Over the last decade, we’ve seen the demonization of attorneys on both sides of employment litigation. "Trial lawyers" or "Plaintiffs’ lawyers" and attorneys for "big corporations" are seen not merely as advocates for their clients, but something far more sinister.
Indeed, some have come to the point where some have stopped viewing their opponents in litigation as human but as the incarnation of evil. And as a result, they engage in "Rambo lawyering" — a practice that views litigation as war where nearly anything goes.
For employees and unions, the tendency to view corporations as machines, not a collection of individuals, creates a paranoia where conspiracies are sought to be proved through endless discovery. For employers, the tendency to view each plaintiffs’ attorney or former employee as seeking nothing more than a quick dime creates an atmosphere where the intent is to simply make life so difficult for the opponent, that they will settle or drop the case.
The truth, however, in employment litigation is that nearly all of the attorneys involved in such cases simply want to help people that may have been wronged — or may be wrongly accused. And these attorneys often have families just like the rest of us. And most importantly, these attorneys are highly ethical and civil towards others — at least in Connecticut.
I bring this up in the labor and employment context because of the recent passing of Connecticut labor lawyer Bill Zeman at the age of 93, and the feedback from his death. I did not know Bill Zeman personally (a little before my generation) but read his obituary here. (As "small world" coincidences go, however, I went to high school with his grandson, Jeffrey, who is a a fine attorney as well.) As you can see, for over 50 years, Bill was a tireless advocate for labor unions in the state (and more importantly, in my view, a devoted husband for over 70 years).
I found a "Declaratory Ruling" from State of Connecticut Labor Department that honors Bill in 1996 that does a far greater job of detailing his life’s accomplishments and "rules" that "The labor relations community in the State of Connecticut is indebted to William S. Zeman for his many contributions to the field of labor relations through fifty-five years of the exemplary practice of labor law and hereby expresses its respect and offers its heartfelt thanks."
What has struck me after his passing was the outpouring of good will about Bill that has passed around the Connecticut Bar Association’s list servs. Indeed, from these messages and conversations that I’ve had with people who knew him, Bill was universally respected by people who represented not only unions and employees, but employers as well. He was perceived as being principled, professional, honest and bright. He may have been a stickler for procedures but he was able to work with his opponents to reach a fair resolution of issues. I would not hesitate to say that what is being said about Bill is among the highest praise that an attorney can receive.
For employers, the approach of an attorney like Bill Zeman is a decent model for anyone to follow in employment litigation; treat the opponent fairly and with respect, work hard, and resolve issues in a civil and appropriate manner. "Rambo litigation" may have a short-term impact, but it’s the attorney who zealously represents his or her clients with civility that gets long-term results.
Using procedural rules and proper motion practice is one thing (and certainly one aspect of litigation that should be followed) but making life miserable for your opponent as your end goal is something else. By all accounts, Bill Zeman understood the difference and it’s a difference worth remembering in his passing.