Job Title: Legal Counsel
Education: BA in Sociology and Anthropology, Swarthmore College JD, Harvard Law School
Previous Experience: I worked as an associate at a mid- to large-sized Boston law firm in the labor and employment department.
Job Tasks: I work as in-house employment counsel for a large, Boston-based financial services company. I am one of seven employment attorneys in a legal department of 100+ attorneys.
My clients are usually the human resources (HR) personnel of the company. During a typcial day, I field phone calls and e-mails from HR regarding employee and workplace issues, such as offer letters, discipline, leaves of absence, and terminations. I also provide legal support to our security and HR personnel when investigations involve employees. The clients I work with have questions about what the law requires or prohibits. I often need to research the law in others states in order to provide them an answer.
Another part of my job is to provide legal support as we start up new sites in international locations. I work with outside counsel to understand what legal requirements there are related to our personnel in those offices, such as what must be in an employment contract, what obligations does the company have to provide leaves of absence, vacation, overtime pay, etc.
Often the work I do is only quasi-legal in nature. Often I have to provide a combination of legal and business advice in helping my clients come up with creative solutions to doing what they would like to do. I cannot simply tell them what the law says, I must understand what they want to do and then help them figure out how they can achieve the result they want within the requirements of the law.
These days, much of my job is related to reductions in our workforce. This is a very unpleasant part of the work, but requires a great deal of legal support. I assist in preparing agreements for the employees whose jobs are being eliminated to sign in order to receive a severance package and I work with the HR staff to make sure that there is no inadvertent discriminatory impact on any one group of people in the selection for lay-off process.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: What is great about being an employment lawyer is you deal with complex legal puzzles which have a very human element to them. Ultimately, what I do touches people and their jobs and that makes my work feel very real, important and interesting.
No two days are ever alike. Every phone call presents a new and, usually, interesting issue. Often the matters I deal with relate to the bizarre side of human nature. It makes my work very interesting and provides for good anecdotes at parties.
The worst part of my job is that sometimes there is a too much to be done. A lot of what I do is complicated and takes a lot of thought. So, when many people are clamoring for attention to their matters at once, it can be hard to juggle priorities. In this tough economic climate in particular, my hours can get long.
1. In-house employment counsel positions are few and far between. You need strong credentials. If you are thinking about law school, which school you attend really matters. I recommend taking a prep course for the LSAT (law school entrance test), such as Kaplan. Getting a high LSAT score and getting into a reputable law school will be critical to getting a good legal job.
2. If you are already on the legal path, going to a large law firm can be a very tough life. Hours are long and the work is hard. But, to move to an in-house position (where life is much better), employers will really be looking for big firm experience for at least a few years.
3. To do employment law, you have to really be interested in people and their stories. If the human element appeals to you, employment law is a great choice. If not, definitely seek another area of the law.
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