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Career Story: Trial Attorney For The Federal Government

Trial Attorney For The Federal Government

Job Title: Trial Attorney

Education: B.A. in History, University of Wisconsin (Madison) •• Ed.M. in Secondary Education, Boston Univerisity •• J.D., Boston College.

Previous Experience: I had several careers before I became a lawyer: teacher, social policy consultant, dance critic.

Job Tasks: Staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor - a regional office of the litigation arm of a department of the federal government. That is, I'm a government attorney and employee.

I enforce federal labor laws (like the Fair Labor Standards Act that deals with minimum wage and overtime issues, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act that deals with workplace safety and health issues, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act that deals with the security of health and pension funds, the Mine Safety and Health Act that deals with underground as well as surface mining safety and health issues - these are just a few of the 78 laws the Department is empowered to enforce).

Our office is a regional office that covers all the New England states and we travel to do our work. Our work involves negotiating with employers found in breach of those laws or where negotiations fail, seek enforcement through the federal court system.

A typical day would involve reviewing and analyzing a case, recommending it for litigation (if the matter is found to have solid legal foundation and conclusions), discussing the matter with an investigator from the client agency within the Department, meeting with the alleged wrongdoer to try to resolve the issue.

Sometimes it may mean going to court to try a case (for example, I had to try a case in Connecticut over a seven month period). Occasionally, it may involve traveling to meet with an investigator of a client agency or opposing counsel in another city in the New England region. Sometimes I may consult or collaborate on a matter with another attorney in my office.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Best: The work I do has value for our society by ensuring workers are paid properly, that the workplace is a safe, healthy environment, that employees health and pension funds are properly and prudently managed. Also, the office is a very collegial environment with non-competitive, mutually supportive colleagues.

The worst: The extent of enforcment can often be a matter of policy decisions made at the very top; so, depending on who the Secretary of Labor is, will govern how vigorous our enforcment action will be.

Job Tips:
1. Get broad range of experience in labor law either by working in a law firm or in some other capacity involving labor issues (e.g., union representation work).

2. Be open and receptive to learning new things; try to be creative in thinking how to approach a novel legal issue.

3. Get experience trying cases in court - whether it means doing pro bono work, or some other legal work that takes you into court often.

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