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Overview

Attorneys in this area serve as advisors and represent companies and individuals arising out of labor and employment disputes. The “labor” side deals with union issues, advising companies on avoiding unionization of their workers, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, administering labor contracts, and litigating issues arising from union issues, including cases alleging unfair labor practice charges. On the employment side, attorneys advise companies on day-to-day employment issues, draft policies and procedures, develop and sometimes conduct trainings, draft employment and separation agreements, and litigate cases dealing with employment issues—including charges of discrimination before the EEOC or similar state agency or via individual suits. L&E law relies heavily on state law, so many firms in this area are local, but there are—of course—larger firms who focus on this area. L&E attorneys are well situated to go in-house because every company, no matter the industry, deals with labor and/or employment issues and nearly every in-house department includes one or more attorneys who have practiced in this area.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Labor & Employment from real lawyers in the practice area.
Kimberly Seten, Partner
Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP

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.

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.

Rodolfo R. (“Fito”) Agraz, Shareholder • Gregory C. Cheng, Shareholder
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Fito: My practice is traditional labor—representing management in labor relations matters primarily focused on the National Labor Relations Act.

Greg: I have been practicing exclusively labor and employment law for my entire career. In addition to representing management/companies in litigation (e.g., discrimination, harassment, wage and hour violations, etc.), I also provide advice/counsel on a daily basis to many multinational companies on all topics related to employment law. For many large employers, I play a point-guard model where the client comes to me first for all of their employment issues (for any state or any part of the world), and I help to locate the Ogletree attorney with the requisite skill set/experience, as well as expedite the response time (internally) on behalf of the client.

What types of clients do you represent?

Fito: Our firm represents employers, and I am fortunate to work with clients in many different industries, including food manufacturing, transportation, health care, manufacturing, retail, financial services, logistics, telecommunications, and petrochemical.

Greg: I represent a diverse range of clients in terms of size and industry, including but not limited to companies in the retail, technology, food/beverage, pharmaceutical, real estate, and semiconductor fields. Employment laws affect virtually every single employer in some way, so we are fortunate enough in our practice to represent an extremely diverse group of clients.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Fito: My work includes union representation election cases processed by the National Labor Relations Board, representation of clients in collective bargaining, labor arbitrations, and NLRB unfair labor practice charges filed against employers by individuals and by labor unions.

Greg: In litigation, I am currently defending dozens of different clients in state and federal court. All of them are in different phases of litigation, with some being more hotly contested than others. I am also involved in a significant number of pre-litigation settlement discussions. A lot of our practice involves demand letters from employees and their attorneys. If these matters do not settle, the next step is typically litigation in court or arbitration.

How did you choose this practice area?

Fito: If I was not a lawyer, I would likely be a human resources professional. I am very fortunate because I entered law school with an idea of practicing in the labor and employment area, and during school, I became convinced that traditional labor was most interesting to me. I would like to say this was very scientific on my part, but it was not. Growing up in the 1970s I was a bit of a car enthusiast, and it appeared to me that the relationship between U.S. automakers and the unions was poor. I was fascinated with that human dynamic, and that interest continues more than 30 years later.

Greg: In law school, I had planned to be a mergers and acquisitions attorney. However, during law school, I interned in the legal department of a major pharmaceutical company. One of the cases I worked on involved a claim of harassment. I thought it was interesting because employment law involves the human element, and these cases always live in the gray area. We rarely have smoking guns in a typical harassment or discrimination case. After law school, I clerked for Judge William F. Highberger of the LA County Superior Court. Judge Highberger formerly practiced as a partner in the labor and employment department of one of the largest private law firms. I was fascinated with how Judge Highberger looked at the issues in employment cases. As a clerk, I was exposed to almost every area of civil law, and the facts in employment cases were always more relatable and interesting than the non-employment cases. After my clerkship, I was hired by a boutique employment defense firm and have never looked back.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Fito: Part of what I love about this area of the practice is there really is no typical day because many of the matters I work on come up suddenly. Many times, our firm or I will be interviewed by a potential client only after a labor issue has arisen. This specialty requires a significant amount of travel, as it tends to be location specific—whether that is providing legal advice to a client on how they can legally communicate with their employees regarding unionization, representing a client in a labor arbitration, or representing a client in collective bargaining. All of these tend to be location-based activities.

