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There is something fundamental to a person’s identity about work. “People’s jobs are their lives,” says Claire Prestel ’02. “It gives you your sense of who you are as a person, your sense that you are contributing to society. Anyone who has been laid off or spent a period of time involuntarily unemployed knows how bad that feels.” Work allows us to pay the bills, but is also a fundamental outlet through which we express ourselves to the broader community. Work defines our daily schedule and also shapes our future aspirations. 

It follows that workplace issues, which exist in all regions and sectors across the world, are often microcosms of larger community problems. Shelley Gregory ’01, formerly Senior Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center, notes that, “People bring all of their ideas, their beliefs, their perceptions, and their ways of making sense of the world into their workplace with them.” She goes on to explain that “Our workplaces are much more regulated than our homes. There is a lot that goes on in the workplace that really has a serious effect on people’s lives.” As a result, working in labor and employment law enables lawyers to make a noticeable and widespread difference in society. This guide will introduce you to some of the opportunities that can help you build a lasting, rewarding career in this field. 

Labor and Employment Law: An Overview

Labor law has traditionally encompassed the relationships among unions, employers, and employees. Labor laws grant employees in certain sectors the right to unionize and allow employers and employees to engage in certain workplace-related activities (for example, strikes and lockouts) in order to further their demands for changes in the employer-employee relationship. 

Employment law, on the other hand, is defined more broadly as the negotiated relationships between employers and employees. Although employment lawyers deal with many of the same parties as labor lawyers (i.e., workers and companies), they conventionally address issues that fall outside the framework of union-management relations and collective bargaining. As a result, the extent to which statutes or regulations pertain to unions and union-workers usually determines whether or not they are regarded as components of “labor law” or “employment law.” 

Given the distinguishable set of issues encompassed in each field, labor law and employment law remain discrete areas of practice. However, these two fields have, over time, become increasingly symbiotic. Careers in either field can involve both labor and employment law questions. This guide will give you a better sense of the major differences between the two areas so that you are better able to define your particular interests. 

Why Work in Labor or Employment Law?

Impact on Workers

The employer-employee relationship involves complex power dynamics. Shannon Liss-Riordan ’96, founding partner of Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C., a plaintiff-side employment and union-side labor law firm, laments that “the balance between employers and employees is grossly disproportionate.” In explaining why labor and employment lawyers are so necessary, Claire Prestel 02 notes, “No one employee can stick their head up and complain without fear of retaliation. Anyone in any workplace knows how that works.” In the face of staggering amounts of illegal retaliation, lawyers are needed “to make workers’ rights real and to give them the courage to stand up in the future.” 

In distinguishing labor and employment law from other public interest fields, Laura Juran explains, “There is an immediacy to it that I just think is different. You are not dealing with impact litigation where you have some named plaintiff but it’s just kind of a plaintiff in theory. There is a real person in front of you who is crying and has had a terrible thing happen and you are there to help them. Some of the most satisfying cases I’ve handled as a labor lawyer are the cases where I get someone their job back and save their family’s livelihood.” 

The majority of lawyers interviewed echoed Juran’s emphasis on working face-to-face with real people from a variety of different occupations. Anand Swaminathan ’06, formerly with Vladeck, Waldman, Elias, & Engelhard, a union-side labor firm, and now with Loevy and Loevy, a civil rights firm in Chicago, remarks, “These people come in every day. I know their faces, I know their names, and I know about their problems. I spend a lot of time interacting with them directly so that I know and understand who I’m working for and who I’m representing.” If this type of interaction appeals to you, labor and employment law is a field that allows, and indeed is based on, such interpersonal exchanges. 

Nationwide Impact

On a larger scale, Claire Prestel ’02 notes that unions serve a function rarely perceived or appreciated by law students: “Corporations and big banks and all of these entities, they have a huge and growing amount of sway. You need a counterbalance and Congress can’t be that counterbalance because they get their money from the corporations. If you have unions, they represent thousands of employees. That’s the other side.” Laura Juran adds, “The unions are still the groups that can get out thousands of people on a day’s notice to vote on an issue…I really feel like we’re also protecting the middle class and middle-class interests.”

Labor and employment law also provides an opportunity to help increase access to the justice system for disenfranchised individuals across the country. Shelley Gregory ’01 notes, “I have found a way to take the education that I received at Harvard Law School and the access and the privilege and the benefits of being educated at a place like HLS and I’ve been able to use that to facilitate access to the judicial system or to systems that have the ability to provide real remedies to real live people who, in the absence of the work that we’re doing, might not have access to agents of authority.”

The Scope of the Field

The vagueness of the term “labor and employment law” can deter law students and attorneys when considered alongside easily definable fields that may sound more exciting, such as environmental law, education law, and health law. Yet labor and employment law is truly a versatile field that frequently touches on issues that arise in a wide range of other legal disciplines. 

Consider the career path of Robert DeGregory ’04. After graduating from HLS and clerking, he worked as an in-house attorney in the Pittsburgh office of the United Steelworkers, a union which represents workers in a diverse range of industries, such as steel, paper and forestry, tire and automotive, other types of manufacturing, oil and gas, health care, and pharmaceuticals. Much of his work in this position consisted of providing legal support to the union in negotiating collective bargaining agreements which regulated the rights, benefits and entitlements of workers for various companies, as well as enforcing the terms of those agreements through arbitration and litigation. A major concern was to protect the benefits, health insurance, and pensions that union members “worked for many years at often difficult and dangerous jobs” to obtain.

From there he moved to Los Angeles to work for the Writers Guild of America, representing union members in the film and television industry who work largely independently, often for many different employers over their career. They do not have “just cause protection” from discharge although they are guaranteed minimum compensation under their individual contracts pursuant to the major multiemployer collective bargaining agreement the Guild negotiates and enforces with major studios and independent producers. Issues included enforcing guaranteed compensation under individual agreements, ensuring back-end compensation for successful movies or shows, and handling intellectual property disputes over the rights of writers to control and be compensated for further exploitations of their original creative work. A somewhat whimsical-sounding example of such an intellectual property dispute, which nonetheless could have a substantial effect on a writer’s legal rights and entitlement to compensation, would be to determine “whether or not a toy that is being sold represents a generic pirate or whether it represents a particular pirate character described by the writer, or whether it represents a particular actor who played that pirate in a film or television show.”

Finally, he arrived at the National Hockey League Players Association in Toronto, Canada, where his work includes representing professional hockey players in grievance and arbitration proceedings and advising the Association in collective bargaining with the National Hockey League. Major issues include health and safety concerns arising from research and medical science on concussions and other sports-related injuries, protecting the guaranteed compensation of players who become injured and are no longer able to play, as well as broader issues of advocating for an appropriate share of overall revenues being paid to the players in compensation for their services. 

Other topics that frequently arise in the field but are not automatically connected to labor and employment law in people’s minds include gender, LGBTQ+ issues, disability, immigration, elder law, and bankruptcy. As Robin Alexander, Director of International Affairs for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, observes, “Most people mistakenly think of labor law as limited to the National Labor Relations Act,” when in fact it covers a diverse set of areas. 

The Culture of the Field

Finally, union and employee/plaintiff side lawyers appreciate the specific culture of the field. Lela Klein ’09 notes, “There is a palpable ethos within the office of commitment to workplace fairness.” Laura Juran has noticed that, while working in labor and employment law is certainly not a narrowing experience, “many folks who actually go into labor and employment law post-law school and start to make a career out of it do tend to stay in it,” due to a commitment to the goals of the labor movement and the importance of workers’ rights. 

Issue Areas

As noted in the Introduction, the fields of union and employee/plaintiff side law encompass a variety of different issue areas. Because of the interrelated nature of labor and employment laws, they are sometimes grouped under the broader category of “workers’ rights.” For this guide’s purposes, however, the issues discussed in each chapter will be subdivided into labor law and employment law. 

Labor Law

Labor lawyers primarily work in or on behalf of unions and their members. In doing so, they are working under standards prescribed by the National Labor Relations Act (and a few other relevant statutes), which encourages collective bargaining and governs worker organizations and their interactions with employers. Labor lawyers’ work may range from negotiating new collective bargaining agreements on behalf of hundreds or thousands of workers to advising union leaders to representing individual union members in arbitration proceedings. While union-management relations are governed by three specific federal statutes, discussed below, workers’ “continuing demand for collective action has forced open alternative legal channels, which include collective campaigns in which workers turn to employment law, in particular the Fair Labor Standards Act and Title VII, as the legal architecture that facilitates and protects their collective activity.” (source) As a result, attorneys who primarily practice “labor law” will inevitably deal with a multitude of issues that are traditionally considered to be employment issues, as outlined in the “Employment Law” section below. Indeed, because unions and their workers participate in so many different industries and activities, labor lawyers routinely face legal issues that fall outside the realm of either the traditional labor statutes or employment law—including questions of First Amendment and other constitutional law, election law, administrative law, environmental law, healthcare law, etc.

Unions and Collective Bargaining

Labor-management relations are governed by three major statutes that set forth standards regulating unions, their internal structure, and their interactions with employers. 

These three statutes are: the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Railway Labor Act, and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The NLRA governs the means by which employers may react to union organizers, engage in collective bargaining, and take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in support of their demands. The second major federal statute that addresses the rights of union workers is the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The primary purpose of the RLA is to offer employees of the railway and airline industries a process by which they are able to unionize and engage in collective bargaining while simultaneously protecting commerce from damaging work stoppages and delays, both domestically and internationally. Since the RLA provides similar legal protections to workers as the NLRA, workers who are covered by the RLA are not covered by the NLRA. The third major piece of federal legislation that pertains to the governance of unions is the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), commonly called the Landrum-Griffin Act. The Landrum-Griffin Act, which addresses union officer elections and financial controls, was established to ensure basic standards of democracy and fiscal responsibility in private sector labor organizations. 

Employment Law

Employment attorneys encounter a wide variety of issues related to the governance and structure of employment relationships in non-union workplaces. Some of these issues include wage and hour standards, discrimination, workplace safety and health, pensions and benefits, and workers’ compensation. In addition, they may also deal with some issues that are typically considered to be part of labor law practice (for example, the ability of workers to enforce employment rights collectively). 

Wage & Hour

Wage and hour standards constitute an important area of employment law. These standards include minimum wage, overtime pay, and underpayment in a variety of public and private workplaces, as well as family and medical benefits. Prevailing wages for government service and construction contracts fall within this area of employment law, as do work authorization criteria for non-U.S. citizens undertaking temporary, migrant, or agricultural work under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Wage and hour standards also cover workplace conditions for working children and protect children and adults alike from exposure to detrimental or unfair working conditions, such as those found in sweatshops and throughout the global human trafficking system. 

One focus within wage and hour work has been “wage theft.” There is also a great deal of work around guest workers. Lawyers in this field say a knowledge of immigration law and bankruptcy law (to try to collect from employers who declare bankruptcy) are both very useful. 


Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee suffers from unfavorable or unfair treatment in the workplace because of their age, gender, race, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. Disability laws also expand upon the employment rights of veterans and persons with disabilities. Although workplace discrimination is becoming more widely reported, it continues to affect millions of workers across the country. 

Some of the most significant pieces of legislation that protect workers from discrimination include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes a national minimum wage, guarantees “time-and-a-half” for overtime in certain jobs, and prohibits oppressive employment of minors. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, is a body of civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

While discrimination cases are argued, for the most part, on an individual basis, class action suits have also been brought in courts all across the country on such issues.

Safety & Health

Safety and health regulations set standards designed to eliminate personal injuries and illnesses from occurring in the workplace. These standards are enforced through periodic workplace inspections. Standards for safety and health often require employers to adopt certain practices to appropriately protect workers on the job; employers are required to both familiarize themselves with the applicable standards and remove any hazards that might pose a threat to their employees. Numerous federal, state, and local job safety and health programs exist that cover both private sector and government employees.

