how do you find a lawyer for workplace issues?

A reader writes:

You’ve written before about the scenarios where it might be wise to speak to a lawyer regarding issues at work. Could you talk a little bit about how to find a lawyer for that kind of thing? Is there a speciality or title folks should be looking for? Is it just a matter of pulling up Yelp for your area?  I have multiple friends right now dealing with illegal harassment and threats of termination (there must be something in the air right now), and while I keep pointing them toward your advice, just getting started on finding legal representation is a huge hurdle for their burnt out, stressed out, defeated brains.

It’s important to find an employment lawyer, specifically. And more than that, you want an employee-side employment lawyer. (Typically employment lawyers will specialize in helping either employees or employers; you want the former.)

Two excellent places for referrals are:

1. The National Employment Lawyers Association’s Find-A-Lawyer service, where you can search for their members by state

2. Workplace Fairness’ lawyer referral service, where you can search by practice area and state

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate Teapot*

    Perhaps this might not be the case in the US, but unions can often provide contacts for employment lawyers.

      1. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

        Sorry, but my union experiences have been AWFUL…it’s really not uncommon here at all, and it’s a bullet dodged as far as I’m concerned. (U.S. person here).

        They may have legal contacts, but I did have a situation where I pushed for one because I had workmans comp no one was doing paperwork on, or paying because they didn’t want their numbers screwed up…The union steward kept sidestepping me, so I found someone who already had representation for the same problem and *poof* bill paid.

        1. JSPA*

          Hypothetically, a union should be as hard-charging and stalwart for all of its members. But given that stewards are people, and that people are people, it’s sometimes the case that if one of their members is known to be skeptical of the worth of belonging to a union, they find that they are…not first in line for top quality help, from those unions.

          (Importantly, you can substitute just about any human group or organization for the word “union” above, and it’ll still be true.)

          Not saying that a union can’t go rotten, despite having elected leadership. Some workplaces and some entire sectors really are that toxic. And again, (except for the no-politics rule here) we could say the same for other election-based institutions. But as with other election-based systems, there are ways to change course and change personel, if enough people care to do so.

        2. Ann*

          I wonder how common this is now. My husband’s current union doesn’t seem to be stepping up for its members at all. For example he had an issue with his salary that should have been a fairly easy case for the union to take on, but they just shrugged and told him to talk to HR. They also seem to be in absolutely no hurry to negotiate a new contract with the employer. Oddly, even though the union has a lot of younger members, most of the leadership is long since retired… I guess they just no longer feel any urgency about anything, but it’s beyond me why they don’t step down.

          1. Just Thinkin' Here*

            Why is the union leadership retired? You generally want union leaders who are active in the workplace so they understand the day-to-day issues going on with the current management team.

    1. Beth*

      (US person here) I really appreciated my union in the one job where I had one–they were our first point of contact for any kind of workplace dispute that went beyond what we could handle as an individual, and they definitely had lawyer contacts if things escalated beyond what they could handle. I wish more jobs here had them set up!

    2. UKDancer*

      Definitely if you’re in the UK. it’s one of the major benefits. Speak to your union first as they will be able to help.

      1. allathian*

        This is the case in Finland as well. My union has employment lawyers on its books. A first consultation is free and subsequent consultations and other legal services are provided at very competitive rates. Thankfully I haven’t needed their services, but you never know.

    3. Taksi*

      Yes, my union membership benefits include a free hour-long consultation with an employment law firm if I ever need it.

    4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Unions also can be a good first step before contacting a lawyer at all – twice so far I’ve raised an issue through my union and they’ve ended up contacting the union’s lawyer to give the issue a once-over in terms of whether it’s allowed by contract. This can result in the union president and the union lawyer having a chat with HR, sometimes without even bringing your name up in the process if they can frame it as as something that impacts multiple union members…

    5. kalli*

      In Australia most unions have a deal with a particular law firm to handle anything they can’t do themselves, often with a fixed discount or subsidised. However, for industrial matters, the union is likely to be much more cost efficient! But our industrial and workers comp tribunals are designed to be accessed by people without representation (you actually need permission to have a representative unless it’s the union rep).

