Find an Employment Lawyer
An employment lawyer specializes in representing employers or employees in a wide array of employment related matters. There are a variety of state and federal laws governing the treatment of employees. These include anti-discrimination laws, sexual harassment laws, and laws governing employee benefits. Furthermore, there are laws that govern how employers hire and fire employees, as well as how employees are classified. To find a qualified employment lawyer, you will need to gather referrals and then set up consultations with each attorney.
Finding an Attorney through Referrals
- Contact your state bar association. If you are looking for an employment lawyer then a good place to start is by contacting your state or county bar association and asking for a referral. Many state bar associations, like the one in Texas, have a “Find a Lawyer” feature on its website. To view an example, click here.
- If your state bar offers this service, then you can find an employment lawyer near you by conducting a simple search.
- Some state bar associations, like California’s, provide the public with a list of lawyer referral service organizations which have been certified by the state bar. You can then contact the organizations and get referrals.
- Many cities and counties have their own bar associations as well. Like state bar associations, they may run a referral service. For example, the San Diego County Bar Association has its own referral service where members of the public can consult with a lawyer who specializes in a particular area of law.
- For a complete list of referral services around the country, click here.
- Contact a trade organization or professional group. In addition to state or local bar associations, there are a variety of professional lawyer organizations made up of attorneys specializing in employment law. Depending on the organization, they may offer referral programs for attorneys specializing in either “plaintiff-side” work representing employees or attorneys specializing in “defense side” work representing employers.
- The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) is the largest organization in the United States of attorneys who primarily represent employees. As such, if you are an employee or prospective employee seeking legal assistance, then NELA is a good place to start.
- Some states also run statewide associations of employment lawyers. The California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA) is one such organization. CELA allows users to search their website for an attorney who primarily represents employees by city, county, language, and practice area.
- Ask friends or family. A good source of referrals are family and friends or anyone else that you know, such as coworkers. Ask them if they have ever used an employment lawyer. Try to get a feel for their experience with the attorney.
- Ask another lawyer. Attorneys are a good source of referrals. If you have used a lawyer for a non-employment matter (e.g., to write a will or to defend you in a criminal case), then you should ask the attorney for a recommendation of an employment lawyer. Other lawyers are well positioned to know the reputations of various employment lawyers and can steer you in the right direction.
Researching Recommended Attorneys
- Visit the attorney's website. Most attorneys now have a webpage, even if the attorney works in a small firm or is a solo practitioner. You should pull up the attorney's webpage.
- If you don’t have a direct URL, then search for the attorney in your favorite web browser by typing the name and “lawyer” as well as the city the attorney practices in.
- Check for experience in employment cases. The lawyer should list representative cases he or she has worked on, including a short description of what the case was about. You should look to see that the attorney has handled several employment related matters in the past few years.
- Also look to see that the lawyer has handled employment matters like your own issue. It is important that the attorney not only have general employment law experience but also experience handling cases like yours. For example, if you want to sue an employer for discrimination, make sure that the lawyer has handled discrimination matters for plaintiffs.
- Some attorneys specialize in representing employers or employees. This should be apparent from the website. The attorney will probably include a short description of the representation and will state whether he represented the employer or employee. For example, “Defended employer against Title VII discrimination suit.”
- If you are not clear whether the attorney represents only employees or employers, then you can ask when you call to set up a consultation.
- Assess the overall web presentation. You should look to see how well-written the attorney's website is. Check for typos, missed words, and awkward grammar. An attorney who hasn't taken the time to properly create a website might lack the dedication to represent you competently.
- Check for certification. Some states allow attorneys to gain certification in a subfield. To qualify, the attorney must attend advanced continuing legal education courses in the area of specialty, demonstrate substantial involvement in the field, submit references from others in the legal community, and pass a written exam in the subfield.
Check to see if the attorney has an employment law certification.
