Finding an employment lawyer can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. This guide will help you find the employment lawyer that is best for you.
Why you may need an employment lawyer
An experienced employment lawyer can help educate you on state and federal laws concerning wrongful termination, wage disputes, overtime law, defamation, whistleblower laws and other employment-related legal issues.
If you have lost your job for reasons that are not legitimate or you believe your legal rights have been violated by an employer, consulting with lawyer who specializes in employment law issues is probably a wise choice. If a current or former employee has sued your business, threatened to sue your business, made an internal complaint of discrimination or harassment, or filed a charge of discrimination with a government agency, retaining an employment lawyer is essential.
If you are in such a predicament, there is no need to panic. Most employment disputes are resolved without a trial and often without a lawsuit, and selecting the right lawyer/firm maximizes your chances of a good outcome.
Where to start in selecting an employment lawyer
Most of us have no idea how or where to find the right employment lawyer. Employees often find themselves trying to find a lawyer at the same time they have no income because of job loss and are in a time of professional and personal crisis. When employers are sued, they too have concerns about finding an employment lawyer/firm that will aggressively defend their interests and give sound advice without overcharging the company.
Things to consider before hiring an employment lawyer
1) Timing matters. Hiring a lawyer after you have signed a severance or non-compete agreement you don't really understand probably won't help your cause. The same is true for employers who have already fired an employee who is on disability leave. It is best to seek legal advice before you make decisions that cannot be undone. Hiring an employment lawyer before it is too late can make the difference between recovering lost pay and losing out forever.
2) Employment lawyers are generally capable of handling employment-related issues involving claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and harassment, claims involving unpaid wages and/or overtime, workplace health and safety issues, and questions relating to entitlement to family and medical leave and/or the accommodation of disabilities.
3) A qualified employment lawyer can not only review the merits of a complaint but also provide advice on the various options available, such as attempting to negotiate a resolution out of court or taking formal legal action by filing a lawsuit or a complaint with an appropriate government agency.
4) You should consult with an employment lawyer if you have been offered severance pay that requires you to sign a document in which you release legal claims that might have merit. For example, employers offer severance pay as a genuine way to help employees during a period of transition after a layoff. Often, the employer's objective is eliminating potential employment law claims that will be expensive and/or risky to defend, so they only offer severance pay to employees who are willing to sign a separation agreement that waives and releases those claims. Ordinarily, it is best to seek advice from an employment lawyer in the following situations:
o When you are asked to sign an agreement that requires you to work for an employer for a specified period of time;
o When you are asked to sign an agreement that requires you to forfeit pay or other benefits if you resign; or
o When you are asked to sign an agreement that includes a non-solicitation and/or non-competition restriction after your employment ends. Typically, a non-solicitation clause prevents you from contacting former co-workers or clients, while a non-competition clause will restrict you from working in the same field for a competitor.
5) The cost of getting advice at the beginning stages of a claim is often less than you might expect. For example, some employment lawyers are willing to take your case on a contingency basis in which they only charge you percentage of the amount that is recovered on your behalf (and do not charge you anything if nothing is recovered). Even if you must pay a fee, paying for an hour or two of advice will probably cost you a small fraction of what you will later pay to fix, undo or litigate a bad decision you made years earlier. A good employment lawyer can help you make good decisions at the outset of an issue and perhaps even negotiate on your behalf for better terms.
6) Before meeting with an employment lawyer, you should do your homework. We encourage you to evaluate (and ask questions about) the lawyer's experience, skill level, knowledge and fee structure.
How to evaluate employment lawyers: Part I
We lawyers are notorious for talking (and writing on our websites) about our glorious backgrounds and successes. The truth is that even mediocre, uninterested lawyers can sometimes talk a good game, especially to people who are in a time of personal and professional crisis. However, not all employment lawyers are the same, and there are steps you can take to narrow down the options and pick the best person/firm to represent your interests.
For starters, we recommend that you research the lawyer. Nowadays, there is quite a bit of information about lawyers on the internet. Some of it is lawyers marketing themselves, but you can also review what others have said about lawyers and find out if the lawyer actually has real courtroom experience or just refers to himself as a "trial lawyer." Below are suggestions:
1) Go to the state bar website and see if the lawyer has a published disciplinary history, which can indicate past unethical conduct. Ordinarily, this can be accessed just by entering the lawyer's name at www.texasbar.com, or your state's bar website.
2) Find out if the employment lawyer/firm is really a specialist in employment law. Often, websites like www.avvo.com will breakdown practice areas into percentages for potential clients to evaluate the makeup of a lawyer's experience. Some firms list "employment law" as a practice area but many have very little experience in handling employment lawsuits and government agency investigations. You should seek a lawyer/firm with experience in both.
3) Find out if the lawyer is board certified as a specialist in employment law. In Texas, less than 3 percent (3%) of lawyers are board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Obtaining this credential requires significant experience in employment law.
4) Find out if there are reviews of the lawyer/firm on websites other than the firm's own website. For example, www.avvo.com is a resource that allows clients and opposing counsel to share their experiences and perceptions about lawyers and firms. Another option for candid, unfiltered client reviews may be through a firm's Google Business, Yelp, or Facebook page.
5) Ask pointed questions. How often has the firm represented clients in this type of case? What are the chances of success? How much will it cost? How long will it take? The answers to these questions should inspire confidence. If they do not, you should keep looking. For example, some lawyers have experience in handling discrimination and harassment law cases but little or no experience in handling issues involving the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which involve different legal analyses. You should ask targeted questions because not all "employment lawyers" have the same depth and breadth of experience.
How to evaluate employment lawyers: Part II
6) Find out which lawyer(s) will handle your case. Unless you are hiring a solo practitioner, it is a virtual certainty that less experienced lawyers and perhaps even paralegals in the firm will play important roles in handling your case. You should ask about them, their level of experience, the anticipated extent of their involvement and whether an experienced lawyer will have a significant role in your case. If you don't get straight answers, keep looking.
7) Find out what deadlines loom. In the realm of employment law, there are some deadlines that are very short, and they vary depending on the kind of case. What deadlines apply to your case? If the lawyer cannot answer this question right away, keep looking.
8) What are the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and what are the chances of a favorable outcome? Attorneys will generally be reluctant to predict an outcome at the outset, and rightfully so. You should probably be wary of those who predict victory during the first meeting. However, experienced employment lawyers should be able to answer questions about the strengths and weaknesses of your case or at least tell you what documents/information you must provide before that assessment can be made.
9) Ask about strategy. Most of us do not want to hire a lawyer who plans to utilize a cookie-cutter approach. Every case is different, and the lawyer should be willing to focus on the unique facts and complexities of your case. You should ask about strategy. Can your case be resolved with a demand letter and negotiations? Is a lawsuit (which is generally a public record) really the best approach? A good employment lawyer should be able to explain the options available and engage in a discussion of basic strategy. If the attorney can't formulate a basic strategy, you should probably look elsewhere.
10) Fees and costs. Almost all employment law firms are for-profit enterprises. That means the lawyers expect to be paid for their time. Will they charge you by the hour, and if so, at what rate? If you are like many employees who cannot afford a lawyer because you have just lost your job, you probably need a firm to handle your case on a contingency basis. Many do, but what percentage of the settlement/judgment will the firm take, and what retainer (typically non-refundable) will be required? Will the firm front the costs that are unavoidable in litigation, or must you pay costs out of pocket as they are incurred?
A good employment lawyer will be honest with you about your case
You might already know this, but legal disputes are not fun. Employment lawsuits are particularly miserable because coworkers and even subordinates are often friends who share details about one another's lives. In this regard, employment law disputes are sometimes a bit like divorces, with hurt feelings on both sides.
Lawsuits are nothing like TV. Winning is not easy, and not all unfair firings are unlawful. Even good cases involve stress and uncertainty and can last several years. A good employment lawyer will tell you what you can expect and will identify the weaknesses of your case and disclose the uncertainties that are inherent in our legal system. If the lawyer does not do this, you should consider looking elsewhere.
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