Employment & Labor Pathway
Employment law encompasses the legal rights and responsibilities that arise out of the employer-employee relationship. It evolved from the more narrow practice of labor law, which traditionally dealt only with conflicts involving labor unions. Today, employers are held accountable to a complex system of federal and state laws regarding everything from hiring and firing to maternity leave and drug testing. Employment law attorneys play an important role by helping employers comply with these laws and by helping employees vindicate their workplace rights.
Employment law attorneys handle cases that involve allegations of employment discrimination, civil rights violations, breach of employment contracts and covenants not to compete, office libel, wrongful discharge, unfair labor practices, violations of employee privacy, union grievances, workers' compensation claims, and workplace harassment, among other issues that arise on the job. Some attorneys focus their practice on Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) matters due to the statute's complexity. Other employment law attorneys concentrate their practice on the transactional aspects of workplace relationships, counseling employers on ways to comply with employment laws and draft policies and contracts that are meant to prevent the need for litigation. "It can be a very, very diverse practice, which is what I enjoy," says Eric Barnum '94, who represents employers as a partner at Schiff Hardin in Atlanta, "It's exciting."
Employment law is a client-centered practice area. Attorneys in this field must dedicate a significant amount of time to counseling their clients and keeping them informed of developments in their cases. On any given day, they might also draft legal documents (such as letters, briefs, memoranda, and position papers), conduct discovery, respond to discovery requests, prepare for trial, appear in court or in front of an administrative agency, or participate in negotiations. Examples of administrative agencies before which employment law attorneys commonly appear are the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and state bureaus of employment services and workers' compensation. Arbitration and mediation are regularly used to resolve employment-related disputes, so employment law attorneys must also be comfortable participating in these forms of dispute resolution.
Breadth and Depth
- Administrative Law
- Civil Rights Litigation
- Entertainment Law
- Gender and the Law
- Immigration and Naturalization Law
- Legislation/Statutory Interpretation
- Sexual Orientation and the Law
- Sports Law
- Administrative Law Field Placement
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- California Employment Law Practicum
- Civil Pretrial Litigation
- Client Interviewing and Counseling
- Legal Spanish for U.S. Lawyers
- Legislative Process Field Placement
- Legislative Process, Strategy and Ethics
- Moot Court Competition Teams
- Negotiations and Settlements Seminar
- Trial Advocacy
Externships & Clinics
McGeorge's Field Placement Program allows you to earn law school credit while performing supervised legal work as an extern at nearly 100 approved government agencies, courts or non-profit entities. Visit the Field Placement office on TWEN to learn about our Externship Programs or to schedule an appointment.
Clinics offer faculty-supervised, law office settings in a variety of legal practice areas. Go to the McGeorge Legal Clinics' web pages for the current list of clinics.
Successful employment law attorneys are good listeners who can get along with a wide variety of people and inspire confidence in their clients. They must also possess strong advocacy skills and be able to write well. Law students can hone these abilities by taking courses in labor and employment law, trial advocacy, administrative law, client counseling, and alternative dispute resolution; participating in one of McGeorge’s on-campus clinics; and working for a law firm or organization that handles employment law matters.
Skills often found in employment law attorneys:
- Ability to get along with a wide variety of people
- Interpersonal skills
- Oral advocacy
- Writing skills
Employers in this field place a premium on practical experience, and in many cases, experience with, and a demonstrated enthusiasm for, employment law can overcome an applicant's less-than-stellar academic credentials.
- McGeorge Employment and Labor Law Society
- McGeorge Law Review
- Global Business and Development Law Journal (The Globe)
- Moot Court
- Mock Trial Competition Team
- Judicial externship or clerkship
- Gain practical experience by interning or volunteering for a lawyer or firm that practices employment law. In this field, experience and interest in the subject matter are often just as, if not more, important as your academic credentials. Therefore, it is imperative that you show your interest in employment law however you can as soon in your law school career as possible.
- Keep up with developments in the field of labor and employment law. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are good places to begin, since both routinely run articles about advancements in this rapidly-changing field. Further resources are listed below.
Practice Settings & Clients
The majority of employment law attorneys work for law firms. Large and mid-size firms often have departments devoted to labor and employment law. Their clients are mostly employers. Solo practitioners and attorneys at boutique firms that specialize in employment law sometimes represent employers but more often represent employees. Many unions, businesses, government agencies (including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Department of Labor, and state civil rights commissions), and non-profit organizations (including colleges, universities and hospitals) also employ attorneys who handle employment law matters.
Employment law attorneys usually represent exclusively employers, employees, or unions, although an employment law attorney may move from an employer-oriented practice to an employee-oriented practice over the span of his or her career (and vice versa).
Employment law can be an especially demanding practice due to clients' frequently high levels of stress, but employment law attorneys appreciate that their work involves interesting cases and opportunities to make a real difference for their clients. "I have the opportunity to advise my clients every day on how to create a workplace that is fair, that is passionate, and that provides ample opportunities," Mr. Barnum points out. "Most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, and so many people define themselves by what they do. People are invested in their careers, so it's always an interesting story."
- American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment
- State Bar of California Section of Labor and Employment Law
- United States Department of Labor eLaws
- This website was designed to help employers and employees gain an understanding of employment and labor laws. It presents these laws in an easy-to-read, practical format that may be helpful to students who want to acquaint themselves with this area of practice.
- United States Equal Opportunity Employment Commission
- National Employment Lawyers Association
- National Employment Law Institute
- National Employment Law Project
- National Lawyers Guild Labor and Employment Committee
- American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
- AFL-CIO is a federation of labor unions. It offers a number of resources for those interested in working with unions. Becoming involved with the AFL-CIO is also a good way to demonstrate an interest in labor law to potential employers.
- Visit the AFL-CIO website for information on their summer law student internship program (go to "About Us" and then select "Law Student Union Summer"). The internship includes a weekly stipend.
- Employment Law Information Network
- Industrial and Labor Relations Review
Eric L. Barnum
Partner, Schiff Hardin LLP in Atlanta
Eric Barnum started and finished law school with grand ambitions. "I went to law school because I wanted to be a social engineer," Mr. Barnum explains. "In my mind, there were three ways that I could really have an impact on society ...more >
Special Board Counsel, California Agricultural Labor Relations Board
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 ...more >
Sue Ann Van Dermyden
Senior Partner, Van Dermyden Maddux Law in Sacramento
As a high school student in North Dakota, Sue Ann Van Dermyden dreamed of life in California; as an undergraduate political science major at California State University, Chico, she dreamed of becoming a lawyer ...more >
Counsel, Boutin Jones, Inc. in Sacramento
Bruce Timm is one of those lawyers whose interest in the law came to him relatively early in life, although he wasn't drawn into his current area of practice, employment law, until after law school.more >