What I do for my employer clients, for the most part, falls down into four principal areas. The first is I do a lot of troubleshooting for them. So that would be an employer that calls me up and says, “Hey, we’ve got a situation here that I need your advice on.” That’s usually kind of more of an immediate need that they have. Sometimes they’ll be getting ready to terminate an employee and they think, “Well, maybe we should bounce this off of Bill beforehand.” And usually, it’s fine. You know, everything we go through kind of all the risk factors of the termination. But every once in a while, I’ll be able to say, “Well, stop. We need to wait here. We need to reassess the situation and go from there before you go forward with the termination.”
The next area that I work within is compliance. So, you know, there are hundreds of regulations and employment laws that employers need to be compliant with. Some employers have employees in multiple states and other jurisdictions. No one can be expected to understand all of the various compliance requirements, so they will contact me and they’ll say, you know, “We’ve got these issues that we’re looking at. We’d like to develop some policies. Can you help us out to make sure that we’re in compliance?”
The next area is really risk management. When I say that, that is really more kind of what kind of policies can we have in place to ensure that our risk of claims from employees is minimized as much as possible. So we’ll look at their employee handbooks, we’ll look at their harassment policies, offensive behavior policies and procedures, and make sure that they have the proper procedures in place.
And the final one is conflict resolution. And that usually comes when an employer calls up and says, “I got a demand letter from a lawyer from an employee that we fired, or from an employee who we’re getting ready to fire. And we really need you to help us try to manage that situation.” So I will help them respond either directly to the employee or maybe help them pass a response to the lawyer. Or sometimes I will just say, “Why don’t you let me call the lawyer up and we’ll just kind of talk through it, find out what the issues are, and see if we can resolve it short of litigation.”
Well, an executive in transition is either someone who is leaving their current employment situation, they’re going into a new employer, they may have an offer or be in negotiation with a prospective employer, or it’s both. And sometimes it’s someone leaving one business to go to work with another business and they need help navigating that. So there are three principal areas if you’ve got an executive employee who is losing their job, they will contact me often and say, “Can you help me work through a severance agreement?” And that might be something as simple as I’ve been presented with a severance agreement, I need to have someone take a look at it. It might be a half-hour. It might be an hour’s worth of work. No big deal. Just kind of let them know if there’s anything in there that they need to be concerned about or whether or not this is something that looks good from their standpoint in terms of moving on with their life and with their career.
Sometimes it’s a little bit more complicated than that. They’ll call me up and they’ll say “I’m being terminated. I’m being told I’m being terminated without cause, I’ve got an employment agreement that provides for severance, but there’s an exception if I’m fired without cause or fired with cause,” and in that situation, I will kind of help them negotiate the terms of of the severance agreement, either demanding the full amount of the severance they are entitled to or negotiating something in between. I’ll help them with that. I also help them in that situation in fashioning the terms of the severance agreement that allows them to move forward with their career, it might be something as simple as restating the terms or rephrasing the terms of a non-compete requirement or a non-solicitation requirement that they already have. There are often ways to narrow that down, to make it easier for them to move into their next step.
And then the third area that I do a lot of work in is I have someone who’ll call me up and say, “I want to leave my employer. I’ve got an offer of employment, but I’ve got a non-compete agreement that I need to have someone take a look at and we need to see if I can make that switch without risk of losing my new job or getting sued by the former employer.” So I work with them on those issues as well.
What I enjoy most about being a lawyer is helping my clients solve their problems. And it’s always a problem that they’re coming to me with, it might be a problem that they’re trying; all are trying to prevent in the future or something that’s come up that needs a resolution. And I like helping find the best path for that client. It might be a negotiated resolution. It might be, you don’t really have a claim, it’s time really to move on. Don’t worry about it. Oftentimes that’s the case, they call and they’re just kind of doing a gut check.
They might say, “I don’t really think I have anything, but you know, I’d like to talk to someone about it,” and usually they’re right, but sometimes they’re wrong and there’s something we have, we can talk to them about. So I like to work with them on those issues. Also, employment law is an area that is highly emotional, both from an employer standpoint and from an employee standpoint. Employers are often accused of discrimination and of wrongdoing of things that they didn’t do, and they can get very emotional about it. And of course, the problems with employees can be self-evident. So I like helping to work through those transitions and letting them kind of move on with their business from the employer’s standpoint, with their personal life, and their personal career from the employee standpoint.
What I appreciate most about being at Avisen is that there are two aspects to it. One is just logistics. It’s the size of the firm. I started my career at a 65 lawyer firm that grew to 110 lawyers. Then I went solo for about seven or eight years. And then I went to a law firm that went from a hundred lawyers into a merger of 800 lawyers. And solo practice, I don’t want to sound too much like Goldielocks, because I don’t have gold locks, but the solo practice is just too small. There’s just too much to do and there are too many things that you need to have colleagues to assist you with to make sure that you’re doing the right thing. You do a gut check. There might be an area that comes up in the employment law practice that I don’t have expertise in. So I can consult with my partners. And this law firm has a range of expertise that fits very, very neatly within my practice.
Being at a large law firm, there’s a lot of really good things about it. And large firms generally are large because they’re really, really good lawyers. But it comes with issues as well, difficulties as well. It’s big. Sometimes it can be kind of impersonal unless you’re with the exception of people that are in your own office. And in my practice, for example, I have clients that will call me up and they say, “I need your help right away.” It’ll be a new client. Someone says, “Can you help me right away?” Well, I can do a conflict check in five minutes. At the 800 lawyer law firm, it doesn’t work that way. So I’m not able to help them. So this practice, this size of practice fits what I do very, very well.
Well, I think what clients should know is that I’ve got a lot of experience doing employment law, both from a consulting advice standpoint, but I’ve also got a deep background in litigation and I don’t do as much litigation as I used to for a variety of reasons. One is we don’t have a big stable of lawyers here that can provide the support for a large piece of litigation, but I’ve been in court. I’ve seen what can happen. I’ve seen what juries can do, what matters are right for litigation, and what matters should not be litigated. So I bring that perspective to the relationship. And I also think that they should understand, and I’ve been told this by others, that I bring a very practical approach to the employment law area. For example, when a client calls on an initial call, it might be an initial engagement. A lot of times, it’s just over the telephone. Say, “Well tell me what’s going on. Tell me what your problem is and what do you think I can do for you,” but I’ll always ask them, “Well, what do you want out of this?”
And sometimes they don’t know what they want so I can kind of tell them what they can expect, what their rights are. But I try to give them a very, very practical approach. A client might come and say, “I really want to litigate.” And this is from the employer’s standpoint as well as from the employee’s standpoint. And I’ll say, “Okay, well here’s what litigation involves.” And we go through all of the financial and the time commitments and the hassle factor and the problems that the litigation can create in the workplace itself for the employer. We go through all of that and they’ll say, “Okay, well that is very helpful. Let’s see if we can find a way to navigate this problem without going to litigation.”