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.
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Environmental law attorneys spend their time negotiating and analyzing environmental issues with clients and colleagues. They also draft statutes and regulations, memos, agreements, litigation documents, or materials for community outreach. The following is a list of the top skills an environmental lawyer needs:
The below-listed activities will help you demonstrate a genuine interest in environmental law. Those activities not directly related to environmental law will build the communication and advocacy skills needed to succeed in this practice area.
Small firms and solo offices make up the majority of family law and estate planning practitioners. However, government agencies, large firms, and public interest organizations also play a role these areas of law. Federal and state departments of health and human services, prosecutors’ offices, and public guardian offices practice some types of family law, for example, usually dealing with issues of termination of parental rights, child support collection, and guardianship proceedings. Some large firms have family law and estate planning departments to help address their existing clients’ needs. Public interest organizations sometimes assist indigent clients with matters such as probate, immigration or even the drafting of simple wills.
Family law and estate planning attorneys represent individuals, not corporations or other organizations. Some attorneys represent mostly (or exclusively) clients with a lot of wealth and a large number of assets, while others focus their practice on people of more modest means or are appointed by the court to represent indigents. In cases involving the termination of parental rights, an attorney may be appointed by the court to serve as a guardian ad litem who will represent the child’s interests or the attorney may be hired to represent the parents against whom the allegations of abuse or neglect have been brought. Adoption attorneys usually represent adoptive parents but may also represent birth parents.
The regulations and statutes governing environmental law are constantly changing. It is important for attorneys working in this practice area to stay current on the latest developments in the law and how laws are being applied. Good resources to consult include: