Monday, November 23, 2009

What to look for in an employment lawyer

I presented last week at a marketing group I recently joined. In briefly speaking about who I am and what I do, it got me thinking about what companies should look for when hiring employment counsel. Here are my thoughts.

1. Experience and knowledge in the area. When you need to terminate an employee, or when an employee lodges a harassment complaint, you want to be able to pick up the phone and receive immediate advice about how to handle the situation. You don’t want your employment attorney to tell you that he or she will have to look into the situation and get back to you in a week with an answer. Employment law complex, ever-changing, and difficult to dabble in. An investment in someone who knows the area is one of the the most important HR decisions you can make for your business.

2. Willingness to get to know your business. There are legal decisions and business decisions, and the latter will always influence the former. Your counsel cannot provide sound legal advice without putting in the time and effort to know your business and its operations.

3. Proactive, not reactive. There is nothing businesses like less than spending money on lawyers. Having said that, employers are often better off spending a few thousand dollars spotting issues before they become problems than spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing problems later. Your lawyer should be counseling you in this direction.

4. Demonstrated track record of trying employment cases. The best way to get a fair result out of a case is to have a lawyer who has actually tried employment cases. Litigation often devolves into a high stakes game of chicken. If your attorney is not comfortable in front of a jury, it becomes increasingly difficult not to blink first.