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Attorneys in this area serve as advisors and represent companies and individuals arising out of labor and employment disputes. The “labor” side deals with union issues, advising companies on avoiding unionization of their workers, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, administering labor contracts, and litigating issues arising from union issues, including cases alleging unfair labor practice charges. On the employment side, attorneys advise companies on day-to-day employment issues, draft policies and procedures, develop and sometimes conduct trainings, draft employment and separation agreements, and litigate cases dealing with employment issues—including charges of discrimination before the EEOC or similar state agency or via individual suits. L&E law relies heavily on state law, so many firms in this area are local, but there are—of course—larger firms who focus on this area. L&E attorneys are well situated to go in-house because every company, no matter the industry, deals with labor and/or employment issues and nearly every in-house department includes one or more attorneys who have practiced in this area.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Labor & Employment from real lawyers in the practice area.
Aaron Agenbroad, Partner
Jones Day

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I am a management-side labor and employment lawyer in the true sense of those terms (i.e., I represent large companies in all aspects of both employment and traditional labor issues and disputes). The largest part of my practice involves the defense of companies in lawsuits alleging wage and hour claims, discrimination, harassment, and other violations of state and federal law. My practice includes all aspects of litigation, including trying multiple cases to successful defense verdicts in both bench and jury trials.

I also counsel companies on compliance with the ever-changing landscape of municipal, state, and federal laws governing the hiring, supervision, management, and termination of employees. Additionally, I work with companies on their traditional labor issues involving unionized employees. Unionized work environments present an additional overlay of rules and processes that an employer must follow in connection with union-organizing efforts, collective bargaining, contract enforcement, and unfair labor practice proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board.

What types of clients do you represent?

I traditionally represent large companies across a variety of industries, including retail, oil and gas, technology, manufacturing, health care, and media. Our clients include well-known Fortune 500 companies and other notable organizations.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

In employment litigation, I counsel clients on both large-scale class actions and smaller cases involving individual employees. One recent—and representative—class action case involved working with a clothing retailer concerning the legality of its commission pay plan and pay practices in defense of wage and hour claims alleged on behalf of all of its sales associates across the state of California.

A recent, smaller case involved defending a retailer against claims of race discrimination when it terminated a territory manager for poor performance and dishonesty. We took that case through trial and were thrilled to receive a full defense verdict on all claims. It was particularly rewarding because our investigation had demonstrated that the company had not done anything wrong and was fully justified in terminating a bad employee. These issues can be very personal for the managers involved, so it was great to see the verdict come out the right way.

On the traditional labor side, I have recently been helping a media company with its unionized newsroom reporters at newspapers across the country. This matter has involved assisting the company with the initial union campaign and election process, working with the management team on negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement that still provides the company with the operational efficiency and flexibility it needs, and working through disputes with the union through both NLRB and arbitration processes. You get the opportunity to really learn the business of various companies and partner with them to find options that allow for their continued success.

How did you choose this practice area?

I really liked how closely connected it is to business. I was a business administration major in college and originally intended to get an M.B.A. That later shifted to a J.D./M.B.A. and ultimately shifted again to just getting my law degree. So once I landed at law school, I was very interested in exploring practices and tried projects that related to business in a number of areas.

Labor and employment resonated because it’s very people oriented—what people do for a living is very central to many people’s identity. You could also easily see the companies’ interests—companies need to be able to manage their workforce and get rid of poor performers. And I liked being able to help companies continue to prosper and grow as they managed through these issues.

While I am not helping companies with their marketing, accounting, or other business functions in the way I thought I might when I was in college, I am assisting them with their human resource and personnel issues, which are just as critical to their success.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I’m not sure if there is a “typical day,” but a recent two-week window provides a pretty fair sampling. In the first week, I tried a three-day arbitration in Los Angeles involving claims that sales associates had been misclassified and, therefore, were entitled to unpaid overtime.

That matter was followed by a day advising a handful of companies about financial options for wage proposals, WARN Act obligations in connection with a restructuring, and potential changes to a commission plan.