      I’m sure it’s different again elsewhere also.

  2. crookedglasses*

    I’ve also heard attorneys specifically refer to “plaintiff side” employment law, which is the same as employee side. And yes, that is a key distinction!

    1. ResIpsa*

      I’ve heard of it referred to as “employment law” working for the employer, and “labor law” working for the employee. I also know at least one lawyer who switched from the former to the latter, and she was much happier for it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To clarify, the terms don’t have to do with whether a lawyer works for employers or employees. Labor law is subset of employment law that focuses on interactions between employers and labor unions.

  3. Mitford*

    Also, workers compensation attorneys are separate from other types of employment lawyers. I’m a big believer in anyone who’s been injured on the job having a consultation, because the employer and its workers comp carrier are not always on the employee’s side.

    1. Emily*

      Yes!!! Several times I have seen commenters on here offering WC advice, and it drives me crazy because WC is state specific, and if you are hurt on the job you need to talk to an attorney in your state (assuming you are in the US).

      Just like with employment law attorneys, make sure you are talking to a WC attorney who helps the injured worker, not a WC attorney who helps the employer/WC carrier.

      As far as finding an attorney, in addition to the resources Alison provided, State Bar Associations, and local bar associations can be a good referral source as well. You can also look up attorneys on the State Bar website to see if they have been subject to any discipline.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I wouldn’t even classify a workers’ comp as a branch of employment law, as a practical matter. Yes, there is a certain logic to this, but in practice it is an entirely different thing. Workers’ comp law is much closer to personal injury law, and indeed a single accident can result in claims both ways. Lawyers who do both are not uncommon, though I would be concerned that they really do both, and not really one or the other but will cross over if the opportunity presents itself.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        I know a worker’s comp judge (in California). You are 100% correct. It’s a completely different area of law, and much of what’s true in other employment conflicts is not true there.

  4. Andy*

    state bar associations will often have directories of attorneys by specialty and most have consumer rights groups that dovetail with workplace rights groups.

    1. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!)*

      I was coming here to suggest this. Local bar associations may also have directories, referral services, and may even have low-cost clinic or consult options, depending on the matter.

    2. me*


      states, counties, and cities have bar associations that offer attorney referrals, sometimes at a low, flat rate, and may also have resources for local volunteer legal services or legal aid organizations. search for “[state/county/city] bar association.”

    3. Anne of Green Gables*

      YES! Most state bar associations have a matching service. The ones I’ve seen, you put in your zip code and the type of law, and they find a lawyer with that specialty in your area. If you make an appointment and mention the matching service, your initial consultation is typically a flat fee. In my state (NC) it’s $50 for 30 minutes, and in that time they outline their fees if you hire them beyond the consultation. I recently looked for a friend in PA and it was $30 for the initial 30 minute consultation there.

  5. aarti*

    It’s so hard to find lawyers for the people. When I had a dispute with my landlord I had to call 12 lawyers to find one that was willing to represent tenants. They all want to represent landlords because honestly they usually have more money. I fear employment lawyers are the same – why not represent the businesses, they have money, I don’t.

      1. Emily*

        There are! This is why I think it is so important to do a bit of research before calling around. I work in a law office and we often get calls from people who are calling around to lawyers, without looking first to see if the lawyer practices in the area they need help in, so we often get calls about types of law that our attorneys don’t do, and the person is frustrated because they have been calling around and getting turned down. We either refer them to an attorney if we know a good one who practices in the area they need advice in, or we refer them to the local bar association lawyer referral service who can refer them to an attorney who is in good standing with the bar and practices in the area they need advice in.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        Yes, but as a lawyer myself, I can vouch that that commenter is 100% correct. For example, in my city (New York), 98% of landlords are represented by counsel vs. 36% of tenants.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          This is very common with landlord tenant law. Most of the attorneys represent landlords. But employment law is not the same in this regard.