Benefits & Pensions

Benefits can include retirement benefits as well as insurance plans (health, dental, life, etc.), daycare and tuition reimbursement plans, sick leave, and vacation (paid and non-paid). Pension standards deal more exclusively with the arrangement of funds to provide individuals with economic support when they are no longer earning a regular income from employment. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) establishes minimum standards for pension plans in the private sector and prescribes extensive rules regarding the federal income tax effects of transactions associated with employee benefit plans. Benefits and pension regulation is also composed of employee benefit trust regulation, pension insurance, and unemployment insurance benefits. 

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation programs provide wage replacement, medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation, and other benefits to employees who are injured or develop an occupational disease over the course of employment. The four federal workers’ compensation programs that are overseen by the United States Department of Labor include: the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Program, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Program, and the Black Lung Benefits Program. Each of these programs serves the specific employee groups that are covered under the applicable statutes and regulations by mitigating the financial burden resulting from workplace injury. There are also compensation programs that are administered by state governments and through the private sector. The workers’ compensation area is a fairly discrete one and tends to largely involve administrative advocacy rather than courtroom litigation. 

Other Workplace Standards

Additional issues that arise in the workplace, though not as frequently as those listed above, include whistleblower protections, laws against polygraph tests, notices for plant closings and mass layoffs, and reemployment rights for uniformed services. 

Practice Settings

Public interest, union and employee/plaintiff side attorneys may practice labor and employment law in a variety of settings. This section describes and provides general background information for four distinct practice settings: government, nonprofits, unions, and private public-interest law firms. Unions generally hire attorneys to practice labor law and nonprofit organizations typically hire attorneys to handle work related to employment law, while jobs with the government and with private public-interest firms allow opportunities to practice employment and/or labor law. 

Finally, included at the end of the section is a brief synopsis of the international market for labor and employment lawyers. 

Government: Labor and Employment Law

Federal Government

Attorneys practice labor and/or employment law in all levels of government. At the federal level, labor attorneys work within the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which administers the NLRA by investigating unfair labor practices and holding elections to determine union representation for private sector employees; the Department of Labor, which seeks to improve working conditions and assure benefits and rights and employs attorneys in the Office of the Solicitor, the Wage and Hour Division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Office of Labor-Management Standards, among many others; the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which serves as the NLRB counterpart for government employees; and the National Mediation Board (NMB), which facilitates labor relations for the airline and railroad sectors due to their importance in interstate commerce and travel. Additionally, because nearly every federal agency hires attorneys to handle internal personnel matters, there are opportunities throughout the federal government for employment work. 

Employment lawyers also work as part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC focuses on preventing and remedying unlawful employment discrimination and advancing equal opportunity in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is also involved in worker’s rights, particularly with respect to discrimination issues; this work is carried out in the Division’s Employment, Disability Rights, and Immigrant and Employee Rights Sections.  

Every federal agency also has an EEO office to investigate discrimination within the agency, though this work tends to be more management-side. Finally, the Office of Personnel Management administers the Fair Labor Standards Act for federal employees. 

State and Local Government

State agencies that work on labor and employment issues may include Departments of Labor, Workforce Development, Industrial Accidents, and Labor Relations. Attorneys working in a state agency primarily provide legal advice to agency employees or to other related agencies in order to improve workplace safety and health, enforce state or local collective bargaining laws and make policy for workforce development. Attorneys may assist agency personnel in developing policy initiatives, implementing statutes, handling litigation and administrative hearings, and may provide significant amounts of direct legal counseling to key personnel and politicians. 

Attorneys interested in labor and employment issues may also find meaningful work in the labor bureaus, civil rights divisions, and state solicitors’ offices of state attorneys’ general. There may also be a state human right commission that enforces discrimination laws; they investigate and prosecute violations or may refer them to the EEOC. 

Local law departments and city attorney’s offices employ lawyers to work on labor and employment law issues. The primary responsibilities of government attorneys who focus on labor and employment law at the local level are litigation, the enforcement of local laws, and the implementation of various government services and programs.

Advantages and Disadvantages

One disadvantage of government practice is that political considerations may affect an attorney’s work, as agency priorities will inevitably fluctuate as a result of administration changes. In addition, because government attorneys are responsible for representing the particular governmental body in which they serve, rather than individual workers, many government attorneys do not have the same level of direct client contact as attorneys who work in unions, nonprofits, and private public-interest law firms. 

Moreover, though government attorneys often have more resources available to them than attorneys working in nonprofit organizations, government attorneys may find that, as a result of the overarching executive bureaucracy, it can be difficult to push cases and programs through the system as quickly as they would like. On this point, Grayson Walker ’10, an attorney for EEOC’s Chicago Office, notes, “As a government attorney, just in distinction to a private plaintiff’s attorney, I don’t have as much control over the cases I litigate. Although I have less control over my caseload, I also have the opportunity to work on large systemic cases that might be too uncertain or expensive for a solo practitioner or small civil rights firm. For example, a private attorney may not pursue a disparate impact or class hiring case that requires statistical analysis or other expert discovery unless the initial evidence is overwhelming. The EEOC has the resources to litigate those cases and root out systemic discrimination.”

Government attorneys also must consider their obligation to serve the public good, as well as the cause of their clients, which can lead to a conflict of interests. Accepting the balance required between the needs of the agency and the needs of the individual victims involved can be a difficult feat for government employees. 

However, many government attorneys find that the frustrations outlined above are outweighed by the numerous advantages of government work. While the salaries of most government attorneys are not as high as the salaries of large private law firm lawyers, they are nevertheless typically higher and less volatile than salaries in the nonprofit sector. Not having to bill hours is a source of relief for many choosing to practice labor or employment law as a government employee rather than at a firm. Government attorneys also find that their hours are typically reasonable. 

Unions: Labor Law

Union attorneys appreciate the variety of their responsibilities as well as the diversity of the staff and union members they work with.

The activities of lawyers in this practice setting can be divided into two areas: the typical dispute-related work of a labor lawyer and the advising/organizing work that is specific to in-house union attorneys.

When disputes arise, union attorneys may find themselves filing complaints with the NLRB or other federal and state agencies, representing union members before an administrative judge, litigating on behalf of a union in court because the union is being sued or is suing someone else, or appealing NLRB cases to the federal or state court system.

In-house union attorneys are also involved in strategizing for campaigns; researching the legal aspects of the union’s legislative, regulatory and political advocacy work; working on the ground at a rally or strike in case issues arise; reviewing and drafting statements the union issues on a wide variety of subjects; negotiating new collective bargaining agreements with employers; and advising on the internal governance of the union, on the reporting requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor or about how to operate effectively in countries with different legal systems. 

In light of these in-house specific tasks, and especially in large unions, in-house attorneys may spend more of their time on advice and counsel than do attorneys in private firms, who focus primarily on active litigation. Union attorneys’ responsibilities for negotiating new collective bargaining agreements also help them acquire outstanding negotiating skills.

Interacting with and representing union members can vary heavily across unions based on the size and structure of the union, which is certainly a factor to keep in mind when considering in-house jobs. 

The work of an in-house attorney at a union can vary quite substantially from the work of an attorney at a private public-interest firm serving as outside counsel for a union. Laura Juran, explains, “One of the key differences about being in-house is that it actually feels different, because rather than feeling like you’re the hired gun, the person downstream who gets called when there’s a crisis, you are part of the team and you work a lot with people who are not lawyers on policy issues…In house, we’re more on the front end of thinking about things, we see issues percolating and we think about if there is a particular issue that needs to be litigated.” 

Advantages and Disadvantages

Given the inherently political nature of unions, one significant disadvantage of working in a union is its volatility. Depending on the union, when a new general counsel is appointed by a recently elected union president, that person may choose to restructure his or her entire legal staff. In addition, union attorneys represent union members as a group first and foremost. Therefore, they are responsible for the work that is given to them by the union leaders, rather than by individual union members directly. Dealing with this type of organizational structure can be frustrating for some attorneys. 

There are, however, many advantages to practicing labor law in this setting. In general, union attorneys consider their hours to be relatively flexible. According to Sasha Shapiro ’08, “the salary and hours allow me to do the other things I want to do in life.” Like government attorneys, in-house union attorneys do not bill hours. Laura Juran has enjoyed this change since moving in-house from a firm, noting, “We did bill hours and we’d have to go back and review them. We’d have to cut time if we felt like it wasn’t fair to saddle a client with that much of a bill. Now, if I want to spend a whole day on an issue and really think it through, I have the luxury of spending that time without worrying later about having to write it off for a client.” Additionally, union attorneys value the collaborative nature of their work; many union attorneys note that they can turn to their fellow attorneys for help on cases or to alleviate their caseload when they get overwhelmed. Furthermore, because union attorneys represent one consistent client, there is a more predictable stream of work and resources. 

Nonprofits: Employment Law

Employment attorneys who work for nonprofits practice in a wide range of organizations. While some organizations concentrate solely on the advancement of employee rights, other organizations address a broader range of civil rights issues. Many legal services programs also have employment law practices. Finally, large nonprofit organizations such as universities and museums hire attorneys to work on employment issues in-house. 

“There’s a new trend towards more of a nonprofit workers center advocacy model,” explains Robert DeGregory ’04. “Where unions have failed at organizing new groups of workers because it has been too hard or too costly under the traditional labor law framework, there are other vehicles which are emerging to try to help low-wage workers in the service sector, agriculture, and elsewhere.” These worker centers, nonprofit membership organizations that unite non-union workers, are becoming an increasingly common practice option for lawyers interested in employment law. Many employment attorneys have been involved with the formation of these organizations and have also been hired to provide them with legal support and advice. Worker centers are generally funded through a combination of private grants, attorney fee awards, and government support. 

While nonprofit organizations’ levels of revenue and resources vary considerably, most nonprofits employ only a small number of attorneys to focus specifically on employment law. Lawyers who practice employment law in a nonprofit setting deal with a diverse set of responsibilities that include litigation, negotiation, mediation, advocacy, organizing, and general legal advising.

Advantages and Disadvantages

One of the frustrations of practicing employment law within the nonprofit sector is that attorneys are often required to confine their work to the particular types of cases their organization has been funded to address. In the same vein, the amount of resources that organizations have at any given time will often dictate the amount of litigation that their attorneys are able to take on.

However, the many advantages of working for a nonprofit often make it an attractive practice setting for employment lawyers.

According to Shelley Gregory 01, “Employers tend to be work-life balance focused.” Additionally, because there is frequently leaner staffing and less hierarchy in nonprofits, young attorneys find that they have a great deal of responsibility early on, which allows them to gain significant and valuable experience very quickly. Attorneys are also often involved with community advocacy and are required to think of and pursue creative ways of promoting policy initiatives and legislation. 

Attorneys working in nonprofit organizations appreciate that their work has the capacity to provide historically disenfranchised groups with opportunities for social and economic advancement. One of the reasons why Greg Schell ’79 loves his job as a legal services attorney is that, “You always know that your client is the good guy and that the work that you’re doing is supporting people who really need and deserve your help.” Cyrus Mehri, founding partner of Mehri and Skalet, PPLC, a private public-interest firm that litigates plaintiff-side employment cases, also comments that he likes “the fact that [nonprofits] are empowering people and giving people access to courts that wouldn’t otherwise have it.” 

Working for a nonprofit organization often allows employment attorneys to pursue cases that have a nation-wide impact. Indeed, specialized employment nonprofits may be able to secure both the funding and time necessary to think strategically and do impact litigation. Finally, attorneys working in nonprofits find value in communicating with attorneys doing similar work across the country and are grateful that nonprofit organizations are often collaborative.

Private Public Interest Firms: Labor and Employment Law

Many lawyers practice union-side labor law and plaintiff-side employment law in private firms. Although there is not a determinative factor that characterizes a private firm as being a “private public interest law firm,” there are many for-profit firms that pride themselves on the significant portion of public interest work that they perform. A number of HLS grads now working in labor and employment law note that they have been pleasantly surprised by the exciting labor and employment dockets at a growing number of private public-interest firms across the country. Indeed, many labor law firms and plaintiff-side employment law firms perform work that most students would consider “public interest” oriented. Most of these firms are small, ranging from one or two lawyers to about forty at the top end. There are typically differences of structure, ideology and relevant law between labor and employment law firms.