- Be aware that many states do not allow certification. Accordingly, the lack of certification may simply mean that your state doesn't allow it. Check to see if other employment lawyers in the state have certification. If none do, then your state may not allow it.
- States may certify specialists in “Employment Law” or “Labor and Employment Law.” Look for either designation.
- Search for ethics violations. Each state has an attorney disciplinary commission that accepts complaints about attorneys and investigates for possible ethics violations.
If the attorney is ultimately charged with an ethics violation, then the violation should be noticed on the commission's website.
- Find your state's disciplinary commission and search for the attorney by name. If the attorney has any ethics violations then they should be listed. A description of the violation may be included as well.
- Common violations include grossly negligent representation, misappropriating client funds, and undisclosed conflicts of interests.
- Check online reviews. Many websites offer free reviews of businesses, including law firms and individual attorneys. Some places to look for reviews include Find Law, Avvo, and Yahoo Local.
- Be mindful that negative reviews often outnumber positive reviews since those who are upset are often more motivated to leave reviews than those who were satisfied by the service. Furthermore, reviews are one-sided, offering only the client’s perspective.
- Find out if the attorney has earned a Martindale-Hubbell rating. "AV" is the highest ability/highest ethics rating based on the opinion of lawyers and judges who know the attorney. Only 10% of American lawyers have achieved this rating. Only 50% of all lawyers have earned a rating, so A-B-C rated lawyers are in the top 50%. Moreover, you cannot have an ability rating unless you have earned the highest ethics rating (the "V" rating).
Meeting with the Attorney
- Schedule a consultation. Many attorneys now offer free or reduced-fee consultations. Once you have come up with a list of possible attorneys, you should call their offices and ask for a consultation. You should try to meet with at least three attorneys.
Don’t just hire the first person you meet.
- When you call, you may be asked a set of screening questions by a secretary or paralegal. Some attorneys only handle certain cases and they want to be sure that you have a qualifying case before scheduling an appointment.
- Prepare for the meeting. You should gather any necessary documents to take to the meeting, e.g., employment contract, termination letter, emails, and anything else that relates to your case.
Also sit down and come up with a list of questions to ask the attorney. Common questions are:
- How much does the attorney charge? Will the attorney work on contingency or for a flat fee? If so, what are the terms?
- Who else will work on the case (e.g., paralegals or junior attorneys)?
- Who keeps the file after the case ends?
- What is the attorney’s philosophy concerning settlement and negotiation?
- How much time does the attorney take to respond to phone calls or emails?
- Attend the consultation. The meeting will be brief (probably 15-30 minutes). Provide the attorney with the information he or she needs and ask your questions. If you want to hire the attorney, then you will need to sign an engagement letter. You may be asked to sign it at the meeting or it may be mailed to you.
- Choose an attorney. When deciding which attorney to hire, you should pay attention to experience but also make sure that you are comfortable communicating with the person. Personal chemistry is very important.
- Call or email the attorney as soon as possible and let him or her know that you would like to hire them.
- Communicate with your attorney. An effective attorney-client relationship is built on communication. As your attorney begins to work on your case, be sure to give her all the materials she requests as soon as possible. Also, feel free to contact your attorney for updates.
- Make sure to request copies of all documents the attorney files in your case and keep your own files at home.
- Always be honest with your lawyer. In order to effectively represent you, your attorney will need to know the facts.
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, then contact any legal aid organization in your area, which may be able to provide assistance with employment matters. For example, the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center provides free help to workers who meet certain income eligibility requirements. To find a legal aid clinic in your area, click here.
- Employers who are short on funds can also reach out to law school legal clinics, some of which run small business clinics which can assist small businesses in a variety of matters, including employment issues. Contact a local law school to ask if they have small business programs available. Employees in need of reduced-cost assistance may also wish to contact law school clinics.
- If you are part of a union, you may have access to a pre-paid legal plan or have access to attorneys at a reduced rate. Check with your union.