By Whitney Pile Cooney ’08
One of the first questions I’m often asked when I say I practice Labor and Employment law is, “What’s the difference between labor law and employment law?” This is a great question and is often confusing for those outside our practice area. “Labor law” generally refers to the law pertaining to employers with a unionized workforce. Much of traditional labor law is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). “Employment law,” on the other hand, is much more diverse and refers to a myriad of state and federal employment-related laws, such as the Missouri Human Rights Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, just to name a few.
I’ve worked at The Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC in St. Louis since graduating from Mizzou Law School in 2008. At my firm, we exclusively represent companies, as opposed to individual employees. While many labor and employment attorneys practice both traditional labor law and employment law, my own practice has mainly concentrated on employment law. On a typical day, I have several lawsuits that I am working on. Employment litigation is just like any other type of litigation, in that it involves spending a considerable amount of time drafting pleadings and motions, preparing discovery responses, taking depositions, etc. Last fall, I second-chaired a seven day federal jury trial in which I represented a Fortune 500 company in a wrongful termination lawsuit. I’ve also represented a local medical practice in a week long arbitration arising from a physician compensation dispute. However, days spent in trial or arbitration are greatly outnumbered by “normal” days in the office.
In addition to defending companies in litigation, management-side employment lawyers also spend a significant amount of time helping clients to prevent litigation. We often take telephone calls from clients – usually Human Resources professionals or in-house attorneys – regarding various issues that have arisen with their employees, in order to ensure that their employment practices are compliant with the law. Often times, clients call with an “emergency” situation that we must assist them with immediately. I often come to work in the morning expecting to work on one thing, only to find myself spending the majority of the day on something totally unexpected. The constant surprises and unexpected challenges are one of the main reasons why I love practicing employment law.