Unions often hire labor law firms to litigate on behalf of the union as outside counsel. Such firms attempt to maintain long-standing relationships with unions and their workers even through politically turbulent periods. As a result, attorneys working in labor firms often encounter repeat players that they interact with regularly over the course of several years. Many in-house union attorneys originally worked closely with a particular union while at a private firm before moving in-house to that same union, a sign of the strong ties that firm attorneys can form with the union leadership and members that they represent.

Plaintiff-side employment firms, on the other hand, generally represent individual workers. Attorneys working in plaintiff-side employment firms represent employees in court and undertake litigation on their behalf. Plaintiff-side employment firms may handle one or more substantive areas of employment law—discrimination, wage and hour, ERISA, and workers’ compensation.

Because attorney-client relationships are not as long-standing in employment law firms as in labor law firms, these firms may have a difficult time anticipating their caseload several years out and may not be able to hire until an immediate need presents itself. There are also many private public interest law firms that are not dedicated solely to work involving labor and employment law and instead house a small number of attorneys to focus on these issues.

Advantages and Disadvantages

One disadvantage of working in a private public interest law firm is that attorneys need to worry about the profitability of the firm. In deciding whether or not to take a case, one of the most significant considerations is whether the case is likely to benefit the firm economically. Private attorneys must generally be far more risk-averse in choosing cases than government attorneys as fees are often paid on a contingency basis, lending an element of “you eat what you kill” to plaintiff-side employment firms. For union-side labor lawyers, billing hours can be a frustrating process. Although the larger and more well-known unions are financially sturdy, Laura Juran notes that “it is very different when you know your client has very limited resources. People at corporate law firms don’t really have the concern, ‘Is GE going to be able to pay our bill?’ We have those concerns. Particularly local unions—we had local unions that couldn’t pay their bills and we had to work out payment plans.” Attorneys working in private public interest law firms also occasionally find themselves working on cases that are not entirely public-interest oriented—for example, cases involving executive contracts. Though the hours are certainly livable, attorneys in this setting can expect to work over forty hours a week, particularly when they are in trial.

Some of the advantages of working in a private public interest law firm include the significant amount of discretion attorneys have in determining which cases they would like to pursue and the ability to work on cases that are personally meaningful. Claire Prestel ’02 enjoyed the large amount of litigation she was able to do as a union-side attorney at Altshuler Berzon; because in-house union attorneys and nonprofit attorneys deal with the additional responsibilities of organizing or legislative advocacy, a private firm can be an appealing option if you would like to focus on litigation. Prestel also appreciated the fast-paced and exciting work environment, saying, “One great thing about working in a private firm is that you have a lot of variety—you have a lot of different clients coming in, different unions with different issues.” Many private public interest attorneys find that their firms have enough resources to take cases with the potential to have a major impact on the future of the law in certain areas. In addition, attorneys in private public interest law firms appreciate the direct client contact that comes with their work. According to Chuck Gilligan, a partner at O’Donoghue & O’Donoghue, LLP, a union-side labor firm, private public interest law firms provide attorneys with a “viable way to have a real life.”

Many young attorneys appreciate that private public interest law firms often offer a great deal of mentorship to young associates; while associates certainly take on much of the same level of responsibility and autonomy that young attorneys take on in other public interest settings, young attorneys in this setting generally find that they are exposed to guidance from more senior attorneys when needed. Associates also find that more senior attorneys take a great deal of pride in teaching them successful litigation skills. Collaboration is common among lawyers of varying levels of experience in this setting and there are many people for attorneys to turn to with their questions. Finally, pay tends to be higher than in the nonprofit sector and can also be more than government salaries.


As a result of the increasingly global economy, the international aspects of union and employee/plaintiff side law are growing and changing at a rapid pace. The expansion of international issues related to labor and employment law, which truly took off in the late 90’s, represents what is arguably the most significant way in which labor and employment markets are evolving.

Few people realize that it is an international human right to form and join trade unions, as recognized by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Applying a human rights framework to labor issues is a relatively new mode of analysis, which means that “people in this field are in the position of expanding and shaping the parameters in ways that I don’t think is always true in other areas of work,” notes Ashwini Sukthankar ’02, a researcher and advocate in international labor rights and transnational labor regulation.

While there are a number of unions that represent workers in both Canada and the United States, Robert DeGregory ’04 explains how the synthesis of these components is still not complete: “While I was with the United Steelworkers, I was an attorney for the Pittsburgh-based ‘International Legal Department,’ however, in most practical respects we operated as the U.S. legal department. There was the separate Toronto-based Canadian legal department that handled the legal issues that arose in Canada. I understand that many international unions have largely operated in separate spheres for each country.” Yet, due to the globalization of employers, he believes that “it is necessary, for a union to have any real leverage against those employers, to be able to similarly act across borders in solidarity with workers from other countries to put pressure on the employer to convince it that it should deal more fairly with its workers. That should mean increased coordination between the Canadian and American workers already represented by the same union, where that exists, and it should also mean building global alliances with unions and workers in many other countries. Everywhere that global capital has its imprint, the labor movement must be prepared to follow.” Due to this up-and-coming area of practice, there is likely to be an increased demand for graduates who understand transnational or comparative law.

There are a substantial number of issue areas for law school graduates interested in international labor rights. Indeed, Sukthankar points out that “almost every cross-border issue, whether it involves the movement of goods, services or people, has a labor dimension that tends to go ignored or under-explored.” She notes, “Very little of the work feels strictly legal…to the extent that there is litigation involved in the work, it is really soft law,” Sukthankar says. However, an international labor lawyer might draft complaints to the International Labor Organization’s Committee on Freedom of Association on behalf of unions, to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stating violations of the guidelines with respect to workers’ rights, or to the Commission for Labor Cooperation, a body created through the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) side agreement on labor. As for actually litigating in court, an attorney might go to the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice on issues that arise when workers cross borders or to address the effects on workers of international trade in the European Union.

The experiences of Cathleen Caron, the founder and executive director of Global Workers Justice Alliance, illustrate not only another option for integrating litigation into international labor work but also how social entrepreneurship has and will continue to play a large role in protecting workers on the international level. While litigating class actions on behalf of exploited farmworkers at the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project in Florida, Caron noticed that many farmworkers were never able to recover the wages won in court because they returned to their home countries. Now, “Global Workers executes portable justice, the right and ability of transnational migrant workers to access justice in the countries of employment even after they have departed for their home countries, primarily through a network of human rights organization. Connecting lawyers in the United States to lawyers in Mexico and Guatemala to ensure that workers who go home can still move their cases forward in U.S. courts is incredibly rewarding.”

Work Types

Attorneys working in different practice settings within the fields of union and employee/plaintiff side law may take on a variety of responsibilities. While much of the work that labor attorneys perform is similar in nature to the work carried out by employment law attorneys, including litigation, negotiation, mediation, advocacy, organizing, regulatory work, and legal advising, labor attorneys historically have done more organizing and advising work due to their relationship with unions. However, some nonprofits that focus on workers’ rights also work with organizers. It is important to identify the setting that will provide you with the mix of work that you are looking for in a career.


Litigation often constitutes a significant component of public interest labor and employment practice. A litigating attorney’s responsibilities can range from complex research to arguing before judges and/or juries in trial and appellate courts to drafting pleadings, briefs, and motions. In-house union lawyers typically outsource their actual litigation to labor law firm lawyers.

Many attorneys who practice labor law represent unions as a whole, as opposed to their individual members, in court proceedings. However, labor lawyers often represent union members before the NLRB, state counterparts of the NLRB, or other forums as specified by collective bargaining agreements. In-house union attorneys will generally litigate less than union-side attorneys at private firms. Employment lawyers represent individual employees and groups of non-union workers in class-action cases. The percentage of an attorney’s practice that is devoted to litigation will depend on his or her caseload at any given time and the level of resources at his or her disposal.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Arbitration, Negotiation and Mediation

Arbitration, negotiation, and mediation are another set of labor and employment practices. While the roles that attorneys play in alternate dispute resolution may vary in each subsection of the field, most of the work is centered on issues arising under contracts between employees and their employers.

In labor law, alternative dispute resolution often involves arbitration between unions and employers, specifically in contract cases related to breach of the collective bargaining agreement. Arbitration is a legal procedure for the resolution of disputes outside of the court system, although the skills needed for arbitration and the process itself are quite similar to litigation. Under arbitration, the parties agree to refer a dispute to one or more independent persons (either an “arbitrator” or “panel of arbitrators”) by whose decision they agree to be bound. In collective bargaining agreements, the union and the employer will frequently agree to arbitration for some issues, as well as to a method of selecting arbitrators (i.e. through the American Arbitration Association, the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, etc.). Whenever there is an alleged breach of contract, they then try the case before an arbitrator. Common breaches that are addressed under arbitration include disciplinary actions that are not for “just cause” (collective bargaining agreements typically contain provisions which prohibit employers from disciplining an employee unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so).

Negotiation involves two parties seeking to reach an agreement. Employment or labor law attorneys may assist in these negotiation proceedings by reading through a legal document (for example, a contract) and explaining its provisions to an employee or working with an employee to negotiate a better settlement for a severance package. Attorneys working in unions or outside counsel for unions may be involved in negotiating collective bargaining agreements between unions and management. Although labor attorneys working in private-public interest firms may undertake these types of negotiations for their union clients, unions often handle these negotiations in-house. Whether in unions, nonprofits, or private firms, attorneys also negotiate settlements of their clients’ cases.

Finally, mediation is a similar process to negotiation but involves a “mediator,” a neutral third party facilitating discussion. Lawyers may serve as mediators for labor and employment disputes, including issues of sexual harassment, gender identity discrimination, wrongful termination, and breach of employment contract. Labor and employment lawyers often participate in mediation when trying to settle cases on behalf of their clients. As opposed to litigation, mediation and negotiation allow for confidentiality and may help reach a resolution in a relatively short period of time compared to the years a labor or employment case can spend in the court system.


Both labor lawyers and employment lawyers are involved, to varying degrees, in organizing efforts. Organizing or working directly with organizers is a critical component of many labor lawyers’ work. As organizers, labor attorneys help to solidify or expand union membership. Robert DeGregory ’04 recalls that with the United Steelworkers, a large union that was active in organizing new workers, “there were always new organizing drives, and collective bargain agreements being negotiated with new employers, as well as legal disputes that arose from that organizing and collective bargaining.”

By comparison, the NHLPA “has successfully organized its core industry – the National Hockey League, but we are certainly supportive of our fellow athletes in other sports who strive to obtain similar rights to collective representation and the benefits that flow therefrom.” In larger unions, like the Steelworkers or SEIU, much of this organizing work is done by non-legal staff or members, and attorneys play a supporting role in researching issues and advising when needed. In addition, attorneys may meet with union leaders or give presentations to union members about a particular issue that they feel is in the best interest of the union to address (i.e. increasing dues, raising strike funds, etc.). This type of organizing requires that attorneys convince unions of the reasons why the implementation of a particular provision is essential to their ability to successfully enforce their collective bargaining rights.

Though it is certainly not as common in employment law practice as it is in labor law practice, organizing or working with organizers is another type of work that employment lawyers perform. Worker centers—membership organizations composed of non-union workers—are becoming more common, and employment lawyers are often involved in their formation. Employment lawyers have aided centers in their attempts to solidify or expand upon membership, and have advised the leaders of these organizations of their legal rights and the laws and regulations critical to the enforcement of their members’ rights. The organizing work that labor and employment attorneys undertake often allows them to exhibit a certain level of influence over both well-established and newly forming organizations.

Policy Advocacy

Legislative and regulatory advocacy is another interesting and dynamic type of work that is performed by both labor and employment attorneys. Attorneys undertaking this type of work assume a variety of responsibilities with an aim towards successfully lobbying legislative and regulatory bodies to adopt particular laws and policies. Some of these responsibilities include meeting directly with individuals who are affected by workplace issues, gauging their needs, performing complex research on the relevant issues and existing laws and regulations applicable to these issues, reviewing past and present cases, drafting proposals for legislative and regulatory review, and submitting comments on draft legislation or regulations. Labor lawyers may do policy advocacy work in-house for a union or occasionally at a private public-interest firm on behalf of a union. Employment lawyers are most likely to find this type of work at a nonprofit organization.

