On January 23, 2017, the Office of Career and Professional Development presented a stellar panel of Labor & Employment attorneys, moderated by Professor Mike Maslanka. Each of the four attorneys offered insight on this specialized area of law from different perspectives, demonstrating to students that there are many ways to get enter this niche. The presenting attorneys were Jay Forester from Lee & Braziel, Juanita Harris from AT&T, Greg McAllister from Littler, and David Schlottman from Jackson Walker. The employers represented by the panelists included a boutique firm specializing in overtime cases, a Fortune 500 telecommunications company, the largest employment law firm in the United States, and a global firm which started in Texas over a century ago.
Professor Maslanka led the panel with the following question, “How did you get into employment law?” A commonality among most of the panelists was that they had stumbled into the field. One attorney liked his employment law class so much that he persistently asked his professor for a job and was eventually offered one.The rest of the panelists reminded law students that your first job may not be in the field you want, but may eventually get you there. Ms. Harris, Assistant Vice President-Senior Legal Counsel for AT&T, started her legal career with the Department of Justice handling anti-trust cases for over 6 years before she joined AT&T. Even then, she assisted AT&T with litigation and government transactions before working on employment law cases.
When asked what motivates him to represent plaintiffs, Mr. Forester from Lee & Braziel, whose firm specializes in overtime cases, explained that Texas law can be favorable to employers, and he wants to fight for those who are wronged by such employers. Mr. McAllister, a defense attorney for Littler, says he has always been defense-minded and enjoys his work which includes defending businesses. Mr. McAllister and Mr. Forester agreed that it can be difficult to explain to clients the intricacies of complex employment laws. Mr. Forester explained that plaintiffs sometimes do not understand that while an employer’s actions are wrong—they are not necessarily illegal.
The discussion ended with a note on ethics and professionalism. Mr. Schlottman from Jackson Walker discussed the importance of effective client counseling. He finds that counseling clients is difficult because non-attorney clients often want a black and white answer, but there are often gray areas that cannot be oversimplified. The panel concluded with a reminder to students that the legal profession is small, but the employment law practice is even smaller. As an employment law attorney you will interact with the same attorneys on frequently on various matters, so always be courteous and professional.