Like any other profession, not all employment lawyers are created alike. Even after over twenty years of practice, I am always surprised when I take over litigation from another law firm with the most highly educated attorneys how uninformed clients are as to the risks and benefits of employment litigation. Therefore, no matter how crappy an employee is, if the employer has legal exposure that may result in a windfall recovery, the client should be informed at the outset so that they can weigh the risks and benefits in determining the best strategy.
In hiring employment defense counsel, the following considerations are important:
- Who will be handling your matter on day-to-day issues, what is each person’s background, experience, how will time be billed for more than one person working on the case, and will that person(s) be available to answer your questions. Often times, the employer hires a law firm based on the reputation of a partner who rarely even touches the file, bills for review, and if they step in to take depositions or appear at Court to argue important motions, they often lack the detail of the attorneys who are working on the case and drafted the motions, which not only ends up as a disservice to the client, but can also become rather expensive with the partner’s higher hourly rate.
- How does the law firm bill? Nothing is worse than getting a bill for voicemails, inter-office conferences, the same tasks performed by various persons, etc. Hourly rates are negotiable, as well as how an attorney bills their time. Read the retainer agreement carefully before you sign it because it is a fully enforceable contract. It is important to make sure you understand every sentence and if there is any ambiguity to seek clarification before signing it. Make sure you understand what costs and fees you will be billed and at what rate, replenishing retainers, the date payment is due, the manner in which objections must be raised, interest rates applied on unpaid balances, and the manner in which disputes will be resolved.
- Do you have a connection with the attorney who will be handling your matter? Employment law is similar to family law. Relationships are personal, emotions run deep, and fees run high quickly when billing is based, for the most part, on time spent. Does the attorney understand your goals? Are they realistic based on the known facts? What can you expect in terms of responsiveness? What does the law firm expect you do to cooperate and aid them in representing you? Did the attorney review everything that you provided?
- Was the attorney knowledgeable on the law, and did not simply reassure you that the claim is frivolous and just respond to opposing counsel without conducting an investigation? Has counsel presented you with an initial game plan that includes factual and legal analysis, proposed strategies, and estimated costs? Can these claims be dismissed prior to a jury trial? If there is potential legal exposure, how will they be handled? Employment cases are expensive, no matter what an employer does. Upfront research, strategic planning to aggressively put the burden on the complainant who still has the burden to prove liability and damages caused by the violations, strategic representation is critical so you want to choose a firm who will spend your money as if it was their own.