That action was followed by a day of negotiations with a nurses’ union working to establish an initial collective bargaining agreement for a large health care institution. The following week, I returned to Los Angeles for depositions in a disability discrimination case filed in California state court. I then went to eastern Oregon for a mediation in a federal court case alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I think classes in employment law and traditional labor law can be helpful. However, you learn even more through practice, especially since many of the substantive employment laws will vary by state. I also think any practical experience a student could get would be beneficial, through either a clinic or an internship or externship with the EEOC, NLRB, or other agency or organization. A basic class in or exposure to human resources would be useful as well.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

I am a defense-side labor and employment lawyer, which means that I only defend companies in employment disputes. I have found that many people, including those who end up on juries, fail to recognize that these large corporations are made up of people who work very hard each day to make fair and lawful decisions. Companies try to treat their personnel well. I think that in too many instances, people default to giving the benefit of the doubt to the individual employee and view the company as a cold and heartless Goliath. It’s too bad because that’s just false.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I’ve always appreciated the variety that labor and employment provides, both in the type of matters that you get to handle and their size. As my two-week snapshot shows, you get to do a lot of very different things. From advising clients on plant closures to trying arbitrations and cases to bargaining with unions for solutions that work for both the company and the employees, no two weeks look the same.

The practice also includes large class actions that make national news as well as single-plaintiff cases. As a result, you get diversity of responsibility very early in your career. The economics of single-plaintiff cases lend themselves to the staffing of one partner and one associate. That means that, as a second- and third-year associate, I received opportunities with depositions and some arguments. I appreciated that responsibility as an associate and value it now as a developmental opportunity for the associates with whom I work.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

I think the biggest one is that, as a defense lawyer, you will be defending the “bad guys.” When I first interviewed with Jones Day, I was asked how, as an African American man, I would deal with defending a manager or company accused of racial discrimination. What I have learned is that, in more than 20 years of practice, I have yet to be asked to defend someone that my investigation has shown to be a bad actor.

In those few instances where I have determined that a manager has sexually harassed someone or discriminated against someone on the basis of race, age, or gender, the company ends up firing the bad actor and writing a significant check to the plaintiff. The cases you end up fighting to the end are the ones where the company was wholly justified in the actions it took.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Because of the range of cases our Labor and Employment practice handles, our junior lawyers are able to perform a broader spectrum of activities than most other practices offer. Certainly legal research and the writing of legal memoranda or motions will be part of what junior associates do.

In addition, they will directly conduct fact-witness interviews, take and defend depositions in both single-plaintiff and class action cases, handle some court appearances, and assist with mediations. On the traditional labor side, our junior and mid-level associates are able to first-chair discharge cases, where they are given the opportunity to make opening statements, conduct direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and either orally close or draft a post-hearing brief. It was great to have these stand-up experiences early as an associate. I think our practice provides more of them—and provides them earlier—than most.

Aaron Agenbroad, Partner—Labor & Employment

Aaron Agenbroad serves as partner-in-charge of the San Francisco office and has represented companies in labor and employment disputes for more than 20 years. His practice includes all aspects of labor and employment law, with a focus on representing corporate clients in complex labor and employment disputes.

In the employment arena, Aaron’s practice includes litigation of California wage and hour class actions and FLSA collective actions; California discrimination cases under FEHA and CFRA; and federal discrimination cases, including ADEA, FMLA, ADA, and Title VII claims. Aaron has experience with all phases of litigation and has tried multiple cases to verdict in both bench and jury trials. He also regularly counsels employers in employment matters, including reductions in force, employee terminations, FMLA and CFRA issues, and EEOC and FEHA charges.

In his traditional labor work, Aaron’s experience includes representation of management in labor arbitrations in the telecommunications, health care, refining, and manufacturing industries. He also has represented clients in NLRB unfair labor practice proceedings, led collective bargaining negotiations, and worked in defending union-organizing campaigns.

Aparna Joshi, Partner
O'Melveny & Myers LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I am a management-side labor and employment lawyer. In my practice, I advocate for employers in litigation brought by single plaintiffs, multiple parties, and massive purported class actions. I also negotiate collective bargaining agreements on behalf of employers with the unions representing their employees, arbitrate issues of contract interpretation arising from collective bargaining agreements, and handle employee representation matters before the National Mediation Board—the federal agency charged with facilitating labor-management relations in the airline and railroad industries. I further specialize in helping airlines handle their most important labor and employment challenges, including helping to mobilize a rapid response to large-scale workforce crises, such as unlawful job actions.

