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Employment Law Students

Employment Law Students

How to get trained as an employment lawyer

If you want to practice plaintiff’s employment law right out of law school, you must learn the major concepts in employment law, and then perform a lot of self study of the statutes and important court cases that affect your jurisdiction.

LAW SCHOOL: To get the fundamentals, take employment law classes in law school. Some law schools offer a certificate in employment law. For example, visit the St. Louis University Center for Employment Law Studies. I went to Washington University where there is no special employment law curriculum, even though I wanted to learn employment law. That’s because I reviewed the course offerings between St. Louis U and Wash U, and I concluded (back in 1994) that I could get just about as much employment law education at Wash U as at SLU, even though I could not get a certificate in employment law from Wash U (they don’t offer one at Wash U). I knew that the real learning about employment law would be going on via solo study of laws and court decisions anyway. But SLU’s employment law curriculum would be a nice jump start for you.

EMPLOYMENT LAW CLINIC: To get some on the job training in plaintiff’s employment law work, take a clinic in employment law and work for an employment law firm. I did that while at Wash U, because Wash U had an employment law clinic even though they did not have a formal employment law curriculum.

JOIN NELA: As a law student, you can join the National Employment Lawyer’s Association. Visit NELA on the web at Nela.org.

AFTER LAW SCHOOL: Work cheap for a plaintiff’s employment law firm, to get some experience. Work in a paralegal role, or for paralegal pay, and learn the ropes of how cases unfold. Assist at trial. Don’t be too proud to suffer this OJT period, because the experience will pay huge dividends. If you refuse to work cheaply, you might not get a job in employment law at all, for a long time, and you will have missed a great opportunity to learn.

Prospects for getting a job as an employment lawyer

DEFENSE WORK: Big law firms do primarily the defense side of the case, representing management in employment issues. To work for a big defense firm, you will probably need a very competitive law school resume, high class rank, law review, etc… Then you will get to toil away for some years on a strict billable hours quota while you pay your dues. You will be the classic “associate” in a big firm.

PLAINTIFF’s WORK: Most plaintiff’s employment law firms are solo or small firm lawyers. I explain more about why there are so few plaintiff’s employment lawyers in this article: What an Employment Lawyer is and how to find one. I also have a page with Links to Employment Lawyers’ websites.

Solo and small firm plaintiff’s employment lawyers do not hire associates very often. Once hired, an associate seems to stay for a long time, perhaps becoming a partner in the tiny firm. But much more common is the arrangement where two or more solo employment lawyers join together and form a practice or partnership. These lawyers may or may not combine income into a true partnership – they might just form a limited partnership for purposes of sharing office overhead and appearing to be a larger entity.

GOING SOLO: You can hang out the shingle from the start in the law, any form of law, really. But since you are a rookie, how do you acquire the required competence? You focus, first and foremost, on employment law. If you severely limit your practice area to employment law, you can absorb the finite amount of law and legal doctrines and become somewhat competent on the pure legal aspects of the cases. Then you can lean on mentors and the local employment lawyer’s association to help you come up to speed on the nuts and bolts of running the practice.

LIFE EXPERIENCE: Many people will disagree with me on this one. In employment law practice, before you have a lot of experience, it helps if you’ve spent a lot of time working in the real world with ordinary people, slaving away for that paycheck and experiencing the ups and downs of real work life. How can you relate to your clients well if you haven’t walked a mile in their shoes? How can you mentally picture their workplace and the workplace hierarchy and political structure, unless you’ve had work experience? How can you comprehend the flow of paper and data in your client’s job (for evidence purposes, for example), unless you’ve had experience with how various kinds of workplaces function? I write about my own experiences in my web-bio, About Missouri Employment Lawyer Tim Willoughby.

Miscellaneous thoughts about
breaking into Plaintiff’s Employment Law

You will probably be a solo lawyer, and you will experience the ups and down of any solo’s life. In the beginning, your phone will not ring very much and you will panic about paying your overhead. Then things will settle down, and your professional associates will send you some business and you will be on your way. You have to make the most of every case that comes in.

Consider sharing an office with another lawyer. Rent from an employment lawyer.

Study hard on your own.

Be prepared for a disappointing experience as you learn how unfavorable the law is for many types of employment cases, especially in federal court, and how much of an uphill battle it is going to be to get any justice for your clients in a courtroom.

You will encounter a lot of pleasure from the practice, as you are sometimes able to fix a workplace problem and salvage someone’s career. Or maybe you were able to get some justice for someone who was a wreck when you met them, and now they have new hope, thanks to your efforts, and they are on their way to recovery and their family is intact.

From a humanitarian point of view, you can do a lot of good for a lot of people. You can even make a living at it, but it takes a thick skin, perseverence, and finesse.


Timslaw.com Missouri Employment Law

Maintained by Attorney Phil Willoughby
Founded by Tim Willoughby, Esq. (1959-2013)

Phil is a Missouri employment lawyer who is licensed to practice in Kansas and Missouri, and primarily takes cases in Saint Louis and Kansas City. He is a member of the Missouri Bar Association and Kansas Bar Association. Additionally, he has practiced in the United States Federal Courts of Missouri in St. Louis and Kansas City. He has also practiced in the Kansas Federal District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

Missouri Bar Website (To view the directory of lawyers).

Phil Willoughby, Attorney
Licensed in Missouri and Kansas

Kansas City Office:
GUNN, SHANK & STOVER, P.C.
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Kansas City, MO 64153
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