Employment and labor relations are heavily regulated areas of human interaction in the United States; as a consequence, a great many lawyers are employed in these practice fields. The laws surrounding the employment relationship are becoming increasingly numerous and complex, making this a practice area in which job opportunities are growing. Many lawyers in the field work for the government, mainly in federal agencies including the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and the Department of Justice. Others work for state agencies including state labor departments and equal opportunity commissions. Substantial numbers of lawyers advise businesses on compliance with employment and labor laws and represent them in these matters, working both at law firms and as in-house corporation counsel. Still others work for labor unions or represent individuals on labor and employment law matters. Another sizeable group of lawyers address employment and labor law matters in their work for public interest organizations, including policy and advocacy organizations, legal aid offices, and low-income worker representation clinics. Still others work as arbitrators, mediators, and community organizers, and in business, human resources, and compliance officer positions.
The employment and labor law field can be divided into a number of sub-specialties, though many lawyers’ practices span a combination of these areas. Employment law generally refers to the myriad of laws regulating the individual employment relationship, which range from contract and tort doctrines to statutory laws including wage and hour and overtime laws and whistleblower protections to workplace health and safety regulations. The biggest area of employment law is employment anti-discrimination law, which covers federal and state statutes banning discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics including race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability. Labor law generally refers to the laws that govern collective relationships between workers and employers, especially but not exclusively when employees choose to be represented by a labor union. Another important area of employment law in which job opportunities are always robust for qualified lawyers is employee benefits law, which has tax, litigation, and business planning aspects. The lists below reflect some course planning advice for students wishing to prepare themselves well for practice in any combination of these practice areas.
There are two core courses in our employment and labor law curriculum: labor and employment law and employment discrimination. Neither is a prerequisite for the other. Students who are planning to practice in the employment and labor law area should probably take both of these courses in order to develop a well-rounded perspective on the broad field. Business associations and administrative law are also key core topics that underlie much of any employment or labor lawyer’s work. An international perspective on employment and labor law issues is also becoming increasingly important in an increasingly interconnected global world. Skills courses are also important as employment and labor lawyers’ work frequently spans negotiation, client counseling, advocacy, and alternative dispute resolution.