A Quick Guide to Understanding “What Is An Employment Lawyer”

Employment lawyers are legal professionals who specialize in advising and representing clients on matters relating to the workplace. They play a crucial role in the legal field by helping both employees and employers understand their rights and obligations under employment law. This article will provide an introduction to employment lawyers by covering the following topics:

An Overview of Employment Law

Employment law governs the employer-employee relationship, regulating issues like hiring practices, wages, benefits, discrimination, harassment, health and safety, terminations, and more. It aims to protect workers and ensure fair treatment in the workplace. Employment law includes statutes, regulations, and judicial decisions at both the federal and state level. Some key federal laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
  • The Equal Pay Act – requires equal pay for men and women performing equal work.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act – prohibits age discrimination against individuals over 40.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act – prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires reasonable accommodations.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act – provides eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical situations.

Understanding employment laws is crucial for both employers who need to comply with them, and employees who need to know their rights. This complex web of laws is where employment lawyers come in.

An Overview of Employment Law

The Role of Employment Lawyers

Employment lawyers help their clients navigate the complex legal landscape surrounding the workplace. Their duties typically include:

  • Advising clients on how employment laws apply to their workplace situation
  • Reviewing and drafting employment contracts, policies, handbooks and procedures to ensure legal compliance
  • Representing clients in legal disputes or lawsuits over employment issues like wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour violations, breach of contract, etc.
  • Negotiating severance packages or settlements on behalf of clients
  • Assisting clients with integrating employment law into their day-to-day HR functions and business decisions
  • Training managers and employees on legal obligations under employment statutes
  • Conducting workplace investigations into alleged legal violations or employee misconduct

Employment lawyers work with both employees and employers as clients. Employees may seek assistance understanding their rights, pursuing legal claims against employers, or negotiating exit packages. Employers may need employment attorneys to defend against employee complaints, ensure legal compliance, and provide workplace training.

Key Skills for Employment Lawyers

To effectively advise and advocate for their clients, employment lawyers need several core skills:

Strong analytical skills – Employment laws can be complex, so lawyers must be able to analyze laws, regulations, contracts, and facts to provide sound legal assessments and strategies tailored to their client’s situation.

Excellent communication skills – They must clearly explain legal concepts, rights, responsibilities and strategy to clients ranging from executives to individual employees. Strong writing is key for drafting policies, contracts, and legal documents.

Negotiation skills – Employment attorneys regularly negotiate resolutions to workplace disputes through severance agreements, settlements, etc. Effectiveness at building consensus is crucial.

Knowledge of HR practices – Understanding HR functions like hiring, compensation, discipline and labor relations allows lawyers to legally integrate with a client’s business operations.

Litigation skills – If a case ends up in court, employment lawyers must competently manage the litigation process including discovery, motions, trial, and appeals.

Types of Employment Lawyers

There are a few main categories of lawyers specializing in employment law:

Private firm employment lawyers – Attorneys at private law firms represent both individual and business clients in employment law matters. They may focus their practice on representing one side or the other, or take cases from both employees and employers.

In-house counsel – Many large companies employ attorneys as in-house counsel to handle employment issues. They advise internally on policies, compliance, disputes, litigation and provide workplace training.

Government agency lawyers – Federal and state agencies like the EEOC and state labor departments employ attorneys to investigate, litigate and enforce employment statutes and regulations.

Non-profit employment lawyers – Some non-profit legal aid organizations provide free or low-cost employment law services to assist workers, especially those facing discrimination or exploitation.

Union-side labor lawyers – Unions often retain lawyers who specialize in collective bargaining negotiations and labor disputes on behalf of unionized workforces.

While most employment lawyers focus generally on all areas of employment law, some develop subspecialties in specific laws or litigation types. An employment trial lawyer may concentrate on only lawsuits and hearings, while a benefits lawyer focuses on ERISA regulations.