Though time-consuming and often slow-moving, advocacy work can be particularly meaningful for labor and employment attorneys because it allows them to work towards a broader vision of the law and working towards achieving legal reform.

Rulemaking and Regulatory Enforcement

Labor and employment lawyers working for government agencies are frequently involved in two very important agency functions: rulemaking and regulatory enforcement. In connection with these functions, attorneys may draft regulations related to labor and employment issues and provide legal counsel to agency staff and administrative officials to make sure the agency’s proposed rules are lawful, logical, and substantively correct.

Attorneys may also take part in organizing regulatory hearings on labor and employment issues and may review public comments on proposed regulations. In some cases, attorneys may represent the agency in relevant administrative hearings, or resolve disputes between their agency and parties affected by the agency’s regulations. If the agency has litigating authority, labor and employment attorneys may also prosecute those who violate agency regulations or defend agency regulatory action when it is challenged in state or federal court.

Labor and employment attorneys offer legal advice to their clients on a wide variety of issues, depending on the practice setting in which they work. For example, labor lawyers working for unions may advise the union about what types of legal action (strike, etc.) would be most appropriate under a particular set of circumstances, while labor lawyers working for a government agency may advise agency officials on whether they have the authority to regulate a specific type of workplace conduct.

Employment lawyers also provide legal advice to individual workers on diverse issues ranging from the laws and regulations pertaining to background checks to the legal requirements necessary to make a discrimination claim.

Planning Your Career

Assess Your Prior Experience

Though it is not essential to landing a job in the field, employers look favorably upon pre-law school work related to labor or employment law,. Think about your college, law school, volunteer, and prior work experience and try to highlight any involvement you have had with labor or employment issues, no matter how distant the connection. Did any of this work spark your interest in labor or employment law? If you do not feel that you have any prior connection to the field, begin thinking about how you can develop a solid track record in law school that will allow you to demonstrate to future employers that your passion and interest in the field is well thought out and longstanding.

Analyze Your Goals

There are many important factors to consider when thinking about your career. You will have to make decisions on the issue areas, practice settings, and work types that interest you. Ideally, you will be able to pursue the particular issue area that most excites you, the practice setting that best fits you, and the type of work that is most satisfying to you. However, because there is good deal of competition for post-graduate positions, it is advantageous to decide which of the components above you are more or less flexible about. In doing so, be sure to think broadly about the principles and issues that you’re really concerned with (i.e. workers rights, civil rights issues in general, etc.).

Location is another important factor to consider when applying for jobs. When researching summer internships and post-graduate employment options, be mindful of the demographics of the area in which an organization is located and think about whether or not working with or for those clients will allow you to achieve your career goals. To facilitate the search process, many of the databases outlined below will allow you to search for particular issue areas, practice settings, work types, and geographic locations.

Research the World of Labor and Employment Law

Learn as much as you can about the various organizations that hire attorneys to handle labor and employment law issues. Begin by looking through the organizations, fellowships, and websites listed at the end of this guide. One way to learn more about the field is by setting up informational interviews with lawyers in organizations that are of particular interest to you. This process will not only allow you to become increasingly more informed about the local job market, but it will also heighten your visibility in the field and prepare you for the interview process ahead.

Students can also gain perspective on union culture by attending a union meeting. Chuck Gilligan comments, “When you’re standing in a union meeting among hundreds of workers with their contracts in their hands, you really get an idea of what it’s like.” When it comes to understanding the struggles and concerns of both union and non-union workers, there is really no substitute for personal experience.

Hone Your Skills

There are a few general skills that labor and employment attorneys repeatedly point to as specific qualifications that have helped them achieve success in their careers. The first of these skills is the ability to write clearly and effectively. According to Chuck Gilligan, “Your ability to say what you want in as few words as possible with a fair amount of discipline towards cogency and clarity as opposed to jargon is an extremely important skill to have in the field.” It is essential that attorneys in this field are able to convey complex information in the most straightforward way possible, particularly as most labor and employment attorneys interact with a broad array of people on a daily basis, such as union members and leaders, migrant workers, government agency employees, and legislators. It is also important to be able to listen carefully to your client’s needs (or the needs of the group that you are representing) and try to understand their experiences and problems. These skills can be learned in the classroom, in working for clinics, and through your law school job experiences.

Use Your Time in Law School Wisely

Employers will look for a strong demonstrated interest in labor or employment law. You can show this interest by interning with an organization undertaking labor or employment law work, writing relevant articles for journals and/or newspapers, joining related student organizations, taking courses focused on labor and employment law issues, and/or participating in a clinic dealing with labor or employment issues. Your ability to prove that you are confident and passionate about pursuing labor and employment work will likely play a factor in the kinds of jobs you are able to land.

Summer jobs and term-time internships are also critical to demonstrating a commitment to the field of labor and employment law and the particular issue or set of issues that you are interested in. Many public interest organizations will look to hire students who have performed public service work during law school, and in particular, students who have spent at least one summer in a public interest setting. These internships will also allow you to figure out whether or not you like the fields of labor and employment law. In addition, you can try different practice settings to see, for example, whether you prefer to work at a firm or at a nonprofit, as well as what type of work appeals to you.

Aaron Halegua ’09 describes the qualifications that have helped him advance in the field as follows: “I had a lot of experience in the type of work that I wanted to do, a compelling story of why I wanted to do it, knowledge of the landscape of people doing this type of work already, and knowledge about my clients and experience in working with this population.”

To remain competitive for most post-graduate public interest positions in the labor and employment field, it is critical that you spend at least one summer or a couple of clinical placements working at an organization specifically focused on labor and employment issues (i.e. not just any public service placement). Labor law attorneys advise that students interested in pursuing a career in labor law should try to work with or for a union at some point during their law school career, particularly if they do not have prior union experience.

There are several mechanisms that can help students find (and in one case be placed with) summer public interest labor law jobs:

  • The Peggy Browning Fund – the Peggy Browning Fund provides paid summer fellowships for first and second-year students at participating law schools to work at union-side law firms, nonprofits, unions and government agencies.
  • AFL-CIO Law Student Union Summer – This program provides a paid summer internship for law students to work with local unions across the country on organizing campaigns. The internship starts with a training in mid-June. Interns are then placed with unions for an internship that “combines front-line, labor-related public interest legal work with grassroots organizing in ongoing campaigns by AFL-CIO-affiliated unions throughout the country. In addition to legal research and writing, LSUS interns are involved in community outreach, member mobilization, corporate and other non-legal research, legislative campaigns and general litigation.”

HLS students are fortunate that, thanks to guaranteed summer funding, you do not have to rely on paid summer positions or external fellowships and can apply to the wide range of employers who are not participating in the formal programs listed above.

Develop a Network of Contacts

The stronger the relationships you form during law school (through your internships, clinical placements, faculty, and the HLS alumni network), the more likely you are to be able to land a job doing what you want to do right out of law school. If you meet someone who has followed a career path that appeals to you, try to ask them as many questions as you can about how they got where they are and what most helped them along the way.

It can also be helpful to become involved with attorney associations and bar committees focused on labor and employment issues. Joining these types of organizations will facilitate the process of meeting people who do what you aspire to do, and will provide you with structured events during which you will be able to speak with member attorneys.

The most popular types of these organizations in the fields of labor and employment law are:

The student rates of these organizations typically make them relatively affordable for law students.

The annual conference of the Peggy Browning Fund also offers great networking opportunities.

Postgraduate Search Tools

Although networking is a critical part of the job search, there are a number of places you can look for organizations or job postings and fellowships to help you get launched.

Job postings:

  • Hiring Hall – Monthly online job postings published by the AFL-CIO Union Lawyers Alliance. These postings are typically included in the OPIA jobs database. You can also post your resume in the ULA Resume Bank if a ULA attorney or affiliated professor sponsors you.
  • Union Job Clearinghouse – Typically not legal jobs but will sometimes post attorney positions.
  • PSJD – This database, hosted by the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), is the leading database of public interest organizations and jobs.
  • USAJOBS – This is the centralized site for federal government jobs.
  • Arizona Guide – the University of Arizona’s Government Honors Program and Internship Handbook is a valuable resource for summer and postgraduate positions primarily in the federal government but it also contains state and local government listings as well.

Organizational listings:

Alternate Options

If you are unable to land a job in union and employee/plaintiff side law directly out of law school, you should not give up on the idea of entering the field. Continue to maintain the relationships you formed during law school with labor and employment attorneys, and try to get any kind of related experience possible.

Doing any kind of legal services work or work on First Amendment matters or constitutional rights will give you some exposure to labor and employment issues. Because litigation often constitutes a significant component of public interest labor and employment practice, clerkships also offer invaluable experience to budding labor and employment lawyers. If your workplace is unionized, be sure to join the union and consider becoming active in it.

One legal services option is to be an attorney who provides prepaid legal services to a particular union chapter. Prepaid legal services include family law, real estate/housing, wills and estate planning, traffic violations and other areas of civil law rather than actual labor and employment law. But providing union members with legal services can obviously provide great exposure to a network of union members and staff.

Alternatively, to gain experience in the field, Cyrus Mehri recommends community organizing and advocacy work. According to Mr. Mehri, he is a much better lawyer because of the non-legal work he did as an organizer.

Personal Narratives

Note that all personal narratives in this Guide reflect titles that were current when the narratives were collected.

  • Patricia Kakelec, HLS ’93
    Former Labor Chief, New York State Attorney General’s Office, Labor Bureau

    In the fall of 2008, after exactly ten years as a legal services lawyer, I joined the office of New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

    Going from a small, very informal office to a government agency was an adjustment, but I was pleased to find that the culture and goals of the Labor Bureau are very much like those of my past workplaces. Many of my colleagues came to the Bureau after representing low-wage workers, immigrant workers, and unions, and without exception my Labor Bureau colleagues see our work as part of an overall mission toward justice in the workplace.

    In the New York AG’s office, the Labor Bureau does both affirmative cases and defensive cases. On the affirmative side, we do investigations into violations of the labor law: failure to pay minimum wages and overtime, illegal deductions, tip misappropriations, failure to pay the prevailing wage law on public works jobs, retaliation, and a wide variety of other employment-related state laws. Some of our investigations result in settlements with employers (including on-going monitoring) and others lead to litigation. One unique part of working in law enforcement is that we have the ability to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and documents as part of our investigations; we do not have to wait until a lawsuit is filed to get this information. This is an extremely powerful tool.

    We also have the ability to enforce the labor law through the criminal process. We have brought criminal cases against employers that fail to pay the minimum wage and overtime (presently a misdemeanor in New York) and employers that do not obtain Workers’ Compensation insurance (a felony) or make false filings with the state (also a felony). We bring cases against employers that do not pay prevailing wage rates on public works jobs or violate other state laws. Often we see these violations coming from the same employers: the employers that do not pay their workers the minimum wage or overtime usually have violated a number of other state laws, some of which subject them to even higher penalties. Some of our cases have resulted in jail time for employers (and our certification of the worker-witnesses for the purpose of “U visa” applications).

    On the defensive side, we represent the New York State Department of Labor (“DOL”) in cases involving the state labor law. This might mean defending the Department in a lawsuit brought by an employer that is claiming that it does not have to pay its employees back wages assessed by the DOL. At other times it means defending the state labor law against challenges. The issues that come up in our defensive work are usually quite interesting and generally further the same goals as our affirmative work.

    When I graduated from HLS in 1993 I definitely would not have seen government work in the future for me. It would have seemed too bureaucratic, not progressive, and maybe even boring. As I was practicing, though, and would sometimes refer cases to the AG’s office or the Department of Labor, I began to appreciate more the importance of the work being done by those in government. Now that I have been here a while, I have been able to see what kind of a response an investigation from our office receives. Employers definitely pay attention when they hear from us, because they know an investigation by our office could result in serious consequences. My work hasn’t been bureaucratic or boring at all, and I feel good about the results we have achieved. So for those of you who weren’t considering government work I’d offer this piece of advice: give it a look.