What types of clients do you represent?

I primarily represent airlines and transportation companies.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I provide advice and counseling on day-to-day employment and labor issues like discipline and discharge, negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and represent employers in arbitrations involving disagreements regarding application of the terms of those collective bargaining agreements. I also litigate issues involving unlawful job actions like work slowdowns and other litigation arising from the employment relationship.

How did you choose this practice area?

I was drawn to labor and employment law because I believe that the laws protecting employees from, for example, workplace discrimination are enormously important. I wanted to help employers comply with those laws and at the same time, protect employers against the illegitimate use of those laws.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

As overused as it is, there really is no typical day. My practice is wide ranging—everything from labor negotiations to arbitration to litigation—so what I’m doing and where I am is often changing. One day, I may be editing a brief; the next day, I may be preparing for oral argument; and then, I may get on a plane to meet with my client, the union, and the National Mediation Board in collective bargaining negotiations. It never gets boring.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

While it is always helpful to have some background in labor and employment law, the best skills to have are writing and oral advocacy. You need to be able to clearly set forth your client’s position no matter what you are doing, and those skills are invaluable.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Working with our clients in a trusted advisor role to help them achieve their goals is the best part of my practice. I find a great deal of satisfaction in that.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

The biggest misconception that I get is the view that working on the management side is the “dark side.” I have not found that to be the case at all. I have had the good fortune to work with smart, principled, decent people who are trying to do what is best for their employees and their businesses.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

I am lucky to work with incredibly talented junior lawyers, and we aim to staff in a way that places our junior lawyers in the thick of whatever we may be doing from the start. For example, they work on preparing witnesses for testimony, identifying the most relevant documents, crafting opening statements, drafting post-hearing briefs, developing responses to discovery requests, developing arguments, drafting motions, and attending arbitrations.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Lawyers generally join our practice directly out of law school or following a clerkship. And even beyond law firms, there are nearly limitless opportunities in-house and in government because everyone has employees!

Aparna Joshi, Partner—Labor

Aparna B. Joshi represents employers in a wide variety of labor and employment matters. She has substantial experience advising aviation industry clients and representing airlines in federal court litigation under the Railway Labor Act, as well as in labor arbitrations, mediations, and collective bargaining negotiations. She also has substantial experience representing employers in whistleblower matters and employment class action litigation and in proceedings before the National Mediation Board and other administrative tribunals.

Additionally, Aparna represents employers in a wide range of employment discrimination matters, including cases brought pursuant to Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. She further routinely advises clients on various day-to-day labor and employment matters.

Aparna actively works to improve diversity in the legal profession, including as a member of the firm’s Diversity Working Group and as a past fellow of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), a growing organization of more than 200 corporate chief legal officers and law firm managing partners dedicated to creating a truly diverse legal profession.

Alex Stathopoulos, Senior Associate
Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I spend most of my time defending employers in class, collective, and representative actions that can involve hundreds or even thousands of putative class members. I also handle high-stakes single-plaintiff claims of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation. One of my favorite aspects of this practice is strategizing with employers on how to comply with the varied and ever-changing employment laws, including implementing policies and advising on personnel matters to avoid litigation.

What types of clients do you represent?

My clients really run the gamut but include technology companies (e.g., Facebook, Visa, Genentech), financial institutions, and retail companies.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Right now, I’m managing a set of four coordinated class actions involving the “kitchen sink” of wage and hour claims that are procedurally very complex. I am also handling three single-plaintiff cases involving claims of disability and gender discrimination. I’ve also been helping several employers adapt their policies and consider strategic options in light of the numerous new laws passed by the California legislature in late 2019 that go into effect in January 2020.

How did you choose this practice area?

When I joined Orrick as a summer associate in 2010, I specifically did NOT want to do employment law because my career before law school involved strategic employee communications, and it felt like too much of the same thing. But when I met the fabulous people on Orrick’s employment team, I just knew that these were the lawyers and staff members I wanted as my teachers, mentors, and colleagues. I have never regretted it!

