Labor and Employment

Employers: Selecting a Good Lawyer

Most lawyers who specialize in employment law will predominantly represent either employers or employees. Thus, an employee with a claim against his or her employer, will probably hire a "plaintiff's lawyer" who usually represents employees in employment law matters.

However, if you're an employer defending your company against a claim by an employee, you may already have a working relationship with a lawyer who can assist you on the matter, as many business law firms routinely handle employment law matters as well. At a minimum, this lawyer could initially assess your problems and try to come up with a game plan to resolve them. But potential liability exposure on an employment law claims can be significant, so you may still want to talk to a lawyer or a law firm that has a reputation for specializing in representing employers on such claims.

You'll probably want to take a different tack if you're dealing with legal issues involving a labor union or organized labor. The law is quite specialized in this area, so you'll definitely want to hire a lawyer or a law firm with expertise on such issues.

if you don't already have a lawyer, a great place to start your search for one is right here at lawyers.com. You can do a free search to come up with a list of lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer search box that can be accessed from anywhere on lawyers.com. (You should see a search box on the right side of your computer screen.)

Do some initial screening of your list of lawyers to whittle it down to three or four prospective candidates:

  • Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find on Web sites for the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area you need? Do they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you?
  • Again, lawyers who represent employers usually don't represent employees with problems in this area. The profile for the lawyer and his or her firm should give you an idea of whom they primarily represent. If you can't tell, call the lawyer's office and find out.
  • Use search engines to surf the Internet. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort? Cross check your references by doing searches using key words such as "employment attorneys" or "employment law."
  • Ask other people if they've heard of the attorneys and what they think about them.
  • Contact your state bar association or visit their Web site to find out if the lawyer is in good standing.
  • Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
  • Check out the online archives of your local newspaper. Has there been any publicity about the lawyer or the cases that he or she has handled?
  • Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?
  • You shouldn't necessarily cross a lawyer off your list just because he or she didn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Good lawyers are busy, so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients. You should also anticipate that whomever you hire may have to delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. You should expect to be treated courteously and professionally by the staff and the lawyer.
  • Is this a one-time problem or a recurring one? For an employee, hiring an attorney on an employment claim is hopefully a one-time experience. But if you're in a business that regularly has to deal with employment issues, you should think about retaining a lawyer or law firm having expertise on employment law matters.
  • Unless there are special circumstances, you'll want to hire a lawyer with a local office.
  • Before you hire a lawyer, ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk to some of the lawyer's representative clients. Get a reference from a bank and from other lawyers.
  • Ask about conflicts of interest. Does the lawyer represent any opposing parties?
  • Ask for a copy of a firm brochure and promotional materials that the firm may have. Crosscheck these materials against your other sources and references.

Money Matters

An employee with a good case should be able to hire a lawyer on a "contingency fee" basis. This means that the lawyer will be paid based on a percentage of perhaps 25 to 40 percent of what the employee may recover on a settlement, or on a judgment if the case goes to trial.

If you're an employer, chances are that your legal counsel will charge by the hour. Rates can be competitive, so it may be to your benefit to shop around. But lawyers with a good reputation in this area are probably going to charge more. It's sometimes worthwhile to pay more for a lawyer or a law firm with a great reputation in a given area of expertise. It is also possible that you may have insurance coverage that could help pay for the cost of your defense.

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