Entering the Field of Employment Law

For those interested in becoming employment lawyers, there are a few common pathways:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree – While no specific major is required, courses in history, political science, and business provide useful background.
  • Obtain a Juris Doctor degree – Graduating from an accredited 3-year law school program is a prerequisite to sit for the bar exam. Law school provides training in areas like constitutional law, contracts, litigation and legal writing.
  • Gain admission to the bar – After law school, prospective employment lawyers must pass the bar exam to be licensed to practice law in their state.
  • Consider an internship or clerkship – Many new employment attorneys benefit from hands-on experience interning with a law firm or clerking for a judge during or after law school. This provides training in employment law issues and litigation.
  • Look for entry-level attorney roles – New lawyers often start at law firms or legal departments in junior associate positions handling basic employment matters. Gaining experience sets the stage for taking on more complex issues and clients.
  • Consider an LLM degree – Some lawyers pursue advanced education like a Master of Laws (LLM) in employment law or labor relations to gain expertise in the field.
  • Develop specialized knowledge – Employment law spans a broad range of topics, so ongoing professional education is crucial. Lawyers subscribe to newsletters, take CLE courses, attend conferences, etc. to build legal knowledge.

Income Potential as an Employment Lawyer

Salaries for employment attorneys can vary substantially based on factors like:

  • Experience level – Entry-level employment lawyers may earn $50,000 – $80,000, while experienced lawyers with 5-10 years experience generally earn $80,000 – $160,000. Highly seasoned attorneys can make over $200,000.
  • Firm size – Lawyers at large firms with 100+ attorneys typically earn higher salaries than those at smaller practices.
  • Region – Employment lawyers in large metropolitan markets like New York and Los Angeles tend to earn higher salaries than those in smaller markets.
  • Prestige – Attorneys at well-known, highly regarded “BigLaw” firms can make more at all levels.
  • Public vs. private sector – Government agency lawyers generally earn less than those at private firms or corporations. Those working for non-profits and legal aid organizations typically earn much less.
  • Client base – Lawyers primarily representing large corporate clients tend to fall on the higher end of the pay scale.
  • Self-employed – Attorneys who start their own solo practices generally take home more pay but also assume more financial risk.

Overall, the median annual wage for employment attorneys across the U.S. is approximately $119,250 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – substantially higher than the median wage for all occupations. With strong expertise and a solid professional reputation, six-figure incomes are common in this field.

Further Learning for Aspiring Employment Lawyers

For those interested in deepening their knowledge of employment law and preparing for a career as an employment attorney, here are some valuable resources:

  • American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment Law – National association for employment lawyers providing news, publications, conferences, advocacy and more.
  • NELA National Employment Lawyers Association – Membership organization for plaintiffs’ employment attorneys with training programs, practice resources and local chapters across the U.S.
  • Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) – Leading publisher of employment law news, analysis, reference materials and training tools.
  • Continuing legal education – Ongoing seminars and classes offered by local bar associations, law schools and online providers.
  • Journals and newsletters – Stay current by reading legal publications like BNA’s Labor & Employment Law Resource Center, ABA’s Labor and Employment Law journal, etc.
  • Internships – Seek hands-on training opportunities while in school by interning for a private firm, government agency, non-profit or HR department.
  • Mentorships – Many experienced attorneys mentor newcomers to provide guidance and on-the-job training.

With complex and rapidly evolving employment laws, ongoing education is key for employment lawyers to sharpen their expertise and provide effective counsel to clients. Resources like these help aspiring and practicing attorneys excel in this dynamic field.


Employment law is a complex and ever-changing area that has profound impacts on the workplace. As regulations evolve and disputes arise, employment lawyers play an indispensable role in helping both employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities. By providing expert counsel, representation, training and advocacy, they assist clients in fostering fair, legal and productive work environments.

Though the road to becoming an employment lawyer requires extensive education and training, it can lead to a rewarding, lucrative and intellectually stimulating career. Employment attorneys enjoy median wages significantly higher than average while tackling novel legal challenges. For those passionate about labor relations and justice in the workplace, employment law offers a chance to make a difference while building a successful legal practice. With robust demand for employment attorneys and services, this field presents bright prospects now and for the foreseeable future.

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