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Labor Attorney Career Guide

What is a labor attorney?

A labor attorney is a legal professional specializing in law that involves the relationship between workers and their employers. It’s a job that plays a significant role in the complex landscape of employment law, which governs a wide array of areas, including workplace conditions, discrimination issues, wage disputes, and hiring practices. They aim to ensure that rights and duties are observed according to the employment laws in a particular jurisdiction.

The main focus is advocating for fairness in the workplace, and this role allows them to serve as critical facilitators of justice in employment settings. Their work might consist of advocating for employees or representing employers, which can occur in all kinds of organizations, from small family-owned businesses to multinational corporations. These attorneys significantly impact the labor market’s ecosystem and play an important role in maintaining its equilibrium and integrity.

Duties and responsibilities

A labor attorney’s duties and responsibilities vary and depend on whether they act in the interests of an employer or employee. Those working on behalf of employers often take the reins in advising and guiding their clients through the complexities of labor law. They might draft and review contracts and policies, conduct negotiations with employee representatives or unions, and defend the employer in any disputes or legal actions arising from employment issues.

When acting on workers’ behalf, these attorneys can be a trusted ally in the fight for fair treatment, safety, and respect in the workplace. Their duties include providing legal advice, offering representation in disputes and court proceedings, and working closely with unions or employees to organize collective bargaining efforts. They are essentially responsible for ensuring that the workers’ legal rights are not violated.

Work environment

The work environment of a labor attorney typically leans more toward the corporate side, given the nature of their work. These legal professionals are most often found in offices, law firms, or corporate legal departments. However, their work goes beyond office walls, as they may find themselves in courtrooms representing clients or in meeting rooms engaged in negotiations. Variation in the work environment is part of this job, allowing the individual to work in settings as diverse as small businesses, large corporations, government offices, or even at home.

Typical work hours

The work hours of a labor attorney can be long, extending beyond the standard nine-to-five schedule found in many other professions. They may need to work late nights or weekends to meet deadlines, handle emergencies, or prepare diligently for court cases or negotiations. Often, these professionals may have to be on-call to provide immediate assistance if an issue arises. It is not a job for those looking for a precise and predictable schedule, as the work demands can often extend well beyond a forty-hour work week.

How to become a labor attorney

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a labor attorney. Achieving this title involves several key steps, such as academic preparation, licensing, gaining professional experience, and continuing education.

Step 1: Obtain an undergraduate degree

First and foremost, aspiring attorneys need to complete a bachelor’s degree. While no mandated field of study exists, some preferred areas include political science, philosophy, or English. Throughout your undergraduate studies, it’s essential to maintain a high GPA, as this will be a significant factor for law school admission.

Step 2: Pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The LSAT is a key component in most law school applications. It is an exam that will determine your comprehension and logical reasoning skills. Scoring high on the LSAT can significantly enhance your chances of admission into a desirable law school. Preparation for this test often involves significant study and sometimes enrollment in preparatory courses.

Step 3: Acquire a Juris Doctor (JD) degree

After securing admission into a law school, the next step is to earn a JD degree. This can typically be completed in three years of full-time study. Courses in this degree may cover all aspects of law; however, those interested in becoming labor attorneys should concentrate on courses that cover employment and labor law.

Step 4: Pass the bar exam

Upon completing the JD degree, the next step is passing the bar exam. This national exam is a significant milestone and a requirement to practice law in the United States. The exam tests knowledge of general legal principles and certain national laws.

Step 5: Gain practical experience

The legal field values practical experience greatly. Potential employers often look for candidates with practical experience, especially in labor law. This can be gained through internships, working as a law clerk, or participating in a law school’s clinic, where students provide legal services to clients under the supervision of an instructor.

Step 6: Seek employment

With a degree in hand and practical experience, you can now apply for positions as a labor attorney. It might be beneficial to start your career in a firm that specializes in labor law. Networking and creating professional relationships can also help you land a job in this field.

Step 7: Pursue continuing education and stay updated with laws

Even after securing employment, you must continue studying. Laws and regulations are constantly changing, making it necessary to stay informed. In addition, some states require legal professionals to complete continuing education hours each year to maintain an active license.

How much do labor attorneys make?

Labor attorney salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. In particular, the type of clientele, be it private entities, government bodies, or non-profits, can significantly impact compensation. The level or complexity of their labor law cases could also play a critical role in their salary determination.

Highest paying industries

  • Legal Services – $144,230
  • Federal Executive Branch – $144,100
  • Securities and Commodity Exchanges – $143,320
  • Software Publishers – $138,210
  • Broadcasting – $137,600

Highest paying states

  • California – $158,200
  • New York – $155,500
  • Massachusetts – $152,720
  • Connecticut – $148,890
  • Illinois – $146,570

Browse labor attorney salary data by market

Types of labor attorneys

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for labor attorneys. This section highlights the major categories in which these attorneys can further hone their skills to provide more focused and effective service in their chosen area.