  • Greg Schell, HLS ’79
    Former Managing Attorney, Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, Florida Legal Services

    Back when I was a 3L at HLS, there was no public interest advising office, and precious few public interest employers showed up at the school. I knew that I didn’t want a job with a firm, but beyond that, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do after graduation. On a whim, I signed up for an interview with a representative of a migrant legal services program in Florida that showed up on a snowy February afternoon at HLS.

    I had an extended interview, because no one had signed up for interviews in the two slots behind me. The recruiter was dressed casually in a flannel shirt and spent the next hour regaling me with tales of outrageous abuses of migrant workers and the general weirdness of practicing law in a rural community in the South. The job sounded like a hoot —a chance to work in a Peace Corps- type environment without leaving the U.S. Lacking many other offers from public interest employers, I agreed to move to Immokalee, Florida, sight unseen and knowing nothing whatsoever about migrant farm workers or their legal problems.

    Nearly three decades later, I am still at it , representing farm workers in Florida in employment matters. The job has proven so much more rewarding and challenging than I could have ever imagined. At a time when many of my HLS classmates are miserable in their jobs, despite earning high salaries as partners at the nation’s leading firms, I relish each day at work and am probably even more excited about my work than I was when I first started out following graduation from HLS.

    Almost all of my cases involve wage disputes. Like most low wage workers, the majority of farmworkers’ legal problems stem from the fact that they perform dangerous work at very low pay rates. Their jobs come with no benefits at all—none of my clients are provided with health insurance or paid days off. Exclusions in federal and state law mean that none of my clients receive overtime pay and for much of their time, they are not even protected by worker’s compensation if they suffer an injury while on the job. Low wages limit farmworkers’ choices in many other ways. Because of their meager earnings, they usually are forced to live in dilapidated and unsafe housing. Few own their own vehicles; as a result, most farmworkers are heavily dependent on labor contractors for transportation and job placement. Most farmworkers have little leverage power vis a vis their employers to bargain for better wages or working conditions. Because of a chronic surplus of low-wage farmworkers, there is a ready and available supply of replacements for any workers who demand more than the employer is offering or insist that the farmer company with farmworker protective laws. And should the workers seek to collectively challenge the employer, they will find themselves with little legal protection because the National Labor Relations Act excludes agricultural workers from its protections.

    From 1969-1970, Congress held a series of hearings around the country entitled, “Farmworker Powerlessness.” As a result of these hearings, Congress recommended the provision of free legal services to farmworkers as a counterbalance to the economic, political and social forces stacked so heavily against them. My professional career has been an exciting ride, trying to serve as this counterweight to powerful agribusiness interests which benefit from the status quo.

    Professionally, my job could not be better. There simply aren’t many other lawyers doing this sort of work, dealing with arcane laws designed to protect migrant or other low-wage workers. I’ve become something of an expert in this specialized field. I have also had the chance to litigate a large number of cases of national importance relating to federal minimum wage laws, and particularly questions involving the legal responsibilities of employers seeking to out-source their responsibilities by hiring workers through so-called “independent contractors.” One of my cases was described in the National Law Journal as perhaps the most important minimum wage case in the past 20 years. I also had the privilege of handling the only farm worker case to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court (we were able to persuade HLS Professor Larry Tribe to handle the oral argument at the Supreme Court), which our side won 9-0! (Sad epilogue: several years later, the underlying statute was amended to reverse the decision after Republicans took over control of both houses of Congress). Although I was far from the smartest person in my class at HLS, I have been lead counsel in more reported federal court cases than all but a handful of my classmates.

    One of the toughest parts of my job is deciding which cases to take on and pursue through litigation. There are hundreds of thousands of farm workers in Florida and almost all of them have legal problems relating to their employment. We have to try and select cases that have an impact well beyond the parties to the case. This may mean that the case will result in damages or other relief benefiting a large number of workers. It also includes cases that are likely to result in an important change in the case law that will ultimately improve the situation for migrants and other low-wage workers. This makes every case an important one, one that you can be passionate about. We don’t have the luxury of taking “gray area” cases to court; in every suit we file, our clients are unquestionably the “good guys,” the people who have been mistreated, cheated or abused. There is a good deal of “David v. Goliath” in our cases, and for this reason, defendants often choose to contest these cases even if it might be more economic to settle. After all, the farmworkers’ suit does more than merely seek to recover for discrete transgressions of the law; its very existence challenges the well-established social and economic order in the rural areas in which our clients reside and for this reason, much of our litigation is viewed as somewhat subversive. Professionally, there’s a certain exhilaration in triumphing over better-funded opponents, who seem able to assign a limitless number of associates to defend a case.

    Probably the single factor that makes my job so special is the remarkable human beings that I am privileged to represent. My clients are among the hardest-working people in America. They don’t come to me seeking a handout or charity—all they want is what is due to them. Despite the fact that their entire life experience has shown them that no one really cares about them, my clients show amazing confidence in the justice system. For many of them, the money involved in the case is secondary; what they seek is respect and affirmation of the rectitude of their position. It’s an enormously empowering experience for my farm worker plaintiffs to speak in a federal courtroom where, for probably the first time in their lives, a person of importance in the power structure of society is listening intently to their words.

    In one precedent-setting case, a farm worker family challenged a longstanding interpretation that federal migrant protection laws did not cover workers who were employed on farms on a year- round basis and did not migrate. Before we filed suit, I cautioned my clients that they risked their jobs and their employer-provided housing by bringing the case. I also told them that the damages they stood to recover were modest, even by migrant farm worker standards. My clients didn’t care; they believed fervently that it simply wasn’t fair that the federal law didn’t cover their work while it protected their co-workers who migrated on a seasonal basis.

    Predictably, my clients were fired shortly after suit was filed and evicted from their housing. Several of them went months before they found another job. To make matters worse, the federal district court entered a directed verdict against the workers. We appealed the ruling to the Eleventh Circuit, which set oral argument for the main courtroom in downtown Atlanta. I told the plaintiffs about the upcoming oral argument and, to my surprise, they insisted on attending. I pointed out that the arguments would be on legal points and would be entirely in English. My clients, all monolingual Spanish speakers, were unmoved. It was their case and they wanted to be there.

    So, on a gray and rainy February morning, I met my clients in front of the appeals court. They had driven all night long from their homes in northern Florida, arriving in Atlanta just before dawn. That day, things were a bit unusual in the grand courtroom where the three appellate judges were hearing oral arguments. Usually the courtroom is empty except for the lawyers presenting arguments that day. I swelled up with pride in standing up and introducing my clients, one by one, to the court before the oral argument began. Although my clients probably understood almost none of the argument, they beamed throughout the lawyers’ presentations.

    And there was one great fiesta nine months later when the appeals court ruled unanimously in our favor and extended the protections of federal migrant worker laws to all field workers, even those who work year-round rather than migrating. No one could have better or more loyal clients. If representing people like these does not produce passion for their cause, you don’t have a pulse.

  • Shannon Liss-Riordan, HLS ’96
    Founding Partner of Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C.

    I graduated from law school in 1996, knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in civil rights. I didn’t know exactly what form that would take, but thought that would probably mean working for a nonprofit organization. While in law school, I did a semester clinical in employment law working part time with a small firm in Boston. After graduation, I spent two years in a federal clerkship, where I learned legal writing and the litigation process. Then I got married and spent two months in Asia on our honeymoon without a care that I had no job to return to. My plan was to return to Boston and hang out a shingle and start my own practice in plaintiff-side employment law. Luckily my plan was thwarted. While in Asia, I got an e-mail from the lawyer I had worked for during my clinical letting me know that a small labor and employment law firm in Boston was looking for an associate and that I should get in touch with them right away. I did, and, late one evening, from a small shack in Thailand, next to a phone lit by candlelight, I interviewed with my future partners back in Boston. They hired me, and I accepted, sight unseen on both sides. It was a fortunate twist of fate that landed me exactly where I wanted to be, with a small firm that gave me the opportunity to pursue whatever I wanted to do and provided the support and mentorship I learned was necessary to learn the practical ropes of a law practice. I stayed with the firm for ten years, until just last year when my mentor Harold Lichten and I broke off and established our own firm, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C., an eight-attorney firm that represents employees and labor unions.

    By working in a private firm practice, I found the freedom to take on whatever seemed interesting. In my first years there, my work was focused on what I had expected from an employment law practice, primarily discrimination and First Amendment litigation on behalf of individuals. Then, in 2001, I got a call from a waiter whose complaint was that his manager was taking a share of his tips. I researched the issue and found there was a law on the books in Massachusetts protecting tipped employees, but it had gotten almost no attention and was openly flouted throughout the food and beverage industry. Although that first case I took on the issue did not go very well, I kept at it, and one case led to another, and before long I had a thriving practice devoted to representing tipped employees. Within several years, I believe there was hardly a restaurant in Massachusetts that did not know that management cannot take gratuities from waitstaff.

    My work on tips cases led to other wage-related litigation, and my practice has been devoted almost exclusively to class action wage and hour law. In addition to representing waiters, we have represented skycaps who lost out on tips when the airlines began charging curbside check-in fees that looked deceptively like tips, truck drivers (and other types of employees) who have been misclassified as independent contractors and forced to pay for expenses their employers should be paying, minority firefighter and police officer applicants who have faced obstacles in being hired or promoted due to discriminatory civil service exams, immigrant workers who have been exploited by their employers in many ways, janitors who have been sold bogus “cleaning franchises” and essentially have had to pay for jobs that then frequently get taken away, and other employees who have not been paid properly. This work is immensely fulfilling, as I feel we are helping people directly who benefit from the cases we bring, as well as people helped indirectly from the law that we are shaping as we litigate these cases. Our work has expanded nationally, as I am frequently called by lawyers from around the country asking us to assist or co-counsel on other cases.

    For someone deciding what path to take in a legal career, here are what I would say are the morals of my story. Know what you want to do, but stay flexible. Be willing to take risks, and take advantage of opportunities that come your way. (I accepted the job during my honeymoon because it felt right, even though it was not what I had been planning. I took that first case of the waiter who called me, though my partner warned me there was no helpful case law and the courts might butcher the law that was on the books. I kept pursuing the issue even though my first case on it was not successful.) Put yourself in enough situations so that you are getting exposure to avenues you might want to pursue because you never know where that opportunity will come from. (When I did that employment law clinical during my third year of law school, I never could have expected that that connection would lead to my introduction to my partner and mentor with whom I have now worked almost twelve years.) And most importantly, work hard, be good at what you do, and love what you do. If you do these three things, the opportunities will come, or you will make them for yourself.

Selected Organizations

  • Government

    Attorney General’s Office – Massachusetts – Business and Labor Bureau – Fair Labor Division
    Responsibilities include handling enforcement of state labor standards law, including non- payment of wages, overtime, minimum wage, prevailing wage, child labor and other related statutes in civil and criminal courts and administrative hearings.

    Attorney General’s Office – Massachusetts – Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau – Civil Rights Division
    Seeks injunctive relief on behalf of victims of hate crimes and other civil rights violations. The division enforces fair and accessible housing, equal employment and equal educational opportunities, equal access to public accommodations, equal credit, and equal access to justice. The Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Division also addresses issues and claims related to the First Amendment, religious freedom, privacy, reproductive choice, and police misconduct. The Disability Rights Project enforces the civil rights of individuals with disabilities.

    Boston Workers’ Compensation Service Department
    Provides defense work for the department.

    Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Boston Office
    The EEOC enforces laws prohibiting job discrimination also provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.

    Massachusetts Department of Labor – Department of Industrial Accidents
    Handles all disputed claims and complaints regarding injured employees. Clerks’ duties include scheduling review board hearings, legal research and writing and general review and upkeep of all review board files.

    Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations
    Agency administers laws for the Massachusetts public sector, in the same way NLRB administers laws for the private sector.

    Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development – Department of Labor Standards
    The mission of the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards is to promote and protect workers’ safety and health, wages and working conditions. DOS protects workers by means of education and training, workplace safety and health consultation and assessment, occupational injury and illness data collection and analysis, and consistent and responsible administration and enforcement of its statutes and regulations.

    National Labor Relations Board – Office of the General Counsel
    The General Counsel has supervisory authority over all Regional Offices and guides policy on issuing complaints, seeking injunctions, and enforcing the Board’s decisions.

    National Labor Relations Board – Region 1
    Serves employees, employers and unions in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Conducts elections, investigates charges of unfair labor practices, and holds hearings in its offices.

    National Labor Relations Board – Region 2
    An independent federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity. The Region 2 office serves the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx and Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties from its office in Lower Manhattan.

    National Labor Relations Board – Region 29
    An independent federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity. The Region 29 office serves Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and all of Long Island.

    New York City Office of Collective Bargaining
    Administers the enforcement of the New York City Collective Bargaining Law, which governs labor relations between the City of New York as the employer and municipal employees and unions.

    New York State Department of Labor – Counsel’s Office
    Handles legal matters relating to labor.

    New York State Division of Human Rights
    Enforces the New York State Human Rights Law, which affords every citizen an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life. This law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, credit, places of public accommodations, and non-sectarian educational institutions, based on age, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other specified classes.

    North Carolina Department of Labor – Occupational Safety and Health Division
    Provides a link between organized labor and progressive health, environmental and legal activists/organizations.

    State of Maryland – Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation
    Provides job development and promotion for Maryland residents.

    Teacher Retirement System of Texas
    TRS has been serving the needs of Texas public education employees for more than 70 years. In November 1936, voters approved an amendment to the Constitution of Texas creating a statewide teacher retirement system.

    U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division – Immigrant and Employee Rights Section
    Enforces the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act 274B, 8 U.S.C. 1324b. This statute prohibits citizenship or immigration status discrimination with respect to hiring, firing, and recruitment or referral for a fee, by employers with four or more employees. Employers may not treat individuals differently because they are, or are not, U.S. citizens.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Administrative Review Board
    Issues final agency decisions under a broad range of Federal labor laws, including nuclear, environmental, and Surface Transportation Assistance Act whistleblower cases, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program cases, and child labor cases.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Benefits Review Board
    A quasi-judicial, appellate body with nationwide jurisdiction over cases arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act and its extensions.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Civil Rights Center
    Enforces various federal statutes and regulations that prohibit discrimination in DOL financially assisted and conducted programs and activities, discrimination on the basis of disability by certain public entities and in DOL conducted activities, and discrimination within DOL itself.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Employee Benefits Security Administration
    Educates and assists Americans covered by private retirement plans, health plans and other welfare benefit plans. Promotes voluntary compliance and facilitates self-regulation, working to provide assistance to plan participants and beneficiaries.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board
    Hears appeals taken from determinations and awards under the Federal Employees Compensation Act with respect to claims of federal employees injured in the course of their employment.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Administrative Law Judges
    The Office of Administrative Law Judges is comprised of 40-50 Administrative Law Judges nationwide who hear and decide cases arising under more than 50 labor-related federal statutes in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Office of International Relations
    Represents the U.S. Government in the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the labor components of international organizations; provides expertise, research and advice on labor and employment trends and issues in foreign countries; and helps facilitate the sharing of information between specialized DOL agencies and other countries.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Office of the Solicitor
    Prepares, litigates and appeals cases in the federal courts or before administrative law judges. Also may be asked to render legal opinions, draft and review regulations issued by the department, analyze legislation or prepare testimony to be delivered to Congress.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Office of the Solicitor – Region 1
    The Boston Regional Solicitor’s Office is responsible for civil trial litigation and legal advice and support for the U.S. Department of Labor for matters arising in the following states: Connecticut
    Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont

    U.S. Department of Labor – Office of the Solicitor – Region III
    The Philadelphia Regional Solicitor’s Office is responsible for most civil trial litigation and legal support for the U.S. Department of Labor in the following states: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, District of Columbia

    U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Trade and Labor Affairs
    The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) leads the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to ensure that workers around the world are treated fairly and are able to share in the benefits of the global economy. ILAB’s mission is to use all available international channels to improve working conditions, raise living standards, protect workers ability to exercise their rights, and address the workplace exploitation of children and other vulnerable populations. ILAB’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs specifically works to accomplish these goals through U.S. trade and investment policies, programs, and agreements.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Women’s Bureau
    Represents the needs of wage-earning women in the public policy process. Its mission is to promote profitable employment opportunities for women, to empower them by enhancing their skills and improving their work conditions, and to provide employers with more alternatives to meet their labor needs.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
    An independent federal agency that enforces all federal employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Equal Pay Act. Develops policy guidance and regulations pertaining to the enforcement of these federal civil rights laws.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Chicago District Office
    The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Office of Federal Operations
    Part of the EEOC headquarters in Washington, DC. Responsible for adjudicating federal sector employment discrimination claims.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Office of the General Counsel
    The agency charged with enforcing federal employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Equal Pay Act.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Seattle
    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Washington Field Office
    Enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment.

    U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce
    The mission of the Committee on Education and the Workforce is to grow and strengthen the American middle class.

    U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
    The Committee is composed of three subcommittees, which have a broad jurisdiction over our country’s health care, education, employment and retirement policies.

  • Union

    Amalgamated Transit Union
    Represents transit workers in the United States and Canada.

    American Federation of Government Employees
    AFGE Local 476 represents approximately 1,800 bargaining unit employees who work for HUD. The bargaining unit includes both professional and non- professional employees.

    American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
    A voluntary federation of 53 national and international labor unions.

    American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
    A national labor union representing over 70,000 performers, journalists and other artists working in the entertainment and news media.

    California Nurses Association
    The California Nurses Association, and its national arm, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, is one of the nation’s premiere nurses organizations and health care unions. CNA/NNOC is a leading national advocate for universal healthcare reform, through a single-payer style system based on an improved and expanded Medicare for all.

    California Teachers Association (CTA)
    One of the strongest advocates for educators in the country. CTA includes teachers, counselors, school librarians, social workers, psychologists, and nurses. These educators in the K-12 school system are joined by community college faculty, California State University faculty, and education support professionals to make CTA the most inclusive and most powerful voice of educators in the state.

    General Teamsters Local 174
    Represents some 7,000 active members working for a variety of employers, and approximately 1,000 retired members.

    International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
    Union working to preserve and defend the rights of its members. It is involved in legal matters concerning organizing, collective bargaining, family leave, health and safety, and other such developments affecting working people.

    Local 6 Hotel Bartenders and Club Employees – New York
    Union which represents hotel workers in New York City.

    Massachusetts Teachers Association
    Supports public education, lobbies for continued funding of education reform efforts, annual increases in public higher education budgets and is committed to equal educational opportunity and the future of public education.

    National Basketball Players Association
    Union for current professional basketball players in the National Basketball Association.

    New Hampshire AFL-CIO
    Develops legislation and public policy on labor issues.

    A federation of more than 1,200 local unions, each representing its own members. They are affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). They are also part of the AFL-CIO and of Education International.

    Screen Actor’s Guild
    An American labor union representing over 200,000 film and television principal performers and background performers worldwide.

    Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, Boston SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. Local 615 in Boston focuses on property services workers – janitors, maintenance and custodial workers, security guards, stadium and arena workers, window cleaners, doormen/women.

    Service Employees International Union Local 32 BJ
    Largest building service workers union in the country, representing more than 110,000 cleaners, doormen, porters, maintenance workers, window cleaners, security guards, superintendents, and theater and stadium workers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.

    Service Employees International Union
    A progressive, dynamic and growing labor organization representing over 2 million members in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada, principally in the property service, public service, and health care fields.

    UNITE HERE Local 11
    A progressive, movement-oriented Los Angeles labor union, which represents hotel workers throughout the LA metropolitan area.

    United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) – Legal Department
    Conducts litigation at both the trial and appellate level, provides legal advice to the UAW’s elected officials and provides legal support in collective bargaining negotiations, lobbying and educational activities for UAW leadership and membership.

    United Mine Workers of America – Office of General Counsel
    A labor organization representing coal miners and many other types of workers, such as hospital workers, factory workers, police officers, correctional officers, county employees, and nursing home workers, to name a few.

    United Steelworkers (USW) – Legal Department
    USW is the largest industrial union in North America, engaged in policy issues including labor and employment, the environment, energy, trade, the future of manufacturing, and human rights.

    Washington State Nurse’s Association
    Represents more than 13,000 registered nurses including staff nurses, nurse educators, nurse practitioners, school nurses and public health nurses in Washington state.

  • Nonprofit

    Advocacy, Inc.
    Protects and advances the legal, human and service rights of people with disabilities.

    AFL-CIO Solidarity Center
    Launched by the AFL-CIO, the Solidarity Center is a nonprofit organization that assists workers around the world who are struggling to build democratic and independent trade unions. Provides a wide range of education, training, research, legal support, organizing assistance, and other resources to help build strong and effective trade unions and more just and equitable societies.

    Airline Pilots Association, International (ALPA)
    Represents 60,000 pilots who fly for 42 U.S. and Canadian airlines.

    American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
    Engages in the nonpartisan defense of the Bill of Rights through impact litigation involving violations of constitutional guarantees.

    Association for Union Democracy
    Provides counseling and education to union members seeking to assert their rights within a union and to women seeking equality within unions. Also creates educational literature.

    Center for Equal Opportunity
    Supports colorblind public policies and seeks to block the expansion of racial preferences and to prevent their use in employment, education, and voting.

    Change to Win
    A labor federation seeking to unite the 50 million workers in Change to Win affiliate industries whose jobs cannot be outsourced and who are vital to the global economy.

    Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
    Represents poor and minority persons in civil rights matters which involve significant legal questions or may result in systematic reform in the areas of employment discrimination and job creation, fair and affordable housing issues, hate crimes prevention and response, a wide range of education matters, administration of justice, voting rights, and the health and welfare rights of children in poverty.

    DC Employment Justice Center
    Provides free legal services to low-income workers on employment law matters such as unpaid wages, family and medical leave, disability accommodation, and weekly workers’ rights clinics.

    Disability Policy Consortium
    An organization of volunteer disability rights activists who share a common goal of equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities.

    Disability Rights Oregon
    Represents and protects the rights of people with disabilities, including developmental disabilities, mental illness, traumatic brain injury and physical impairments. They represent both people in the community and people in the state psychiatric hospital.

    Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic
    Joint venture of the University of Chicago Law School and the Legal Aid Bureau of United Charities.

    Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law and Public Policy
    The Institute is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization. Its mission is to advocate for employee rights by advancing equality and justice in the American workplace.

    Equal Justice Center
    Works with low-income working men and women to enforce wage rights and achieve fair treatment in the workplace, regardless of immigration status.

    Fair Employment Project
    A tax-exempt, nonprofit organization whose goal is to reduce violations of employment civil rights by providing assistance and information to workers and their advocates.

    Farmworker Justice
    Represents the interests of migrant and seasonal farm workers.

    Florida Legal Services – Migrant Farm Worker Justice Project
    Public interest law firm representing migrant farm workers in major employment, civil rights and housing litigation throughout Florida. Also engages in extensive policy work on behalf of farm workers.

    Gay Men’s Health Crisis
    Researches and directs legal representation on AIDS-related legal and advocacy issues.

    Greater Boston Legal Services – Employment Unit
    Represents clients in unemployment hearings and represents immigrants in work related problems including wage and hour claims, discrimination cases and other issues.

    Indiana Legal Services – Migrant Farmworker Project
    Nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal assistance to eligible low-income people in Indiana. Provides legal services specifically to migrant farmworkers who travel to Indiana to work in agriculture during the agricultural season.

    Legal Action Center
    Conducts litigation and policy advocacy to combat discrimination based upon HIV status, criminal record and/or addiction history. Promotes law reform as well as provides individual relief to clients.

    Legal Action of Wisconsin – Migrant Project
    Represents migrant farm workers throughout Wisconsin, focusing on employment-related problems and public benefit issues.

