250*|
|On the Job Training||Moderate term of on-the-job training|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the employment field are generally employed by large law firms|
(*Source: the BLS)