Workplace Law


February 25, 2003


How to find the right employment law attorney

How do you find a good employment lawyer? When you find one, how should you structure your relationship?

From what I can tell, there are at least 30,000 attorneys that claim to practice employment law in this country. Statistically speaking, what holds true for any profession holds true for employment lawyers: Half of these employment lawyers are above average and half of them are below average. How do you distinguish one from the other? How do you find out which lawyers or firms are in the top 5 percent? I suggest you ask at least some of the following questions:

Employment law attorney checklist

1. Do they practice employment law full time or part time? I would hesitate hiring an attorney who does not practice employment law at least half of the time.

2. How long have they been practicing? I would not hire an attorney that has been practicing employment law for less than five years. While I am not against a junior associate working on my case, I would only want him or her to do so under the direction of an experienced employment lawyer.

3. What types of cases do they handle and what results were obtained? Don't be afraid to ask these questions. Get specific.

4. Who have been some of their clients and may they be contacted for a reference? See if they have a familiarity with companies such as yours and then make the effort to follow up on the reference. Hiring an attorney is no different than hiring an employee; the greatest benefit will be obtained from the effort you place on the front end of the relationship.

5. What professional associations do they belong to? Are they a member of the local bar association? Are they a member of any employment law committees at a local, state or federal level? What efforts do they make to keep themselves up to date on the latest changes in personnel laws and strategies?

6. Are they a member of any insurance defense panels? With the advent of employment practices liability insurance, many insurance companies have gone through the effort of identifying firms they wish to work with. One word of caution: Many insurers use nationwide law firms because of their breadth of coverage. Other insurers prefer to use local firms, as they tend to be more cost effective and responsive to client needs. If your company has risk exposures in many different states, a nationwide firm may be in your best interest. However, if your exposures are related to your locale alone, then the premium associated with hiring the large law firms may not be justified.

7. Are they likeable? You can have the most technically competent attorney in the world with an emotional quotient of zero. Make sure you like your attorney. Make sure that potential jurors will like your attorney. I have seen an attorney's personality destroy a client's case.

8. What are their billing arrangements? Find out what the partner rate is, associate rate, paralegal rate and perhaps even secretarial rate. What are their billing minimums? Find out if they work on a flat-fee or retainer basis. Consider negotiating a bonus or reduction in fees based on a particular outcome. Then study any bills you get.

9. What ancillary services do they provide? An experienced employment lawyer should conduct compliance audits, compliance training, policies and procedures reviews, employee handbook creation, etc. These are of great benefit in preventing claims.

10. Have they written any books or articles? If so, read a few of them. What is their compliance philosophy? What area of employment law do they seem to specialize in? How prestigious are the publications?

11. What is their current caseload? Find out the number of files they are currently managing and if they truly have time to devote to your concerns. The best attorneys can't spend their whole day working on your case. The best attorneys do an effective job of delegating tasks that are not within their "highest and best use." Find out what system they employ for managing their caseload.

12. Review their services agreement. Make sure that any understandings that you reach are clearly memorialized in writing.

13. Make sure they have an insurance policy. I would even go so far as to make sure I know what the company name is and what the policy number is.

14. See to it that they sign the Client Bill of Rights. You've received their contract, now provide them with yours. You can obtain a sample Client Bill of Rights agreement by e-mailing me at and typing Client Bill of Rights in the subject area. If they won't sign the Client Bill of Rights, then consider going elsewhere.

Phin is an attorney and president of the Employer Advisors Network Inc. He is the author of "Lawsuit Free!: How To Prevent Employee Lawsuits; Building Powerful Employment Relationships!" and "Victims, Villains and Heroes: Managing Emotions in the Workplace."


February 25, 2003