Employment law specialist

Specialists in this field handle legal issues related to employment. They are adept at understanding laws regarding workplace matters such as discrimination, wages and salaries, workers’ rights, and termination of employment. Their duties often include advising businesses on legal standards and representing clients in employment-related lawsuits.

Union representative lawyer

This type of labor attorney works on behalf of labor unions, addressing their specific legal needs. These may include collective bargaining agreements, union formation, or legal complications arising within a unionized workforce. Their deep-rooted knowledge of union labor laws allows them to best serve their clients.

Worker’s compensation attorney

These labor attorneys focus on cases related to workers’ compensation. They guide workers through the process of seeking compensation following a work-related injury or illness. By understanding the complex nature of workers’ compensation laws, they can help clients navigate the legal maze and obtain the compensation they are entitled to.

Workplace safety law specialist

Clients rely on this kind of labor attorney when it comes to matters of ensuring a safe working environment. They interpret and apply laws relating to work safety standards and regulations. Their skills protect workers from hazardous conditions and advocate for improved work safety conditions.

Labor relations manager attorney

These attorneys typically work within corporations or governmental entities to manage the relationship between employers and employees. They handle disputes, negotiate labor contracts, and contribute to policymaking with their expertise in labor laws. Their understanding of these laws is vital in fostering a harmonic and legally robust work environment.

Top skills for labor attorneys

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a labor attorney.

Analytical skills

As an expert in labor law, you will require strong analytical abilities. These skills will help you understand and interpret legal documents, statutes, and judicial opinions. By developing this skill, you will not only be able to absorb vast amounts of legal information but also distill and communicate it in a clear and concise manner.

Negotiation skills

Within this profession, you will often work on cases that require you to negotiate between employers and employees. Therefore, you must cultivate excellent negotiation skills, helping you to reach agreements that favor your clients and resolve conflicts effectively. You need to understand the needs of both parties and find a middle ground that can satisfy everyone.

Communication skills

Being proficient in both written and verbal communication is vital. You need to interact with clients, colleagues, and the court and communicate complex legal concepts in an understandable manner. These skills certainly help create persuasive arguments and clear documentation that can strongly support your client’s position or case.

Knowledge of labor law

In this profession, having in-depth knowledge of labor law is necessary. This includes being familiar with the latest court decisions affecting labor law, changes in regulations, and understanding the workings of labor unions and employment contracts. Continuous learning and staying updated will allow you to provide effective legal advice and handle various labor law issues in the best way possible.

Interpersonal skills

Apart from being a legal expert, you should also have a strong skill set in dealing with people from different backgrounds. You may interact with union leaders, company executives, workers, and other attorneys. Thus, possessing excellent interpersonal skills can help build trust, understand different perspectives, and maintain strong professional relationships.

Labor attorney career path options

As a labor attorney, your career path can unfold in numerous directions based on your interests and goals. By gaining experience in this role, you can broaden your expertise and move toward more specialized areas within labor law or transition to management roles within a law firm or corporate legal department.

Moving toward specialization

One desirable step up the career ladder can involve focusing on specific types of cases or industries, thereby becoming a specialist. For example, you might concentrate on employee benefits law, discrimination cases, or labor relations in a particular sector like tech or healthcare. Through this, you could eventually become known as an expert in your chosen area, which typically enhances career prospects and earning potential.

Transitioning to management roles

Another potential career direction is moving into a management role within a law firm or corporate legal department. This might involve becoming a senior associate, partner, or managing partner. In the corporate world, you could aspire to roles such as legal director, vice president of legal affairs, or even chief legal officer. These roles generally involve not only legal work but also team management and strategic decision-making.

Pursuing careers in academia or public service

Besides these trajectories, your background as a labor attorney could lead you to a rewarding career within academia or public service. In academia, you could teach, conduct research, or develop policies related to labor law. In public service, you might work for government agencies that handle labor issues, influencing labor policy, regulations, and enforcement. These paths provide a way to use your legal knowledge to impart change on a broader scale.

One of the most distinct trends in this field involves the rise of remote work and digitization. With businesses increasingly migrating their operations online, the legal implications of this shift become more nuanced. The need for labor attorneys who can navigate employment laws in a virtual context is ever-growing. This comes with the demand for proficiency in digital communication and managing virtual case management tools. Also, attorneys specializing in labor laws are finding a greater push toward settling disputes through negotiation and mediation rather than traditional litigation.

Another development affecting the profession is the growing focus on diversity, inclusion, and equality in the workforce. With multiple movements advocating for equality, firms are seeking assistance from professionals with a deep understanding of employment laws. As such, those certified in diversity and inclusion management are highly sought after. Finally, the rising gig economy has blurred traditional labor laws, making it pivotal for attorneys to stay current with changing trends and regulations. This has created an increasing demand for legal advice and representation focused on gig workers and independent contractors.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of lawyers, in general, is projected to grow 10 percent through 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Even though the data does not specifically indicate the projected growth for labor attorneys, it can be inferred that their demand will be high given the evolving employment scene.

Labor attorney career tips

Expand your legal knowledge

Staying up-to-date with all local, state, and federal laws and regulations regarding labor and employment is key. This can be done by attending workshops, seminars, and conferences, participating in webinars, and reading industry-specific publications. This will equip you with important knowledge and insights that will differentiate you as a top professional.

Engage in pro bono work

Engaging in pro bono work not only allows you to contribute to your community but also enriches your professional experience. It allows you to handle various cases and issues you may not encounter in your regular work, expanding your perspective and enhancing your problem-solving skills.

Become board certified

By becoming board-certified in labor and employment law, you demonstrate your high level of commitment to your profession. This certification not only elevates your credentials but often leads to higher compensation and enhanced job opportunities. Institutes like the American Bar Association, for example, offer a labor and employment law certification that you can aim for.

Build a professional network

In the legal field, networking is extremely important. Attending industry conferences, joining local attorney networking events, and participating in online legal communities increases your visibility within the profession, potentially opening you up to new job opportunities and partnerships. Key associations and networks to consider include:

  • American Bar Association
  • National Employment Lawyers Association
  • American Trial Lawyers Association
  • International Bar Association
  • State Bar Associations

Pursue continuous learning

Continuous learning is a worthwhile investment that helps you remain competitive in the ever-evolving field of labor law. This initiative can give you an edge when it comes to staying updated with the latest developments in labor legislation and court decisions. Here are some recommendations:

  • American Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education
  • National Employment Law Institute’s Programs
  • Attending legal conferences, workshops, and seminars
  • Subscribing to and reading legal publications

Stay organized

As a lawyer, you’ll manage multiple cases simultaneously, each with varied deadlines and diverse client expectations. Effective organization skills will enable you to stay on top of your obligations while maintaining a high level of professionalism. Some suggestions include implementing case management tools and maintaining an organized physical and digital work environment.

Where the labor attorney jobs are

Top employers

  • Seyfarth Shaw
  • Fisher & Phillips
  • Proskauer Rose
  • Squire Patton Boggs
  • Littler Mendelson

Top states

  • New York
  • California
  • Illinois
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • SimplyHired
  • LawCrossing
  • FlexJobs


What are the educational requirements to become a labor attorney?

A bachelor’s degree followed by three years of law school is required to become an attorney. It’s also required to pass the bar exam in the state where you plan to practice. Law school graduates may also choose to further specialize in labor law through a Master of Laws (LLM) program.

What are the primary duties for a labor attorney?

They might negotiate on behalf of workers’ unions, advocate for employees’ rights, handle disputes between employers and employees, and advise employers on their legal rights and obligations.

Which skills are essential to succeed as a labor attorney?

Key skills include excellent oral and written communication skills, strong research abilities, problem-solving skills, and being able to work well under pressure. Additionally, a good attorney must have a deep understanding of labor laws and the rights of employees and employers.

How competitive is the field of labor law?

Like many legal fields, labor law can be highly competitive. Your chances of success could increase if you specialize in a particular aspect of labor law.

What’s the average workload of a labor attorney?

The workload can vary greatly, depending on the size and type of firm, the types of cases you handle, and even the time of year. However, you can typically expect long hours, including evenings and weekends.

What kinds of companies hire labor attorneys?

Many different types of organizations hire these attorneys. You might work for a law firm that specializes in labor law, a corporation’s legal department, a labor union, or a government agency.

Is it possible to specialize within the field of labor law?

Yes, there are several areas of specialization within labor law. This could include areas such as workplace safety, wage issues, sexual harassment, or discrimination cases. By focusing on a specific area, you can enhance your expertise and marketability.

Are internships important for labor attorneys?

Internships can play a critical role in developing practical experience in the field of labor law. They offer opportunities to understand the dynamics of the workplace, interact with clients, and learn from experienced attorneys. They can also give a significant edge in job hunting as most employers value practical experience.

What’s the biggest challenge facing labor attorneys today?

Keeping up with the rapidly changing labor laws can be a significant challenge. Not only do labor laws vary from state to state, but federal labor legislation is also constantly evolving. Successful attorneys must stay up-to-date with these changes constantly.

Is a labor attorney typically involved in trial work?

While some are involved in litigation and may regularly appear in court, others focus more on advising clients, negotiating labor contracts, or handling labor-related issues outside the courtroom. The involvement in trial work can largely depend on the role, the employer, and the specific needs of the case.