The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Kimberly Seten, Partner & Associate Liaison—Labor & Employment
Kim Seten is a managing partner with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP in the Kansas City, Missouri, office, and focuses her practice on providing day-to-day employment advice to clients; litigating employment issues; and addressing union issues, including running union avoidance campaigns, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, administering labor contracts, and representing employers in unfair labor practice charges. Kim believes that the best way to minimize litigation in the workplace is to address issues before they become problems.
Kim is a frequent presenter throughout the U.S. on employment topics. She has been recognized as a SuperLawyer, has received awards for Excellence in Employment Litigation, and has been selected by Client Choice as the best Employment & Labor lawyer in Kansas. She is a contributing author of How To Take A Case Before The NLRB and a chapter author for the Kansas Employment Law Handbook. She graduated with a B.S. from the University of Illinois and received her J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. Kim and her husband, Matt, have two amazing children, and she spends a lot of her time cheering on the sidelines of sports activities.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I split my time between employment and labor. In regard to labor law, I help companies stay union free by running union avoidance campaigns. For companies that have unions, I negotiate union contracts and handle grievances and arbitrations. I also represent companies in unfair labor practice charges. In regard to employment law, I work with companies to proactively address employment issues by drafting policies and procedures, developing and conducting training, and providing general advice on employment-related questions. I also represent companies when litigation arises, which typically starts with a charge of discrimination at a state agency or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Once the charge stage is over, sometimes litigation follows, and I represent clients in state and federal courts.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent clients in numerous types of industries, including telecommunications, manufacturing, construction, education, health care, and the public sector. I do work for companies ranging in size from Fortune 100 companies to small, locally owned businesses.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I represent employers in employment discrimination and retaliation cases, including sexual harassment, age discrimination, disability discrimination, and FMLA retaliation. I also represent employers in complex collective and class action wage and hour matters. In regard to labor issues, I handle unfair labor practice charges, union contract negotiations, and arbitrations.
How did you choose this practice area?
I have wanted to do labor and employment law since I was in high school. During a class on government and law, we divided the class into management and union and spent the semester negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. I was hooked.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Lately, I feel like there are no typical days. But, I generally have conference calls that start my morning—some that I will take before I even get to the office. When I arrive at the office, I check my emails and return emails as necessary or assign out projects that have arisen to associates that I work with. I spend a lot of my day talking to clients on general advice issues and routinely have four-to-five calls staggered throughout the day. In between, I usually am working on briefs or position statements, or I am preparing for a hearing or arbitration. I also make time during the day to send out emails to clients or prospective clients as part of my marketing efforts. Given that I often speak at conferences and seminars around the country, I also may be working on my next presentation. Because I hold the role of associate liaison, I also handle associate issues that may arise around the firm.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I would recommend that in law school, you take all of the labor and employment classes offered. I also would recommend participating in litigation skills and moot court opportunities. Once in practice, go to continuing legal education courses on relevant employment or labor topics, and—to the extent possible—go to seminars on legal writing and deposition training. At the end of the day, regardless of your practice area, being an excellent writer and a persuasive public speaker will allow you to advance in your career.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
One of the most challenging aspects of this practice area is that emotions factor into both sides. Unlike a lot of business litigation, employment litigation often means that a plaintiff is claiming a company and people at that company acted with a discriminatory motive. No one likes to be called ageist, sexist, or racist, and as the company’s attorney, I have to help those individuals move past the emotion of the situation to focus on the legal issues at play.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I love assisting clients with legal issues and learning their businesses, as well. I represent clients in many different industries, from Fortune 100 companies all the way down to small family-owned businesses. For each, it is my goal to learn their business so that I can be not only a legal advisor but a business partner, looking at solutions for them that minimize risk and move the business forward.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
At Constangy, we believe that our associates should be involved in a matter from its inception. Our associates routinely develop the facts of each case, gathering information, speaking with witnesses, drafting and responding to discovery, and preparing for depositions. Associates draft pleadings and motions, which allow them to help determine the legal strategy of the case. As associates progress, they gain increasing responsibility, including taking depositions, handling mediations, and taking the lead in oral arguments.
What advice do you have for junior lawyers in keeping on top of complex labor and employment laws and the changes to these laws?
Read, read, and read. Signing up for daily emails that summarize new cases or that highlight issues on the horizon is critical to staying on top of employment laws, which are rapidly changing at the federal, state, and—now—local level. Also, when you’re given a topic to research, do it thoroughly—take time to explore the nuances of each issue that you’re given. Volunteer with organizations, such as National Business Institute, Sterling Education, or other companies that put on legal education seminars. Speaking on a topic is a great way to learn that topic. Also, don’t be afraid to develop a deeper expertise on a specific topic. It can set you apart from your peers and can be great for internal marketing if, for example, the partners in your firm know you’re the go-to associate for Fair Credit Reporting Act issues.