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

There really isn’t a typical day—some days I might spend the whole day taking a deposition, prepping a witness to testify, conducting a fact investigation/interviewing witnesses, negotiating a settlement at mediation, or appearing at court for a hearing. But a day in the office might consist of a few hours on email; a couple of hours reviewing the work of other associates on my team and strategizing about our cases; one or two calls with clients to provide counseling and advice on employment issues; calls with opposing counsel to meet and confer over various litigation issues; and (if I’m lucky) a few hours of focused work drafting briefs, deposition outlines, or substantive discovery responses. I also always make it a point to spend some time every morning and afternoon checking in with my colleagues and making small talk about non-work things. Sometimes we play backgammon at lunch, and I’ve had knitting breaks with my secretary before as well.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Apart from research and writing, law school generally does not focus on litigation skills, but these skills are critically important to practicing employment law. I’m very grateful for the practical skills courses I took in law school (depositions, civil trial practice, arbitrations) and that I was crazy enough to sign up for every advocacy opportunity I could get my hands on (negotiations team, mock trial, moot court). These experiences made me feel prepared when I was given early “at bats” at Orrick, and I was able to demonstrate that I can handle myself in high-pressure situations.

I also highly recommend befriending and learning from the experienced staff members wherever you decide to work. As a junior attorney, I learned so much about the mechanics of filings, assembling of evidence, and court protocols from senior paralegals, our calendar department, and my legal secretary.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Orrick’s employment practice is a very special place. In addition to the marvelous people, the employment group gives out early opportunities to associates who demonstrate a desire and readiness for them. I took my first deposition as a second-year associate and drafted my first motion for summary judgment—the whole thing—that year as well. (We won.) I asked to attend mediations and to argue in court, and most often the answer was “yes.” Now, as a senior associate, I am building on those early “at bats” and get to take on some seriously exciting legal work—including handling mediations solo without a partner present, taking plaintiffs’ depositions, and leading a team of associates in a set of extremely complex class action cases. These are the kinds of opportunities I dreamt about when I went to law school, and I feel very lucky to have found a place where they are available to me.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

Employment law is such an exciting area to practice in because the laws are always changing (especially here in California!) and the ways we work are constantly evolving. Right now, some of the hot areas in employment law are arbitration, independent contractor classification, the impact artificial intelligence will have on the employment relationship, remote and flexible working arrangements, the gig economy, issues of gender equity (including pay and parental leave/caregiver status), the #MeToo movement and sex harassment, and the list goes on and on. I can’t say exactly how the practice will evolve in the future, but if I look into my crystal ball, I’d say rain or shine, there will be plenty of work for employment lawyers to do!

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

I think employment law is a pretty versatile area in terms of the careers it can translate into. Some of my colleagues have become partners, gone in-house to a company’s employment law department, or become judges or mediators or solo practitioners.

What advice do you have for junior lawyers in keeping on top of complex labor and employment laws and the changes to these laws?

My advice is: Be patient, and let your interests be your guide. As a junior attorney, the volume of employment laws on the federal, state, and local level can be overwhelming. Don’t worry, though. In just a few years of practice, you’ll gain a lay of the land, and things will start to click.

That said, we can’t all be masters of everything, so try to find a topic or topics that you are genuinely interested in, and spend some time attending conferences, reading the legal news, or researching and writing about those areas. If your firm has a research team, work with them to set up email alerts, so you can be the first to know when a new case or article or legislation comes out on the topics you’re interested in. Pretty soon, people will look to you for that subject-matter expertise, and it will become a cornerstone of your practice.

Alex Stathopoulos, Senior Associate — Litigation

Alex Stathopoulos is an employment attorney in Orrick’s San Francisco office. Alex defends employers in complex wage and hour class, collective, and representative actions, as well as single-plaintiff lawsuits involving discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination under both California and federal law. Alex also assists employers with pre-dispute demands and administrative complaints and provides creative and practical counseling to companies on a wide range of employment issues, including new and developing areas of the law.

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