Read on for a day in the life of an employment lawyer
Job Title: Employment Lawyer
From: Pacific Northwest
Salary/Benefits: $150,000, health benefits, five-figure bonus based on billable hour target, and discretionary bonus based on merit/performance
Employer Type: Private law firm
Employer Size: 800+ Attorneys worldwide; thousands of employees
How Long in Current Position: Two years at this firm (six years practicing law in total)
Highest Level of Education: J.D.
How You Got to Your Current Job: In school, I regularly received praise for my research and writing. I also enjoyed reading and writing, so I wanted to pursue a career that I could use these skills. After graduating from college, I volunteered for two years in AmeriCorps and assisted with elementary school students with reading lessons. I enjoyed the experience, but knew that I wanted to do more than teach. I looked into the law, worked for a brief time at a law firm in a big city, and determined that is what I wanted to do. Once I got to law school, I knew I wanted to practice employment litigation because each case is fact-specific and can be highly emotional (I have found both to be true as a practicing lawyer). I took courses that would be useful for this practice, including statutory interpretation (many employment laws are statutory, like Title VII), corporations (to defend employers, you need a basic understanding of how corporations work), and legal research and writing (excellent legal writing skills are required for litigation). When I got out of law school, I had a hard time finding an entry-level employment associate attorney position, so I worked at a general civil litigation firm and clerked for a judge. About two years after graduating, I worked for two national firms practicing employment law and general litigation. Now I work for a large international labor and employment law firm, which is exactly where I want to be right now in my career.
Describe a typical day at work:
No day is typical, but this is a good summary that captures a typical day.
6:00-6:45am: Silent alarm on my Fitbit goes off. Go for a run. (This does not always happen, especially if I had to work late the previous night, but I try to adhere to this routine because otherwise, there is no guarantee that I will have time to work out.)
6:45-7:15am: Cool down from the workout. Listen to the 10-minute Daily Calm from the Calm app.
7:15-7:45am: Read my current novel. (Again, this does not always happen when I have a heavy workload, but I try to fit this in because I find that it grounds me before a busy day.)
7:45-8:00am: Shower, get ready for work, and make coffee. (Due to the pandemic, I work from home. Normally, I have a 15-minute commute, so this routine is not that different from my pre-pandemic routine.)
8:00-9:00am: Read emails, respond to any late night/early morning emails from partners about ongoing case strategies or issues (like deposition scheduling, timing for summary judgment motions, or any random question about a fact in the case). If there are any court filings due or discovery that needs to be served, I look them over one more time before sending it to my assistant to proofread and finalize, so she has plenty of time to review or fix any issues before 5pm. I share her with two other attorneys, so she has a full plate and I try to be considerate of her time.
9:00-9:30am: Conference call with the partner and client contact to discuss a new case that was filed in federal court. My firm defends employers, so we defend against lawsuits or threatened lawsuits brought by the client’s former employee. Unless a former employee has breached a noncompete agreement, we are usually not on the “Plaintiff” side. Employment litigation cases are typically staffed with a partner, an associate, and a paralegal. The partner oversees the big picture strategy and handles the most important tasks in the case, such as taking the plaintiff’s deposition, attending highly contested motion hearings, and managing the client relationship. The associate does most of the heavy lifting in a case, like investigating facts (including witness interviews and reviewing client documents), drafting discovery requests and responses, writing discovery conferral letters, writing the initial drafts of various motions, researching complex legal questions, communicating with opposing counsel about discovery disputes, apprising the client of case status, directing the work of paralegals on various fact investigation tasks (like drafting subpoenas or creating factual timelines), and directing the work of junior-level or contract attorneys on document review projects and simple research tasks.
9:30-9:40am: Follow-up call with the partner to discuss next steps in the new case, including responding to the Complaint, initial witness interviews, collecting documents and information from the client, and think about critical discovery we need (i.e., documents we want to request from the plaintiff and nonparties).
9:40-10:00am: Draft an initial email to the client about next steps, including a list of documents we need to evaluate the claims, a list of employee witnesses we need to interview, and thoughts on initial defense strategy based on my conversation with the partner. While drafting this email, I receive an email from opposing counsel in a second case because he wants to depose four witnesses (our client’s employees) next month. I forward the email to the assigned partner so she knows and let her know that I will work with the client to schedule these. I also forward the email to the client to let him know and ask him how he would like us to schedule the depositions and prep sessions. Each prep session takes about 3-4 hours and depending on the importance of the witness to the case, each deposition can two to eight hours.
