connecticut bar association

Retired Justice Harper at last night's event
Retired Justice Harper at CBA event

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend the Connecticut Bar Association’s awards dinner — titled, “Celebrate with the Stars”. It was a lovely event filled with accolades for some of the state’s best and brightest in the legal profession and beyond.

Yeah yeah, I can hear some of you say. Just another lawyers’ dinner. Boring.

But hear me out for a second.  What dinners like these remind me of — and should inform you of — is the fact that so many lawyers in the state continue to treat the work we do as a profession — rather than simply a business.

Yeah yeah, I can hear some of you say.  Nothing like lawyers talking about their self-importance. 

And my response is: If that’s what you believe, then as lawyers, we have to do a better job informing you about the system we are all involved with.  It’s just not like Law & Order. (Nor is it like Ally McBeal either, sadly.)

To understand our system, one can start by hearing the words from some of the giants of the Connecticut legal scene, like famed criminal defense lawyer Willie Dow and retired Supreme Court Justice Lubbie Harber, Jr., both of whom received awards last night.

During their remarks, both Dow and Harper talked about the central role that lawyers play in society — not only as people who look out for their clients, but as citizens who also look to the serve the profession, and the public.  Indeed, Dow received the bar association’s “professionalism” award.

When I work with new clients, that dynamic sometimes come into play.

When I was a younger lawyer, I attended a similar bar dinner with a federal judge at the time. He made a statement that has really stuck with me; he reminded the young lawyers that a client may have only one case in the courts, but it is likely that the lawyer will have to come up against the other side’s attorney time and again. He urged the lawyers in the room to never forget that the client’s case is not the lawyer’s case and to treat the case accordingly.  Objecting to an extension of time did not, for example, advance the interests of justice in most instances.

He was not suggesting that we avoid our duty to be a zealous advocate for our client. But he reminded us that our role was larger than that as well.  And he suggested that when you view the other side as a respected opponent (perhaps even when they may not deserve it), it serves the legal system and our system of justice better.

I know there are some who disagree with this approach. These lawyers preferred a scorched earth approach in which they object to everything and agree with nothing.   And, if you’re reading this looking for such a lawyer, you should look elsewhere.

Indeed, the lawyers and judges last night would also take umbrage with that approach. These folks understand that the legal profession deserves something more than that.  Indeed, Dow relayed advice he heard from a jurist as well: A lawyer has two roles — look out for your client and look out for the other attorney.

As an employment lawyer mainly representing companies, one of the things I’m always conscious of is the fact that the employees who sometimes bring suit are real people with families and dreams and aspirations of their own.  They are not villains to be vilified for sport.

Yes, it’s a case and we are brought in to defend our client’s position. But empathy for the other side and respect for the attorney bringing the case also brings, in my view, an enlightened approach where you can better understand the weaknesses in your client’s own position.

While the overwhelming majority of the employers I deal with are simply business people trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, they are not infallible either.  Sometimes they make mistakes — whether in not understanding the law or in overreacting to the situation.  Listening to the other side can make everyone better.

So, kudos to all the award recipients last night. You are models to our legal profession and help remind all of us that our work is never done and that we can always strive for excellence.

outten
Wayne Outten addresses conference

No one will ever mistake the Connecticut Legal Conference, run by the Connecticut Bar Association, for, say a glitzy gaming conference. But if you were fortunate to attend, you had the opportunity to hear some pretty good speakers talk about employment law for several hours.

Among the topics were a discussion on the Ellen Pao case, a discussion of the “Obama Effect” on race relations in the workplace, and a recap of other notable employment law cases from the last year.

For me, one of the most interesting discussions came from Wayne Outten – the incoming chair of the ABA Labor & Employment Law Section, and an accomplished plaintiff’s lawyer.  His talk focused on the lawyer as “problem-solver” which he said was critical in employment law cases.

He said that he often tells his clients (employees at companies) that self-help is their first best option.  It’s something I’ve preached as well. Once you get lawyers involved, you can never de-escalate a situation.

I’ve often preached about how employers need to be “fair” in the decisions. He said that for employees, he advocates the same thing.

But he also pulled back the curtain on the advice he gives to employees too; he plants a seed for employees to use in their negotiations (and again, it’s a well-known device).  He suggests that the employee tell the employer that he’s met with an employment lawyer and that lawyer said he or she has a good case, but that the employee is the “reasonable” one and wants to work things out directly with the employer.  It’s the veiled threat approach.

For those that haven’t heard Wayne speak before, he also provided a top 10 list that he’s given for many years on the ways for employers to avoid getting sued.  Among them:

  • Be fair and reasonable in all your dealings with employees.  Follow the Golden Rule: Treat every employee the way you would want to be treated — that is, fairly. Treat every employee so as to bring out the best that person has to offer.
  • Consider alternative dispute resolution techniques. When the foregoing approaches fail to avert or resolve a particular dispute, consider using such alternative dispute resolution procedures as peer review, early neutral evaluation, mediation and non-binding arbitration. (Use of ADR procedures should always be truly voluntary — not crammed down on employees as a condition of initial or continued employment.)
  • Be nice to plaintiffs’ attorneys. When you get a telephone call or letter from a lawyer representing a current or former employee, consider it an opportunity to engage in mutual problem-solving. Consider meeting with the employee and his or her counsel to exchange views on what happened and how the situation might be remedied. Such discussions may avert litigation.

For employers, there’s wisdom in this advice.

The Connecticut Legal Conference on Monday (produced by the Connecticut Bar Association) had several noteworthy programs, including a few on labor & employment law.  In today’s post, I’m going to recap the presentation by David Lopez, the current EEOC General Counsel.   He talked about the Top 10 Developments in EEOC Litigation over the last few years.

Fortunately, most of my tweets do a good job of recapping the event but I want to highlight one aspect.

Of all the cases he cited, not one is from Connecticut.  Why is that? Because of a strong plaintiff’s bar (that is, attorneys who represent employees) and strong state laws as well.

Kudos to the Connecticut Bar Association for this noteworthy speaker and presentation. Very informative.

This afternoon, I’ll be speaking to the Connecticut Bar Association’s Annual Meeting on a topic that is familiar to blog readers: The Intersection of Employment Law and Social Media.

If you’re attending, please stop by to say hi.

There are a few resources that I’ll discuss in the presentation that I would recommend here:

And for more posts on this blog about the topic, you can view the tag “social media”.

I look forward to seeing fellow lawyers at today’s event.

 

Credit the Connecticut Bar Association Young Lawyers Section with landing all the major players in the Ricci v. DeStefano case for a panel discussion on August 18, 2009 at Quinnipiac University School of Lawl

Full program details are available at the CBA’s website, including registration. 

The panel brings together both the attorney representing the firefighters (Karen Lee Torre) and the corporation counsel for the City of New Haven (Victor Bolden).  It starts at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

The program is co-sponsored by several other bar associations, including the George Crawford Black Bar Association, Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, Connecticut Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut.

Sounds like an exciting free program. I hope to be able to make it and report back on it.