Greg: A typical day for me consists of many phone calls with clients regarding advice on particular employee issues or potential claims. I help clients draft or revise internal documents, contracts, or other writings, which would require legal scrutiny. I am also communicating with clients regarding active litigation, strategy development, or analysis of various issues involved in a case. In addition, I am communicating with opposing counsel on settlement discussions or discovery disputes. In our practice, we write a lot, whether it is legal analysis in a formal brief, an email to a client, or a presentation on writing legal strategy (internally or externally) on specific issues.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Fito: First and foremost, it is important to develop a deep understanding of the law in this area. Since it is so specialized, clients expect you to have a high level of knowledge specific to the NLRA. In law school, you should seek out any labor class and arbitration class available and pursue independent study with a professor who is also a practitioner. I also recommend that you focus your early career on developing trial skills, as the discipline you gain from trial work will serve you well in a labor career as we tend to try cases. They may be administrative and non-jury, but they are trials. In your CLE, look for any labor topics. You may have to do a bit of digging as they are not as commonly offered.

Greg: For any attorney, I believe that legal writing skills are paramount. Even if you do not immediately work in the employment law space, it is very important that attorneys get repetition in legal writing so that they can hone this skill. Employment law is very much about presentation of facts, or a story, and requires a skilled, persuasive presentation of facts. Additionally, it is extremely important that employment lawyers take the time out—daily or weekly—to stay on top of hot employment topics. Employment law is always evolving, and clients need to have the confidence that you are keeping abreast of the issues coming their way. There are a lot of great litigators out there, but a true employment lawyer cannot build a sustained relationship with their clients without understanding the contours of employment law and how they impact businesses.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Fito: The most challenging aspect of practicing labor law is the travel demand. It is not for the faint of heart, and you must have the ability to drop and go at a moment’s notice. This can be difficult both professionally and personally. It can also be the most rewarding aspect. If you need an adrenaline rush, this practice is for you.

Greg: Staying on top the new laws and cases, which are coming out on a daily and weekly basis from all jurisdictions and then being able to competently communicate with sophisticated clients on how these different laws impact their businesses.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Fito: I love the constant interaction with clients at all levels of the organization. I have personally learned that I am truly an extrovert, and I need to have people around me in order to breathe. This practice area satisfies that need by the bucketful.

Greg: During good and bad economies, there is always a lot of work in employment law. We are never starved for work. I also like this practice area because it gives you a greater chance to develop a book of business. You do not always have to wait for the next case to be filed to receive work from a client as there is plenty of compliance-related work to keep everyone busy.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Fito: This is an easy one. The typical misconception is that because we represent management, we are opposed to employees or to labor unions. My father is an immigrant. My grandfather was a butcher in a union shop. I love working with employers to make a better workplace. We are all human, and we are not perfect, but working with and counseling employers, I believe, puts me in the best position to improve the working lives of all employees.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

Fito: Much of our practice and training for clients involves advising them on how to effectively communicate. As the workplace continues to evolve—whether through technological advancements that allow us to work from virtually anywhere or through potential changes in manufacturing such as 3D printing—the need to effectively communicate will continue. As we become more and more of a cultural melting pot, I believe those who practice in this area will need to be leaders in inclusiveness and cultural competence.

Greg: Instead of generalists, there will be a lot more specialized lawyers with specific skill sets of knowledge bases. The various practice areas or subject matters are so broad that it does require us to bring in specialists who only focus on one area. One example is in the area of background checks. Once upon a time, we could master California and federal law on the subject. Now, because companies are not just in one state, and they are drawing applicants from all over the globe, we need to involve specialists within the firm who are up to speed on background check laws in all 50 states.

Rodolfo R. (“Fito”) Agraz and Gregory C. Cheng, Shareholders—Labor & Employment

Rodolfo (“Fito”) Agraz has experience helping a broad spectrum of clients with labor and employment challenges. He represents clients in diverse industries during union organizing attempts and litigation before the NLRB, contract negotiation, and labor arbitrations. Additionally, he advises clients on best practices in employee relations and the development of comprehensive labor strategies to preserve the ability to maintain direct relationships with employees. He works with executive leadership and first-line supervisory staff to build a positive working environment. Mr. Agraz is fluent in Spanish and serves as a member of the firm’s traditional labor and diversity and inclusion steering committees.

Greg Cheng has exclusively practiced management-side labor and employment law in California for the past 15 years. As an experienced litigator, Greg has handled hundreds of matters for employers in state and federal courts, during arbitration, and before administrative agencies. Additionally, Greg has significant experience advising and counseling. He regularly partners with in-house legal attorneys; C-Suite executives; finance, operations, human resources, payroll, and benefits professionals; and business owners and private equity groups in providing day-to-day advice and counsel on all facets of California employment and wage/hour issues. Greg is currently the co-chair of the Ogletree Asian-American Attorneys Business Resource Group and serves on the firm’s Client Steering and Credit Guidelines committees.

Megan M. Lawson, Managing Associate
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

My practice primarily involves litigating high-stakes employment class action and single-plaintiff claims of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation. I also counsel companies on different pre-litigation employment issues (e.g., implementing policies, drafting employee handbooks, and advising on various personnel matters). In previous years, I’ve defended companies in wage and hour class actions as well.

What types of clients do you represent?

My current clients consist mainly of tech companies (e.g., Microsoft, Twitter, Genentech), but I also represent companies in the financial sector and have worked with companies in the retail space as well.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Right now, I’m working primarily on gender discrimination class actions (one nationwide under Title VII and the other under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act). I also manage a few single and multi-plaintiff cases alleging discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation in state and federal court.

How did you choose this practice area?

I came to Orrick in 2012 with the desire to be a litigator (that, I always knew!). As a summer associate, I worked on projects from different litigation groups and naturally gravitated to the employment assignments.

From responding to a demand letter from a former employee alleging a violation of California’s Labor Code to reviewing and analyzing the tweets in a high-stakes gender discrimination hearing, I really enjoyed the relationship aspect between plaintiff and defendant in each of the cases I worked on. Each assignment was completely different than the last, requiring a different skill and even different legal resources.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I’ve never had a “typical day”; each day is completely different and always filled with surprises, especially as I get more senior in my career. For example, today, I responded to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge and worked on a discovery motion to compel documents from an expert. Last week, I took three depositions and drafted an ex parte application in one case and worked on discovery requests in another. And two weeks ago, I was drafting an opposition to a motion for class certification and interviewing witnesses.

A slow day for me is simply having one task to complete (extremely rare). Even when I have just one thing to get done, I will almost certainly get a call from a client looking for help with an urgent problem or a call from opposing counsel looking to create one.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

When I was in law school, there were practical skills courses taught by partners at law firms who served as adjunct professors that I found to be the most helpful in knowing what to do as a junior associate. I took courses on civil discovery and pretrial litigation to expand on the skills I learned in civil procedure and actually apply them by drafting a complaint, answer, and summary judgment motion. It was extremely helpful to have that foundational knowledge of how everything fits practically.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

I am often tasked with juggling many different hats in one day and thus have to be really diligent in managing my time. I can go from making back-to-back client calls to drafting a brief to interviewing a witness and then back to making two or three more calls all in one day. It definitely forces me to plan a “reasonable” task list and action plan for how to attack each day.

What do you like best about your practice area?

It’s relatable. Everyone has been an employee, and some have been employers. It’s very easy to step into the shoes of my clients and even the plaintiffs that I am litigating against and understand their perspectives. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to think about more than just “winning.” I also love that I’m at a point in my career where I am being challenged to come up with legal strategy for handling my cases. For example, I drafted a motion to dismiss and came up with a clever argument for dismissal on personal jurisdiction grounds (who knew that would resurrect itself from law school).

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

The most common misconception I hear is that I represent “the bad guy” by defending companies. I have never found things to be that black and white. Our clients are sophisticated organizations with internal lawyers and Human Resources and Employee Relations departments, who are really trying to do the right thing. I don’t think most people understand how much time, effort, and energy is spent on creating policies, training, and managing large populations of employees to do the right thing. In the rare situation that an employer has a rogue employee who acted inappropriately, our clients work hard to “make things right” and resolve the issue. At the end of the day, I feel good about the work I do and the clients I represent.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

One unique quality that I’ve always loved about the employment group at Orrick is that we have clients that solely come to Orrick for employment work, versus having to generate employment matters from other practice groups’ clients. This allows our partners to develop deep relationships with clients, and they are more than happy to include associates in developing those relationships. I started at the firm in 2013, right before I was asked to work on the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins case as first-year associate. Since that trial, I think the number of gender discrimination claims at VC and tech companies has increased, and now a new wave of gender discrimination class actions appear to be taking center stage.