    Legal Aid Justice Center
    The Legal Aid Justice Center is a nationally recognized, nonprofit civil legal assistance program with offices in Charlottesville, Falls Church (Metro D.C.), Petersburg and Richmond.

    Legal Aid Services of Oregon – Farmworker Project
    Specializes in representing migrant and seasonal farmworkers primarily in employment, housing and civil rights issues. Many cases involve unpaid wages, poor working conditions, unsafe housing, discrimination and retaliation for exercise of legal rights.

    Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center
    Promotes the stability of low income and disadvantaged workers and their families by addressing issues that affect their ability to achieve self-sufficiency. Does litigation, direct services, legislative advocacy.

    Legal Clinic for the Disabled
    Provides free legal services to poor people with physical disabilities. Assists clients with a range of civil legal problems, including estates, special education, landlord/tenant or family law problems.

    Make the Road New York
    Promotes economic justice, equity and opportunity for all New Yorkers through community and electoral organizing, strategic policy advocacy, leadership development, youth and adult education, and high quality legal and support services.

    Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA)
    MIRA is a nonprofit organization based on a desire to help improve laws and public policy affecting immigrants, and working people of color.

    NAACP – Boston Branch
    Ensures the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.

    NAACP – National Legal Department
    Organization’s mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.

    National Disability Rights Network
    Nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities.

    National Employment Law Project
    Fights for working families to deliver on the nation’s promise of economic opportunity. Working in partnership in the states and local communities, NELP specializes in wage and hour protections, the employment rights of immigrant workers and people with criminal records, and the economic security of jobless families, including workers laid off due to the nation’s trade policies.

    National Employment Lawyers Association – Florida Chapter
    The National Employment Lawyers Association advances employee rights and serves lawyers who advocate for equality and justice in the American workplace.

    National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
    A nonprofit organization providing free legal aid to thousands of employees nationwide whose human and civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses.

    National Women’s Law Center
    The National Women’s Law Center is a nonprofit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s legal rights.

    National Workrights Institute
    Nonprofit organization dedicated to labor and employment rights.

    New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
    Builds power for workers and advances racial justice in post-Katrina New Orleans.

    Pars Equality Center
    Pars Equality Center is the first—and currently the only—organization of its kind dedicated solely to the protection of the rights and dignity of Iranian peoples in the United States.

    Pension Action Center
    A grant-funded program that provides free services to persons seeking pension benefits by investigating cases and representing clients through the administrative appeal process.

    Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York
    Founded initially after September 11th, 2001 to support restaurant workers displaced from the World Trade Center tragedy. Has expanded to advocate for the rights of restaurant workers citywide.

    Senior Service America
    Grassroots and legislative organization for protecting the rights of the elderly. Provides civic engagement and employment opportunities for adults over the age of 55 who wish to re- enter the workforce.

    Southern Migrant Legal Services
    A special project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to provide free employment-related legal services to migrant and seasonal farm workers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

    Southern Poverty Law Center
    Litigates constitutional and civil rights issues on behalf of victims of injustice. Substantial litigation practice and policy work relating to immigrants, juvenile justice, and education.

    Swords to Plowshares
    Swords to Plowshares is a local, nationally-recognized nonprofit serving veterans in need in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Unemployment Law Project
    Provides direct representation, counseling, and advocacy for workers whose unemployment compensation claims have been denied or are being challenged.

    Urban Justice Center
    Founded to make legal services easily accessible to poor and homeless New Yorkers, and to make social advocacy and law reform efforts directly responsive to the daily struggles of those individuals.

    Women Employed Institute
    National advocate for women’s economic advancement. Analyzes workplace issues, educates policy makers, and builds support to improve opportunities and incomes. Fights against discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment and to strengthen federal equal opportunity policies and work/family benefits.

    Women’s Law Project
    Dedicated to improving the legal and economic status of women and their families through public policy development, litigation, public education, legislative reform and systems advocacy.

    Provides training, technical assistance and advocacy support to legal services offices in California. The Project focuses on occupational safety and health (OSH) and toxic exposures in the workplace and community (environmental health).


    Abrahamson, Rdzanek & Wilkins, LLC
    Claims for sex, age, race and disability discrimination; ERISA claims; wage and hour class actions; suits for commissions; employment agreements; whistleblower claims.

    Adams Broadwell Joseph and Cardozo
    A small, innovative firm specializing in environmental, land use, public agency and energy law. Represents labor unions, trade associations, government agencies, and public interest groups.

    Allison, Slutsky & Kennedy
    Practices in the areas of union-side labor law; pension and employee benefits law; individual employment law; the representation of voluntary associations and nonprofit organizations; the representation of small businesses; and general civil trial and appellate litigation, administrative law, and alternative dispute resolution.

    Altshuler Berzon LLP
    Specializes in labor and employment, environmental, constitutional, campaign and election, and civil rights law. Although most of its cases are in federal and state courts in California, its attorneys appear regularly in courts throughout the country and before the National Labor Relations Board.

    Antonino and DiMare
    Specializes in civil rights, constitutional, consumer, education, employment, environmental, family, and labor.

    Arnold and Kadjan Lawyers
    Specializes in employment.

    Barkan, Meizlish, Derose & Cox LLP
    Represents employees, labor organizations, the injured and the disabled.

    Beeson, Tayer, and Bodine
    Represents public and private sector Unions, teachers, employee benefit plans, and individual employees in California. Has offices in Oakland and Sacramento. Involved in all aspects of labor law, including unions, employment law, employee benefits and trust funds, mediation and bankruptcy law.

    Beranbaum Menken LLP
    Plaintiff-side boutique firm specializing in employment, housing, and civil rights law. Represents the employee, tenant, and related parties in these matters.

    Bernstein Litowitz Berger and Grossman, LLP
    Prosecutes class and private actions nationwide on behalf of individual and institutional clients.

    Bondurant, Mixson, and Elmore
    Specializes in employment, environment, and civil rights.

    Bredhoff & Kaiser
    Provides legal services to labor organizations, employee benefit funds, individual employees, and others not philosophically incompatible with our labor clients.

    Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, LLP
    Major areas of practice include plaintiffs’ cases under the Fair Housing Act and Americans With Disabilities Act. Represents tort victims including victims of defective products and negligent landlords. Litigates a variety of cases throughout the U.S. that have national impact on the blind community.

    Bush & Gottlieb
    Specializes in employment/labor law.

    Cary Kane LLP
    ULabor (union-side), employment (plaintiff-side)and employee benefits firm located in Manhattan.

    Casper and De Toledo
    Specializes in employment, injury, medical malpractice, and whistleblowers.

    Davis and Davis, P.C.
    Employment and family law firm.

    Despres Schwartz and Geoghegan Ltd
    Four-lawyer union-side firm with a strong public interest practice.

    The Dwyer Law Firm
    A small civil rights law firm specializing in employment and representing employees in cases involving discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

    Ferguson, Chambers, and Sumter
    Specializes in employment discrimination, voting rights, school desegregation, education, capital defense, major felony defense, police misconduct and general civil rights litigation.

    Frank, Freed, Subit, and Thomas
    Practices plaintiff employment and union side labor law.

    Gary, Williams, Parenti, Watson, Gary & Gillepse
    Specializes in medical malpractice and employment.

    Jon L. Gelman, Attorney at Law
    A specialty law office concentrating in the litigation of serious work-related injuries of clients from around the United States.

    Gilbert and Sackman
    A small law firm that represents labor unions and employee benefit plans.

    Goldstein and Feur
    Specializes in consumer, employment, and family.

    Gorlick, Kravitz, and Listhaus
    Specializes in labor and employment, ERISA, contracts and discrimination, family, immigration, and tenants’ rights.

    Grant and Eisenhofer
    Specializes in labor litigation.

    Heller, Huron, Chertkof, and Salzman
    Plaintiff’s civil rights law firm, specializing in employment discrimination litigation.

    Issacs, Devasia, Castro and Wien, LLP
    Specializes in labor, criminal defense, employee discrimination, civil rights, real estate, tenants’ rights, consumer, and immigration.

    Kahn, Smith, and Collins, P.A.
    Concentrates on medical litigation and the representation of labor unions and their members. Trial lawyers represent individuals who have sustained serious personal injuries as the result of medical malpractice, accidents, defective medical products and work-place injuries.

    Katz, Banks, and Kumin
    Specializes in employment and whistleblowers.

    Kurzban, Kurzban, Tetzeli & Pratt
    Focuses on human rights, immigration law, international law, employment discrimination, health law, medical malpractice, products liability, commercial litigation and admiralty. Has represented or served as local counsel for the governments of Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua. One of the firm’s partners is the author of the best selling treatise on immigration law in the United States and has argued more immigration cases in the Supreme Court than any attorney in private practice.

    Labaton Sucharow LLP
    Specializes in civil rights, consumer, criminal, employment, and health care law.

    Langrock, Sperry and Wool
    Specializes in civil rights, criminal, education, employment, environment, and family.

    Leonard Carder LLP
    Specializes in representing local and international labor unions and employee benefit plans, as well as representing employees in class actions, individual employee rights cases and law reform litigation.

    Lichten & Liss-Riordan, PC
    Plaintiff-side employment and union-side labor law firm, whose attorneys represent employees and unions in wage and hour, discrimination, and other employment-related litigation.

    McKracken, Stemerman & Holsberry LLP
    Represents unions and workers with an emphasis on organizing. Work for unions includes First Amendment, corporations and securities, consumer, environmental, election, immigration, antitrust and other areas of the law.

    Minami Tamaki
    Specializes in family immigration, injury, criminal defense, employment, and consumer law.

    Murphy Anderson
    The firm combines traditional labor and employee-benefits practices with innovative labor strategies, First Amendment and qui tam practices. Attorneys practice labor, employment, whistleblower and First Amendment law and have a strong commitment to free speech, community service and social justice.

    Outten & Golden
    Represents individuals in all employment law matters, including discrimination, harassment, minimum wage, overtime, contract disputes and negotiations, retaliation, whistleblowing and family and medical leave. Litigates individual and class actions in federal and state court.

    Powers, Jodoin, Margolis & Mantell LLP
    Plaintiffs’ employment law firm

    The Previant Law Firm
    Oldest and largest union firm in the Midwest.

    Price and Associates
    The firm specializes in high profile and impact civil rights litigation with a particular focus in the areas of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

    Public Counsel Law Center
    The public interest law firm of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills Bar Associations that serves low-income individuals, families, children and the community service nonprofits that assist them.

    Relman Colfax PLLC
    Represents plaintiffs in discrimination cases, including issues of fair housing, fair lending, employment discrimination, public accommodations and police misconduct cases.

    Rothner, Segall & Greenstone
    Represents public and private-sector labor unions and employees.

    Siegel, Yee, Brunner & Mehta
    Specializes in civil rights, employment.

    Stowell & Friedman
    Specializes in employment and labor.

    The Sturdevant Law Firm
    Represents plaintiffs in individual, class action and private attorney general cases. Specializes in consumer protection, unlawful and unfair business practices, predatory lending, false and misleading advertising, employment discrimination, disability discrimination, and wage and hour violations.

    Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser
    Employee rights, women’s rights and labor law.

    Vladeck, Raskin, and Clark
    Concentrates primarily in representing employees, individually and on a class-wide basis, in a wide range of employment law cases, including discrimination, breach of contract, ERISA, defamation, and constitutional law matters.

    Whatley Drake & Kallas, LLC
    Practice areas are: health care, securities fraud; shareholders derivative actions, antitrust; trade regulation, consumer fraud; insurance, lending abuses, labor; employment, other class actions; complex litigation, mass torts, and white collar crime.

    Zalkind, Duncan & Bernstein
    Specializes in criminal defense and civil litigation including personal injury, domestic and employment cases. Practice includes both trial and appellate cases.

  • International

    Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
    The first transnational workers’ rights law center based in Central Mexico.

    International Labor Organization – New Delhi Branch
    Promotes standards, principles and rights at work. Creates greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment. Enhances the coverage and effectiveness of social protection and strengthens tripartism and social dialogue.

