It’s a sad fact of life that you can’t always count on your employer to respect your rights as an employee. Sometimes, it’s a matter of your employer not understanding what rights employees have or what they mean — other times, it’s just plain negligence. In any case, when an employer violates your rights, you need an employment lawyer to help you seek redress through the courts.
But the thought of hiring an attorney can be daunting, especially if you’ve never had to use a lawyer to settle a legal matter before. Where would you even look to find an employment lawyer? How do you make sure that the one you do find is any good?
Read on to learn the answers to these questions, and more
Look in the Right Places
Many people find attorneys through word of mouth. If you’ve ever used an attorney for another legal matter — even if it’s something completely unrelated, like drawing up a will or transferring real estate — you can ask if they know any attorneys who practice employment law. The legal community is small enough that most attorneys know other attorneys practicing in a range of different subspecialties. If you have any lawyer friends or family members, you can ask them for referrals, too. You can ask friends or family members if they know any employment lawyers, too.
If asking around doesn’t turn up any promising leads, you can contact your state bar association for a referral. You can also contact the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) or your state’s employment lawyer association.
Do Your Due Diligence
Once you have a few names, you can do some digging into their backgrounds, reputations, and experience to make sure you’ve found just the right person to help you fight back against the violation of your employee rights. You don’t just need an attorney with a good reputation and a lot of experience — you need someone who has experience litigating your specific type of case. A pregnancy discrimination case is not the same as a constructive dismissal, which is not the same as a hostile work environment. Ideally, your attorney will have successfully litigated at least several cases very similar to yours.
To verify that an attorney is competent and experienced, start by checking their website. Evaluate the site’s presentation — poor formatting, terrible spelling, missed words, and awkward grammar could be a lack of attention to detail or a paucity of discipline that could spell trouble for the success of your case. The attorney’s website should also list some of the cases he or she has worked on, with enough information to decide if they’re similar to your case. Several of the attorney’s most recent cases should be similar to yours. If your state allows subfield certifications and this attorney has them, that information should be listed on the website, too, and it would be helpful if you found an attorney certified in the relevant subfield of employment law.
Check with your state’s disciplinary committee to make sure that an attorney hasn’t been the subject of any complaints or committed any ethics violations before you hire him or her. You can also check online reviews on sites like Avvo or FindLaw.
Ask the Right Questions
Once you’ve found an attorney who specializes in the appropriate area of law and has passed your due diligence, you can meet with him or her for a consultation. These typically last 15 to 30 minutes, but you’ll have a chance to ask questions. Some good questions to ask might include:
- How much experience do you have in employment law, and in cases like mine? How many cases have you handled involving claims similar to mine, and how many have gone to trial?
- How much do you charge? Do you work on contingency or flat fee? Can you give me an estimate of costs through resolution?
- Who else will work on my case?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
- How often will I get updates about my case?
- How long will you take to respond to messages or calls?
- What are the different approaches to resolution? Which one do you prefer and why?
If you decide you want to hire an attorney, you’ll have to sign an engagement letter. You can do this on the spot, or you can send the letter later in the mail.
When your employer violates your rights, you deserve your day in court. An employment lawyer can’t turn back the clock to before your rights were violated, but he or she can help you get the compensation you need to be made whole, and take your employer to task.