Megan M. Lawson, Managing Associate—Employment

Megan Lawson is an employment law attorney in Orrick’s Silicon Valley office. Megan defends companies in class action, multi-plaintiff, and single plaintiff lawsuits under California and federal law on a variety of issues including discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination claims, and wage and hour matters. Most notably, Megan served on the trial team that resulted in the firm’s resounding victory for venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers in the highly publicized gender discrimination lawsuit brought by Ellen Pao. Megan also provides employment counseling to companies on a variety of pre-litigation employment issues and legislation.

Dianne Baquet Smith, Partner • Matthew Tobias, Associate
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Dianne: I defend management in litigation of employment disputes, ranging from discrimination and harassment to wage and hour and breach of contract. Additionally, I handle high-level investigations, as well as provide strategic advice and counsel regarding sensitive employment matters.

Matthew: I mostly handle wage and hour class action litigation and have spent a lot of time going to trial lately. I also defend employers against alleged suits of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, as well as handle traditional labor matters involving union contract negotiation, union organizing campaigns, and charges with the NLRB.

What types of clients do you represent?

Dianne: I represent employers of all sizes, from Fortune 100 companies to regional and family-owned companies in California and beyond. A lot of my clients are in the health care space, which includes representation of the largest public health plan in the U.S. I also represent financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and entertainment companies, including an international satellite broadcaster and a major concert promoter.

Matthew: In addition to the industries noted by Dianne, I also represent professional sports organizations and energy companies, as well as a national retail grocer. We see a considerable amount of union organizing activity in the trucking and waste hauling area, and most of the wage and hour cases I handle are for our hospital and health system clients.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Dianne: I work on litigation cases (asserting discrimination, harassment, and whistleblower retaliation claims), that are gearing up for trial. Those cases require court filings and appearances, discovery, and pre-trial submissions. Among others, I have tried a sexual harassment case for a major ice cream manufacturer, a whistleblower/retaliation case for a nonprofit health plan, and a disability discrimination case for a major satellite broadcaster. Recently, in addition to litigation, I have been assisting my clients with high-profile investigations and counseling them on executive personnel matters.

Matthew: Wage and hour requirements are extremely complex, and employers rely on us to guide them through the labyrinth of rules in this area. We take a preventive approach by conducting internal audits and providing clients with day-to-day compliance advice. My practice also includes the defense of employers against large, complex, and potentially devastating wage and hour class action lawsuits. For example, I recently assisted in obtaining a complete denial of class certification of claims involving overtime and meal periods for a hospital client in Northern California. That decision was upheld in a recent appeal. I also handle litigation involving discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. For example, I worked on another exciting case for a sports and concert arena in Orange County where we defended the arena against claims of disability and gender discrimination brought by a high-level executive in a jury trial where we received a victory.

How did you choose this practice area?

Dianne: I came to a point a law school where I knew I wanted to practice civil law. I was then recruited to the NLRB where I started my career as a trial attorney investigating and trying unfair labor practice cases and handling representation matters and injunction proceedings. After a couple of years with the NLRB, I went to Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s Regional Law Department, where I was senior labor and employment counsel. There, I litigated cases in California and counseled Sears facilities throughout the 14 western states. After nearly nine years of working in-house, I wanted to round out my practice by working at a large firm with a strong labor practice—which led me to Sheppard Mullin.

Matthew: I sort of “fell” into an HR job working for the City of Los Angeles in its personnel department. During my time there, I represented the City in grievances and arbitrations involving union-represented employees and was involved in risk management and conducting internal discrimination investigations. It is a funny story about how I was originally introduced to Sheppard Mullin. While working for the City, my supervisor had our team attend a labor and employment seminar to be trained on anti-discrimination laws in order to effectively do our job. The seminar happened to be held by Richard Simmons, a then-and-now-partner with Sheppard Mullin. After that seminar, I decided I wanted to become an employment lawyer. I started night school at my local law school while continuing to work for the City. I was fortunate to summer with Sheppard Mullin and join as an associate after graduation.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Dianne: One of the largest operating expenses for any business are personnel costs. Similarly, an individual spends most of his/her adult life working. Because of that, the “challenges” we are called on to help solve are often key to the functioning of the business and very emotionally charged. We quickly establish strong relationships with our clients due to the sensitive nature of the matters we handle for them; you truly become their trusted advisor. Additionally, the landscape of our work is constantly evolving with new laws and regulations; even after a litigation ends, you must begin thinking about “lessons learned” and how you can continue to protect your client going forward.