    International Labour Organization (ILO)
    A U.N. specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights. The ILO helps to articulate minimum standards of labor rights through conventions and recommendations. Provides technical assistance on employment and labor issues and offers training and advisory services to employer and labor organizations.

    Kituo cha Sheria
    A non-governmental organization dedicated to the fight for the rights of the marginalized specifically in areas of housing, land, labor and governance through advocacy, networking, lobbying and legal aid.

    National Labor Court of Israel
    The main judicial body developing labour and social security law. International standards, especially ILO conventions adopted by Israel, but also EU standards, are used by the government and courts as guidelines, even though they are not binding.

    Public Citizen – Global Trade Watch
    Fights for international trade and investment policies that promote government and corporate accountability, consumer health and safety, environmental protection and economic justice.

    Self Employed Women’s Association
    An organization of poor, self-employed women workers. Its main goals are to organize women workers to ensure that every family obtains full employment.

    U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of International Labor Affairs
    Develops departmental policy and programs relating to international labor activities, and coordinates Departmental international activities involving other U.S. Government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.

Selected Fellowships

Listed below are a variety of traditional labor and employment fellowships as well as a number of public interest fellowships that you many not immediately recognize as opportunities for pursuing labor and employment law. However, due to the range of issues that come together within this field, including discrimination, disability rights, health law, elder law and immigration law, we hope this list will encourage you to explore creative options for working in labor and employment law. Be advised that availability and application deadlines for these fellowships vary year to year, so check the listed websites for the most up-to-date information.

  • Fellowships

    AFL-CIO Fellowship Program
    The Fellow will work with lawyers in the AFL-CIO Legal Department and other union lawyers around the country, assisting in the drafting of briefs and participating in litigation strategy planning. Recent law graduates, judicial clerks, and 3Ls are welcome to apply.

    Altshuler Berzon LLP Law Fellowship
    Fellows work closely with the firm’s attorneys on a variety of matters representing labor unions, workers, environmental groups, consumers, and governmental entities. They participate as full members of our legal teams and have significant responsibilities for our cases, as well as opportunities for professional development.

    Berkeley Law Foundation (BLF) Public Interest Law Grants
    Funds new lawyers and innovative public interest law projects that serve disadvantaged people. Recognizing that the responsibility to challenge systemic inequality applies equally to the structure of our organization, BLF incorporates diversity as a core value. Prefers funding projects that will be affiliated with an established organization.

    Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging Fellowship
    Fellowship affords one year for two law school graduates interested in, and perhaps already in the early stages of pursuing, an academic and/or professional career in law and aging, the opportunity to pursue their research and professional interests. A legal services or other nonprofit organization must supervise the project. Fellows must provide some pro bono direct legal services to older persons.

    Bernabei & Kabat Fellowship
    The Fellow participates in all aspects of litigation, from interviewing clients to assisting with trials, hearings and mediations. Fellows have extensive client contact and participate in case development and strategy. We also encourage Fellows’ professional development by providing time for Fellows to attend seminars and trainings and to seek out opportunities for publication.

    Bredhoff & Kaiser, Greenfield Fellows
    Greenfield Fellows will be exposed to our national practice representing and advancing the interests of working people and will have the opportunity to make immediate contributions on case teams handling matters of substantial importance.

    Capital Fellows Programs – Sacramento State
    Executive Fellows function as full-time professional staff at various levels of California’s executive branch. Fellows gain valuable insights and experiences in the realm of public policy and politics. Executive Fellows are placed in the executive branch based on interest, including offices of the governor, constitutional officers, cabinet secretaries, commissions and departments. Also students will participate in a graduate seminar conducted by Sacramento State.

    Echoing Green Fellowships
    Seed money and technical support to social entrepreneurs starting innovative organizations and projects in a wide range of areas including international human rights, the environment, the arts, education, criminal justice and community development. Fellows must create new programs or new organizations that are community-based with sustainable goals. Applications accepted October/November.

    EEOC Attorney Honors Program
    Hires recent law school graduates and judicial clerks for permanent positions with the EEOC. Successful applicants will have a demonstrated interest in public service and labor and employment law. Must be a U.S. citizen and third year law school student or a full-time graduate student expected to graduate in the spring/summer of year you would begin job. Graduate study must have immediately followed law school graduation with no significant post-J.D. employment and must be full time for the duration of study; OR, will be a judicial law clerk prior to application deadline and will complete clerkship the summer before you would begin job.

    Farmworker Justice Legal Fellowship
    The Legal Fellowship will provide an exciting opportunity to assist farmworkers and their organizations with technical and program support and to assist FJ professional staff on litigation, policy advocacy, and health promotion.

    Fellowship on Women and Public Policy
    Intensive leadership development program designed to promote equity and excellence in public service. The Fellowship provides policy field experience and academic coursework in public policy and advocacy, co-curricular activities such as workshops, conferences, policy field trips, and community service opportunities to 12 Fellows. Fellowship available to students from a New York State accredited college or university graduate program. Program is located in Albany, NY.

    Foundation for Advocacy, Inclusion & Resources / Legal Aid at Work, FAIR Fellowship
    The FAIR Fellowship is a unique fellowship that enables a new attorney to work full-time for two consecutive terms: nine months at Legal Aid at Work and six months at a law practice affiliated with the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA), an organization of more than 1200 workers’ rights advocates throughout California.

    Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellowship
    Provides an opportunity for a law graduate who has completed a judicial clerkship to practice civil rights and poverty law in Baltimore for 1 year.

    George N. Lindsay Fellowship, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
    Provides the opportunity for 1 Fellow to gain legal experience in one or more of the following areas: voting rights, employment discrimination, fair housing, community and economic development, environmental justice, education opportunities, pro- affirmative action efforts, discrimination and the intersection of gender and race, and human rights law as well as other civil rights issues. The majority of all legal activities involve co-counseled litigation.

    John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest and Constitutional Law
    The Fellow is a full-time associate at the firm for two years and works closely with John J. Gibbons and Lawrence S. Lustberg on major public interest and constitutional law projects and litigation. The Fellow assists with legal representation of clients in a wide variety of public interest issues. After completing the fellowship, the Fellow will be given the opportunity to remain at the firm with full seniority. Applicants will usually have completed a judicial clerkship or be actively working in public interest law.

    Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch Fellowship
    The Fellow will have the opportunity to take on significant responsibility in cases covering a broad range of employment matters including workplace discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, discipline, labor disputes, and wage violations, among others. The Fellow will gain hands-on experience by working closely with experienced attorneys on all phases of litigation in various forums (EEOC, MSPB, Office of Special Counsel, Department of Labor, federal court, labor arbitration).

    Katz Banks Kumin Legal Fellow
    Fellows are deeply involved in all aspects and stages of whistleblower and employment discrimination cases, from developing and investigating cases, interviewing clients and witnesses, participating in settlement negotiations and mediations, researching and drafting pleadings and detailed case communications, conducting discovery, and attending legal proceedings.

    Murphy Anderson PLLC, George R. Murphy Public Interest Fellowship
    Murphy Anderson PLLC, a Washington, DC-based public-interest law firm practicing labor, employment and whistleblower law, offers the George R. Murphy Public Interest Fellowship to recent law school graduates or judicial clerks who seek experience litigating important public-interest cases at the firm.

    National Education Association, Civil Rights Law Fellowship
    The NEA Civil Rights Law Fellowship offers the opportunity for a rising attorney with two to five years of legal experience to work on the cause of advancing student civil rights with experienced counsel and other education advocates.

    National Labor Relations Board Honors Program
    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Honors Program is a comprehensive program designed to introduce highly motivated individuals to the field of labor law. The NLRB Honors Program allows select candidates an opportunity to work directly with practicing labor lawyers and technical professionals in its Washington, D.C. Headquarters and Regional Offices. Honors Attorneys will gain valuable experience and benefit from a wide variety of learning experiences.

    Relman Civil Rights Fellowship
    Relman & Dane is a private public interest law firm specializing in civil rights issues. Fellow works closely with the firm’s attorneys on cases in civil rights law, including such areas as fair housing, fair lending, police accountability, public accommodations and employment discrimination. Fellows are involved in all aspects of litigation, from developing and investigating cases to interviewing clients, drafting pleadings and appearing in court.

    Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarships
    Approx. 800 scholars per year study or research in more than 60 foreign countries where Rotary clubs are located. Scholars are encouraged to study in a field that addresses the humanitarian needs of the world community, such as health care, children at risk, concern for the aging, literacy and numeracy, population issues, urban concerns, disabled persons, international understanding and goodwill, poverty and hunger, PolioPlus, or environmental awareness. Must be proficient in the language of host country. Deadline varies by local club.

    Institute of Current World Affairs Fellowship Program
    The Institute provides several fellowships in which the candidate selects issues and regions to be studied during a 2-year self- designed, independent study abroad. Fellowships do not fund support work toward academic degrees, research projects, or the writing of books. Candidates are required to speak the language of the country they want to conduct the fellowship in.

    Skadden and Equal Justice Works Fellowship
    These two “portable” fellowships allow you to go work with a sponsoring organization on a project of your design.

    SEIU Fellowship
    Attorneys in SEIU’s Legal Department engage in innovative lawyering to further the organization’s interests in organizing non-union workers, improving working conditions for all workers, engaging in political action, and achieving social justice. This includes legal work on a wide range of litigation, regulatory and legislative matters, and policy and advising on union governance issues, organizing campaigns, and other legal work in furtherance of working people and their communities. Fellows in the SEIU Legal Department conduct legal research and draft legal memoranda, work with attorneys on pending litigation, attend hearings and conferences, and meet with union leaders.

    U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor Honors Program
    The Honors Program in the Office of the Solicitor at the U.S. Department of Labor provides challenging professional opportunities for outstanding law school graduates. Honors Program attorneys work in the Solicitor’s Office either at the department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., or in one of seven regional offices, gaining exposure to a broad range of substantive legal work in one of the government’s preeminent legal offices.

    Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship (WLPPF)
    The Fellowship enables law graduates with an interest in women’s rights to work in Washington, D.C. for a year on legal and policy issues affecting women. Fellows work at nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, congressional offices, and the Georgetown University Law Center Domestic Violence Clinic. Fellows are supervised by experienced attorneys and work exclusively on women’s rights issues, including reproductive rights, economic stability, domestic violence, international human rights, and the rights of women with disabilities.

Selected Websites

Below are some of the more useful sites on labor and employment law issues. The sites provide both information and links to other organizations of interest. Remember that many of the sites listed in the Selected Organizations section are also valuable resources on labor and employment law.


This guide would not have been possible without the thoughtful insights gathered through nearly 40 interviews with labor and employment attorneys. Profound thanks are due to the following individuals for sharing their personal stories and rich knowledge of the field: Robin Alexander, Alison Asarnow, Steve Berzon, Cathleen Caron, Robert DeGregory, Elizabeth Drake, Edward Eitches, Terri Gerstein, Chuck Gilligan, Norm Gleichman, Shelley Gregory, Aaron Halegua, Piper Hoffman, Laura Juran, Lela Klein, Sophia Lai, Cyrus Mehri, ReNika Moore, Claire Prestel, Jose Rodriguez, JJ Rosenbaum, Sasha Shapiro, Hara Sherman, Summer Smith, Doug Stevick, Ashwini Sukthankar, Judith Starr, Julie Su, Anand Swaminathan, Daniel Vail, Grayson Walker, and Michelle Yau.

We are particularly grateful to Patricia Kakelec, Greg Schell and Shannon Liss-Riordan, for providing personal narratives, and to Claire Prestel for both being interviewed and reviewing the labor sections of the guide respectively.

Many thanks to Professor Ben Sachs for contributing his expertise in labor and employment law in editing this guide. Much gratitude is due to Catherine Pattanayak and Kirsten Bermingham for their careful editing and spot-on comments. Finally, thanks to Alexa Shabecoff for envisioning this guide and seeing it through to the finish with thoughtful editing and supervision.

Written by: Kyle Edwards & Sarah Robinson, Summer Fellows