          That said, I find that landlords know they can get away with a lot of blatantly illegal things because it is very difficult for tenants to take action. Most cases end out being brought by the landlord for eviction and back due rent. I am a lawyer and my landlord is forcing me into something blatantly illegal, even after I showed them the actual state code section that says quite clearly that it is not legal. But the truth is, I need my lease renewed as I cannot manage finding another place that is affordable in this market and moving right now. I also know that if I report it to the consumer protection groups with our attorney general, it will not be anonymous and I may face retaliation.

          Is retaliation illegal? Of course! But what they are already doing is illegal. I do not think it worth my while to get drawn into some giant struggle. As a lawyer, I know that most of the consumer protection laws drafted to protect tenants really do not provide meaningful protection, especially in a competitive rental market.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          Most places have non-profit tenant advocacy groups who will recommend lawyers, generally based on their past performance. And those groups are easier to find.

        3. Adele*

          But I’m sure the ratio of tenants to landlords in NYC is at least 3:1 as most landlords have multiple tenants while tenants generally have just the one landlord, so that still leaves a lot of tenant-side lawyers currently taking cases.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Yes, this commenter is correct about landlord tenant law, but it is not the same in employment law.

    1. Anony*

      There are fee-shifting statutes (and much better potential damages on contingency) that make plaintiff-side employment law lucrative when the claim is good. (FWIW, tenant/housing stuff is much harder to make money on). There are many, many good plaintiff-side employment lawyers, but there are also things that can sink a claim, so there may be reasons they won’t take a specific person’s claims, even if the person was treated poorly.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        This. Plaintiff/employee side law has very different economics than other types of plaintiff-side legal practice.

      2. Pierrot*

        Exactly. I work in Legal Services, and we generally focus on issue areas where the person we represent is not likely to recover a lot of attorneys fees. It also depends on what kind of dispute you were having with your landlord, because in my experience, legal services/housing organizations generally focus on eviction defense and defending tenants from lawsuits. Capacity is limited, there are a lot of evictions, and there is a utilitarian piece: when it comes to determining what types of cases a legal services organization can take, they want to make sure their resources are being used to make the largest impact possible.

        There is more money involved in the employee side legal realm, depending on what the employee wants their lawyer to accomplish.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      yes, this is a big problem with residential landlord tenant law. But it is not as big a difficulty with employment law.

    3. Mary*

      Public law librarian here. Yes, you do have to do your research particularly in a small state like mine but employee-side, tenant-side lawyers absolutely exist. It can be discouraging and you may have to call a lot of lawyers, but they’re out there.

    4. Fish*

      It’s the nature of the beast that large employment, law firms, represent employers, and small firms or solo practitioners represent employees/plaintiffs.

      And plaintiff employment lawyers are like anything else: some of them are good, and some of them are bad.

  6. Law Librarian*

    I’m in Canada, and can’t speak to the U.S., but here, we have local law associations (they might be called something different in the States) that are always pleased to connect people with lawyers who practice in particular areas of law. As a law association librarian, connecting people like your friends with lawyers is one of the best parts of my job. I bet there are similar groups in the States.

    Completely co-signing Alison’s point about the difference between employment-side and employee-side employment lawyers. This is a serious problem in my area – we have a whole bunch of employment-side lawyers (who’ll work for the bosses in fending off claims) and, really, no employee-side employment lawyers. We have a couple of lawyers who dabble in employee-side employment law, and if avoidable, you don’t want a dabbler. This balance might be better in the States – like, it’s probably still not great, but hopefully the numbers aren’t 100% employment-side, 0% employee-side in your area as they are in mine.

    1. ursula*

      Cosigned, for Canada. On top of local law associations, every province also has a Law Society which regulates lawyers, and most of them have referral services of some kind.

      Larger population centers may have boutique firms (say of 3-8 lawyers) that do both employer and employee side employment law. An increasing number will do remote work/consults, so as long as you find someone in your province, it’s worth reaching out. (Employment law is provincially regulated for most workplaces and varies from province to province.)