Matthew: I think one of the most exciting things about being a labor lawyer is that there are not many “typical” days. I could start my morning at a hearing, come back to the office to find a voicemail about an emergency situation involving a difficult employee, then transition into writing an opposition to a motion for another client. I am working on anywhere from 20-25 matters for 10-15 clients at a time. The matters range from full-blown wage and hour lawsuits to providing employment advice to clients; there is so much variety in our work—there is never a “dull” moment!

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Dianne: Take advantage of the clinics your law school may offer to gain experience interacting with and counseling clients. Once you begin your practice, attend local bar association meetings focused on employment law topics. Our partner Richard Simmons is a go-to expert on wage and hour laws, and he puts on a number of great seminars. In fact, we send all of our first-year L&E lawyers to attend. And, hold on to that learning mindset—you never stop learning with a labor and employment practice!

Matthew: Of course I have to recommend Richard Simmons’ seminars. I wouldn’t be a labor lawyer today had I not attended one of his programs. Also, it may seem obvious, but it is important to choose electives that are focused on labor and employment in law school—anything related to labor; class actions; trial advocacy; and negotiation, which is a critical skill, especially in a litigation-heavy practice. You should also excel in writing and civil procedure if you want to be a labor attorney. Sheppard Mullin is great at offering its associates challenging opportunities early on; however, you are only in a position to handle those types of opportunities if you have a strong foundation of the skills mentioned above.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Dianne: The laws in our field are multi-faceted and constantly evolving. While it is rewarding to have such a close relationship with your client as their trusted advisor, you are who they rely on to keep them abreast of the laws and changes that affect their businesses.

Matthew: As Dianne notes above, the laws are ever-changing—especially in California, and we are responsible for keeping our clients up to date on these niche areas of the law.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Dianne: The work we do is interesting, challenging, and intellectually stimulating. I learn something new with every matter I handle—in all of my years of practice, I have never been bored! The relationships you build with your clients by working “in the trenches” alongside them to help solve challenges that are critical to the success of their businesses are extremely rewarding.

Matthew: For me, it is the tight-knit relationships that you build with your clients because of the nature of the work we do. I enjoy thinking “big picture” about how a situation or regulation can affect my client’s business. You get to know their business inside and out, and come to them as an expert in your field with a deep understanding of theirs.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Dianne: When you are on the defense side representing employers, people have a tendency to think that you are representing the “bad guy.” That is a big misconception; all of my clients truly care about their employees and want to comply with the law and do the right thing.

Matthew: People tend to hear “litigation” and associate that with something that is all adversarial all of the time. However, we do a lot of thought-provoking work, whether it is writing a compelling brief or incorporating an innovative legal concept into our work. There are more ways to do well by your client than battling it out with the other side in front of a judge and jury.

What is unique about this practice area at your firm?

Dianne: I have a unique perspective because I was with a government agency and was a client at one time. At Sheppard Mullin, we staff our matters leanly, which conserves costs for clients and allows associates to get broad and substantive experience early on in their careers. I make a point to introduce associates to our clients from the beginning, which expands the relationship and our service to the client.

Matthew: I think we are an innovative and collaborative group. For example, when a new law comes out that is going to affect our practice, we organize a meeting to tackle the issue and come up with cutting-edge approaches to defending lawsuits. The solutions we come up with can only be achieved by strategizing as a group.

Dianne Baquet Smith, Partner, and Matthew Tobias, Associate—Labor & Employment

Dianne Baquet Smith has extensive experience representing management in litigation of wrongful discharge, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour, breach of contract, and other types of employment cases through trial. Prior to joining Sheppard Mullin in 1991, Dianne was senior labor and employment counsel with Sears, Roebuck and Co., where she litigated cases and provided legal advice to facilities in 14 western states. Dianne graduated with an A.B. in Political Science from Stanford University and a J.D. from the University of California Berkeley, School of Law.

Matthew Tobias specializes in labor and employment matters on behalf of employers, including wage and hour violations, employment discrimination, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and sexual harassment. Prior to joining Sheppard Mullin, Matthew worked for the City of Los Angeles in the personnel department. Matthew graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern California, and a J.D. from Southwestern Law School.

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