Assistant Chief Counsel, California Department of Personnel Administration in Sacramento
Area of Practice: Employment Law
Year Graduated: 1983
Paul Starkey has a broad range of professional experience unparalleled by many attorneys, having held jobs in the retail and newspaper industries before and during law school, as well as working in private practice, legal aid, county government, state government, and academia in the years since he received his J.D. As an Assistant Chief Counsel at the California Department of Personnel Administration (DPA), Mr. Starkey uses his experience to serve the state and its employees in the area of labor law. "Labor law is a chance to help people resolve important disputes that have real meaning for their lives. We're talking about how people are paid, how they're allowed to work. And work is an important part of everyone's life," Mr. Starkey notes. "We're part of this dispute resolution process where we can work with the unions and try to come up with solutions that will be beneficial to both interests ... It's very rewarding."
After Mr. Starkey graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor degree in English, he took a few years off — which he spent selling men's clothes, writing for local newspapers, and volunteering — before he applied for admission, and was accepted, to University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. "I'd always wanted to go to law school to be a leader in the community and to help people," he says. At McGeorge, Mr. Starkey took courses on labor law, employment law, and arbitration, but he didn't know at the time that he would one day make labor law the focus of his career. He remembers well the course on Constitutional Law that he had with now-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and notes, "I feel honored to have taken a class from him." Mr. Starkey spent his time outside of the classroom as co-editor of the Dialogue, an ABA award-winning newspaper that existed at the time for the McGeorge community, and as an intern at the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Fair Employment and Housing Commission.
Upon passing the California Bar Exam, Mr. Starkey took a position representing management clients in labor and employment law matters at a Sacramento law firm. After less than a year, he left private practice to accept a position with Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC). At LSNC, Mr. Starkey helped low-income and elderly individuals secure and maintain welfare benefits, medical care, and housing. Eventually, Mr. Starkey left the world of legal aid to accept a position as Deputy County Counsel for Sutter County. As Deputy County Counsel, he represented the Sutter County welfare department in juvenile dependency cases. From there, he returned to private practice in labor and employment law for a few years.
In 1991, Mr. Starkey began his enduring career with the State of California. He served several years as a Labor Relations Counsel at the DPA, then served as a Senior Board Counsel for the California Agricultural Relations Board (ALRB). After briefly working as an Industrial Relations Counsel at the Department of Industrial Relations, Mr. Starkey achieved a career executive appointment as Chief Counsel for the California Commission on State Mandates, where he gained additional management and policy experience. Mr. Starkey then returned to the DPA as a senior Labor Relations Counsel, working on special projects, before settling into his current post as Assistant Chief Counsel.
"The Department of Personnel Administration represents the governor in employment relations with state employees," Mr. Starkey explains. "Under the Dills Act, the governor is the state employer for purposes of labor relations ... The DPA handles issues like classification and compensation, layoffs and non-merit appeals, and other matters involving wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment." The DPA negotiates and administers contracts with state employees' unions and represents the state in various proceedings. "DPA attorneys are engaged in all phases of legal work. We appear in federal and state courts, including appellate courts. We draft briefs. We draft and assist with negotiating settlement agreements. We are engaged in all types of litigation, including hearings before arbitrators and administrative bodies and litigation in the courts. We draft legal opinions in our area of expertise. We provide advice and counsel to various departments and agencies," Mr. Starkey notes.
The administrative agencies before which DPA attorneys appear include the Public Employment Relations Board, the State Personnel Board (which handles issues of employee discipline), the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, the Labor Commissioner, and, in limited instances, the California Workers' Compensation Board; however, most cases in which the DPA is involved settle, or are otherwise resolved, without going to court. "The primary alternative dispute resolution mechanism is grievance and arbitration, and often we will use negotiations or mediation techniques to achieve dispute resolution," Mr. Starkey says. "I think almost always cases can settle. It's the rare and important case that typically goes to hearing and trial. This is particularly true in labor relations because the labor relations statutes are set up for having dispute resolution by the parties."
Much of Mr. Starkey's work focuses on labor relations matters involving the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, although he also works in many other areas of labor and employment law. As Assistant Chief Counsel, he supervises several other DPA attorneys, assists the Chief Counsel and Deputy Chief Counsel with the daily operation of the DPA Legal Division, directs litigation and case assignments, helps develop and put into place policies and procedures for the Legal Division, advises DPA leadership, and provides legal advice and counsel.
Outside of work, Mr. Starkey teaches a labor-management relations course for the labor-management relations certificate program at UC Davis Extension. Teaching the course motivates Mr. Starkey to stay up-to-date on developments in labor law. This motivation is helpful, since one of the challenges associated with Mr. Starkey's field is "the need to be constantly open to adapting and learning because the area of law [labor law] is on the one hand very stable, with a relatively long history, but things are changing now very dramatically. You cannot sit back and say, 'I know this already.' It's continual learning." Also a challenge is the fact that there are few treatises on public sector labor and employment law, so attorneys who work in this area have to be creative in the way that they handle their cases. However, for Mr. Starkey, this aspect of his job is exciting rather than frustrating. In addition to his enjoyment of the intellectual challenges posed by his work, Mr. Starkey gains satisfaction from serving his state. "I've always been looking for an opportunity for public service. Working for the state has been this opportunity to apply my legal skills and abilities in an area that I think is for the public good," he explains.
Mr. Starkey remarks that strong oral communication and writing skills are very important for labor law attorneys, as are interpersonal skills, an openness to different points of view, and a "desire to work for resolutions." He notes, "To be in the area of labor and employment relations, because you're doing all types of legal work, from drafting opinions and briefs, to oral advocacy, to talking to clients, you really need to have a full range of skills."
Mr. Starkey recommends that students who are interested in labor and employment law take classes in those areas and also in arbitration and mediation. He notes that additionally it is important to gain experience through a job or internship, both for the sake of practical knowledge and for the sake of finding out whether the student enjoys practicing in the field of labor and employment law. "If you can't gain experience through your work," he says, "I really encourage attorneys, especially newer attorneys, to volunteer." For students who can't find a placement at a private firm that practices labor or employment law, an internship with a trade association or the Legislature can provide "a taste of labor law." Even if students discover that they don't enjoy labor and employment law as much as they imagined they would, Mr. Starkey notes that these areas of law provide a good background for practice in many other legal fields. This is especially true for the myriad of practice areas that involve representing businesses, since business clients often appreciate attorneys who have a knowledge of labor and employment issues.
NOTE: As of July 1, 2012, DPA merges with the State Personnel Board to form a new department, the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR).