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How to hire an employment lawyer

If you're involved in a serious work-related dispute, or if you feel your boss has violated your civil rights, you may want to know how to hire an employment lawyer. Many aspects of the employer-employee relationship are covered by federal and state law, and resolving your case may require a lawsuit or even a trial by jury.

Employment law includes many different complicated issues, so it's important to find the right lawyer for your particular situation.

The role of the employment lawyer

If your workplace-related issue involves complex matters such as sexual harassment, age, sex, or race discrimination, or disability from a work-related injury, you’ll need likely need a lawyer to resolve it. An employment lawyer can:

  • Evaluate the strength of your case and help you understand the outcomes you might expect
  • Advise you whether to negotiate a settlement or litigate your complaint in court
  • Defend you against any counterclaims made against you by your employer
  • Keep you advised of any new rulings or laws that might affect your case
  • Help you collect any settlement you may be awarded

Employment cases are often complex and can take many months or even years to resolve, so make sure to choose a lawyer you trust and feel comfortable working with over a long period of time.

How to hire an employment lawyer

Most employment cases fall into one of the following broad categories:

When you begin your search for an employment lawyer, start by looking for lawyers who have experience in the category your case falls under. There’s several ways to collect referrals to employment lawyers in your area:

  • Contact your local legal aid office
  • Browse Avvo's lawyer directory
  • Reach out to national advocacy organizations such as the NAACP or the National Association of Working Women

You should aim for at least three or four attorney referrals. Once you’ve done that, your next step is to schedule a consultation with each of the candidates. Many times, someone from the firm will pre-screen you when you call to see if your case would be a good fit for their practice. If so, you will be offered a consultation.

Most law firms offer a free initial consultation, but some employment lawyers will charge you their regular hourly rate for your first meeting.

Prepare for your consultation

To get the most out of your first meeting, it's a good idea to come prepared. Start by writing a detailed timeline of your complaint. Collect all relevant documents, such as employment contracts, disciplinary warnings, printouts of email communications, and any proposed severance package. If your case involves a work-related injury, be sure to bring relevant medical records and a list of all your medical expenses.

Asking the following questions will help you get a feel for the lawyer's area of practice and the way they’ll work with you:

  • What percentage of your practice is focused on handling employment cases like mine?
  • How often do you negotiate a pre-trial settlement versus trying a case in court?
  • How much of my case will you handle personally and how much will you hand off to associates and paralegals?

Pay attention to the way the lawyer answers your questions. Did they explain things clearly? Were their answers realistic and straightforward? Be wary of lawyers who overpromise or make bold predictions during the initial consultation.

Paying a lawyer for an employment case

The lawyer's fee structure is probably the single most important factor in choosing an employment lawyer. There are two main ways an attorney can be paid:

  • An hourly rate. These vary widely due to a number of variables, but on average, you should expect to pay between $250 and $500 per hour for an employment lawyer.

  • A contingency fee. For contingency cases, a general guideline is that your lawyer will keep one-third of any settlement you receive pre-trial, and 40 percent or more of a jury award if the case goes to court.

Keep in mind that in many cases, employment law caps the amount of any award you may receive. Usually you’re limited to lost pay and benefits, plus some amount for pain and suffering. Punitive damages are less common, and often subject to statutory limits. In addition, unlike awards in an accident case, your settlement or award is subject to applicable federal and state taxes.

These tips will give you the basics on how to hire an employment lawyer if you feel you've been unfairly treated at work. Just be sure you thoroughly understand the fee schedule—and that it's clearly spelled out in your contract—before you sign any agreements.

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