There are many potential areas of practice to specialize in as a lawyer. One great option is employment law, which navigates the complex relationships between employers and employees. It covers the rights, obligations, and responsibilities within the employer-employee relationship, including issues such as workplace safety, wages, workplace discrimination, and wrongful termination. Employment lawyers typically specialize in representing either employers or workers, but rarely both.
However you define it, it’s a pretty massive issue when you factor in the global employment rate of 3.3 billion people, according to the International Labor Organization. (One thing to note on employment law is that while this field and labor law are often talked about interchangeably, and indeed share many overlapping characteristics, they are two distinct areas of practice. The latter is distinct in the sense that it deals with issues such as unions and collective bargaining.)
Wondering whether a career in employment law is right for you? Here’s a closer look at four reasons to pursue it as a field of study and career.
1. It has a huge amount of daily variety
In response to the question of how “spicy” this area of practice is, senior legal editor on Practical Laws’ Labor and Employment team, Rosemary Joyce, says, “[It’s] the spiciest. In fact, I would venture to say it’s the chili pepper of practice areas. There is no typical day, and learning about different clients’ operations and industries is always pretty interesting. Aside from the variation in tasks and clients, each case brings a unique set of facts and allegations that are never boring and often require keen and creative legal analysis. Cases and work assignments never feel overly routine or rote.”
In fact, this is a common response when employment lawyers are asked about the upsides of their career path. According to Harvard Law School’s Labor and Employment Law: A Career Guide, while the term “employment law” can be a deterrent for both its vagueness and the fact that it may not sound as exciting as other areas of law, such as health law and environmental law, its diversity is what makes it appealing. “Labor and employment law is truly a versatile field that frequently touches on issues that arise in a wide range of disciplines,” the guide says.
Not only do employment lawyers represent clients in a breadth and depth of industries, but this work is also vital in terms of ensuring the protection of the individuals who make up the workforce, with frequently arising topics including LGBT issues, gender, illegal immigration, elder law, disability, and bankruptcy.
2. It’s always changing
Just as the world is constantly changing, so is the workforce and the employment laws that govern it.
The Vault contends, “Adding another level to the intrinsic volatility of employment practice are the laws themselves, which are always fluctuating. Employment lawyers must keep abreast of these changes, as old laws are amended, new laws are passed and judges interpret the subtleties of statutes. In view of the frequency with which employment-related cases reach the Supreme Court, keeping up with decisions that could alter the face of landmark statutes is both essential and exciting. The dynamic and evolving nature of employment law ensures that attorneys will remain intellectually challenged throughout their careers.”
BCG Attorney Search’s Managing Director, Harrison Barnes, highlights one area of employment law currently in flux: sexual orientation. “It is still legal in some cases to refuse to hire someone because of sexual orientation. However, this may eventually become illegal to discriminate against someone because they are homosexual but otherwise qualified for the job. These and other areas will continue to change as employment law is refined, adapted and changed,” he asserts.
Employment law has also become increasingly globalized due to the breaking down of business borders. If you are doing business internationally, there’s even more to learn given differences between employment laws and attitudes from country to country.
All of this change means plenty of work...and unprecedented opportunities. Veteran employment attorney Erica Clarke told The Balance Careers, “Not only do most litigation firms have some employment law component to their practice, but there are many regional and national law firms that specialize only in employment law. In addition, many large corporations have an in-house staff of employment attorneys."
3. You can have an immediate and positive impact on your clients’ lives
Does the field of law sound stuffy to you? Employment law is anything but. In fact, it is all about people. In their day-to-day jobs, employment lawyers not only interact with people, but do so with the potential to act as their advocates and, in doing so, change their lives for the better.
Anand Swaminathan, who works at civil rights law firm Loevy and Loevy, says, “These people come in every day. I know their faces, I know their names, and I know about their problems. I spend a lot of time interacting with them directly so that I know and understand who I’m working for and who I’m representing.”
As such, interpersonal skills are a very important part of the equation for employment lawyers. Clarke adds, “People skills are very important -- an ability to establish and maintain a relationship of trust and confidence with your clients.”
Joyce echoes, “Whether it’s interviewing a witness about a sensitive topic, taking the deposition of plaintiff, or delivering difficult advice to a client, the ability to listen and communicate, understand and empathize, interact respectfully, manage conflict, and build trust is paramount.”
While employment lawyers can and do make a difference on a micro level, their services can also have an impact on the macro level. For example, workplace safety and health statutes comprise unsafe working conditions ranging from machinery and electrical hazards to extreme vibrations and noise levels. Repetitive work injuries, biological hazards, chemical hazards and long work hours all fall under the scope of employment law.
4. The unique culture of this legal field
Every field of law has its own unique feel. Employment lawyers argue theirs is particularly special. Law fellow Lela Klein told the Harvard Guide, “There is a palpable ethos within the office of commitment to workplace fairness.” Furthermore, many people who go into the field stay in it because they are so dedicated to the work they are doing. And then there’s the camaraderie that goes along with being part of a people who have devoted their careers to such a vital cause.
Employment law is also uniquely relatable. Joyce asserts that anyone who has had a job can relate to the issues an employment lawyer faces on a daily basis.
And not only is employment law characterized as a “very vibrant” field, there’s also great “high demand for attorneys of color, women, and gay and lesbian attorneys.” So if you would like to be part of a diverse group of dedicated practitioners, employment law may be the perfect fit.