10:00-10:10am: Take a break – read the New York Times, get water, eat a quick breakfast, etc.
10:10-10:20am: My assistant emails me with questions about the filing that is due today. I respond to them. She edits accordingly and sends me the final version to approve before we file and serve the document. I approve, and she files and serves.
10:20am-12:30pm: Draft a letter in response to opposing counsel’s meet and confer letter in a third case. In many jurisdictions, meet and confer letters and phone calls are required before a party can file a motion to compel discovery. Opposing counsel takes issue with our client’s document production in response to his client’s discovery requests. I send the draft letter to the partner on the case for review, letting her know that opposing counsel has asked us to respond by end of week, or else he will file the motion to compel.
12:30-12:50pm: Eat lunch. While eating lunch, the partner calls me about the depositions that we are trying to schedule in the second case. She asks me a few questions about why I think opposing counsel wants to depose these four witnesses, whether there is any basis not to produce these witnesses (unless there is a compelling reason, we have to produce), and when I will be available to schedule the prep sessions and depositions. We also shoot the shit a little about our weekends.
12:50-1:00pm: Paralegal emails me drafts of document subpoenas to serve today for the second case. I review and approve. She serves.
1:00-2:30pm: A partner emails me with an urgent research question to advise a client. Partners usually divide their practice between litigation and advice work, so clients often call them with urgent questions about personnel decisions (hiring, firing, layoffs, etc.). It usually takes about 1-2 hours to research the relevant laws and draft an email response to the partner. The email must be professional and free of typos, so the partner can just forward or copy/paste my email into his response. As an associate, my job is to make the partner’s life easier and save them time.
2:30-2:50pm: In a fourth case, I receive and review opposing counsel’s responses to discovery requests and documents that his client produced. I take notes on issues and deficiencies in the responses, so I can prepare a meet and confer letter to opposing counsel before filing a motion to compel. There are about 300 pages of documents, so I will review these later when my head is less foggy from the intense research and response email I just prepared. Plus, my head is generally foggy around 3pm.
2:50-3:10pm: Partner in the third case calls me, acknowledges receiving the draft meet and confer letter response I sent her this morning, and tells me about a phone call she had with the client this morning. Apparently the plaintiff stole confidential and proprietary information from our client before she left the company, so we have grounds to file a counterclaim (or cross-claim) for damages caused by her unauthorized use of company information. Partner asks me to draft the counterclaim/cross-complaint and the related motion, and impresses upon me that it is top priority because we don’t want the judge to think we “slept on our rights” by moving too slowly.
3:10-5:00pm: Even though I am feeling foggy, I start drafting the counterclaim and related motion. As I am doing this, opposing counsel from the second case emails me with a snarky message about the subpoenas our paralegal served a few hours ago. He is threatening to file a motion to quash the subpoenas because they are overbroad and in his view, not relevant to the case. I forward his email to the partner and give her my initial thoughts on how we should respond (concede on this issue, don’t budge on this issue – let him file a motion if he wants to, etc.). After I get her thoughts, I will respond to him (likely tomorrow). This job requires an incredible amount of multi-tasking, attention to detail, quick recall of critical and relevant factual and legal issues in each case, and timely status reporting to stakeholders (i.e., partner, client).
5-6:00pm: Partner with the urgent research question sends me an email from the client thanking us for the quick response, but he has another question on a related issue. Can we get back to him by noon tomorrow? Since my head is still “in” this issue, I do the research now and respond to the partner with my findings. This way, I don’t need to do it tomorrow and can focus on the more urgent counterclaim and motion that another partner wants me to focus on. As I am researching this issue, I receive an email from opposing counsel on a fifth case at 5:45pm letting me know that he has filed his response to our motion, and attached are the service copies. Our reply filing is due in 7 calendar days – I put a reminder on my calendar so I can plan accordingly. I need to make sure the draft gets to the partner at least two days before it is due so she has time to review and make edits.
6:00-8:00pm: Except on really busy days, I usually reserve these hours to spend time with my significant other. We eat dinner, watch The Great British Bake-Off, and generally catch up over our days. I rant about my day, he rants about his.
8:00-10:00pm: I continue to work on the counterclaim and related motion. I put together a list of questions I want to ask the client so I can confirm my understanding of the facts and circumstances surrounding the former employee’s taking of the client’s confidential information.
10:00-11:00pm: I power off my computer, turn on Netflix to watch my latest true crime documentary, and settle into bed.
11:00-11:30pm: Wind down and go to bed. I’m exhausted and can’t stay up even if I wanted to.
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