      One big problem in Canada is that there aren’t many jurisdictions where going through a legal process in employment law, even if you are 100% in the right, will be worth the legal fees it will cost you to get there (except for those in the highest paying professions, eg. for whom a few extra weeks of salary would amount to 5 digits). To my knowledge, enforcement of employment law is a huge issue in every province because so many of the regulatory schemes prioritize restitution (recover what you lost) and not punishment of lawbreaking by bad actors. And so there aren’t big money awards there for most people, which means it won’t be worth it for most people to hire a lawyer. And so there aren’t that many lawyers. It’s a big challenge for workers’ rights.

    2. zuzu*

      Yes, fellow law librarian here in the US. State, local, and county bar associations will have directories, and some will even have help lines where you can get a consultation for a short period of time.

      If you happen to know someone who works at a law firm or law school, ask them to put out feelers for a referral. I work at a law school, and we’re very plugged into our alumni networks about stuff like this. We usually have to make sure we specify that we’re asking for a friend or relative when we send out the email, though!

      Also, speaking of law schools, some will have free or low-cost employment law clinics, though they don’t take every case and they don’t necessarily specialize in employment law. But it’s worth looking up law school clinics in your area to see if they can either take your case or refer you to an attorney referral service or pro bono organization.

  7. WFH Lawyer*

    Your local state bar association will be able to give you a list or a direct referral to a lawyer in appropriate practice area. Employee-side employment lawyers can be more difficult to find, but not impossible, and many work on contingency.

    1. Mitford*

      But in more cases than not, it investigates and then issues the employee a right-to-sue letter, at which point the employee will need a lawyer.

    2. Garblesnark*

      Yes, and is less likely to result in compensation for the employee’s lost funds than represented legal acts.

  8. Startup Survivor*

    I have also found asking friends to be helpful, especially for women or minorities in areas like tech or finance. Professional network groups have also been pretty useful. If your friends don’t want their names associated with the ask, you can do it and pass along the info.

  9. FG*

    I had a solid case for going after a former employer a few years back. Crystal clear violation, no question that it happened, was provable, & was wrong. It wasn’t just me, either – there were several of us. However, I talked to several lawyers & they all declined in the end. I think the amount of $ involved wasn’t worth it to them. So just because you can find an employee lawyer to talk to doesn’t mean you can find one that will actually take your case.

    1. formery plaintiff side attorney*

      As someone who practiced law a long time ago, this is a huge problem. There are scant attorneys for the poor, and many for the rich.

      In between is hard. To be frank, it’s a cost-benefit analysis. Practicing law is an expensive pursuit and cases need to bring in money and take as little time as possible. (Not to mention having to service large loans). There’s a huge squeeze in the middle and I didn’t see an answer when I graduated twenty-five years ago, and I don’t see an answer now.

      1. Ex-Teacher*

        I know that the American system normally has everyone pay for their own lawyer, but I wonder if it would be good to have a law which shifted some/all of attorneys’ fees for clients below a certain income/assets threshold to an opposing party, where that opposing party has an unequal power relationship. for example, landlords and employers have substantial power over tenants/employees, and they have certain burdens to follow the law ensuring fair dealing with tenants/employees. It would make sense that, in these situations, if they haven’t followed the law then they should also be responsible for the costs that the victim incurs in exercising their rights.

        By shifting that burden to the party which violates the law, it would hopefully give attorneys more incentive to represent employees and tenants in these matters.

        I know that this is a very broad idea and there are lots of details to work out, but I think it’s worth creating a situation where a person’s ability to protect themself isn’t inhibited by poverty.

        1. Anim*

          there are actually are such provisions as discussed above for many employment law statutes, where an employer who violated the law has to pay for the legal costs and fees of the person who was harmed.

        2. B*

          Lots of employment and civil rights laws have fee-shifting provisions. Even then, you have to win, you have to float the costs in the meantime, and you are not assured of getting paid all of your actual fees as opposed to what a court might deem reasonable.

          Even where there are not fee-shifting statutes, lawyers will generally work on contingency for most of the kinds of cases that non-wealthy individuals would want to bring–i.e. the lawyers only get paid if they win or get a settlement, and then they receive a substantial (1/3 or so) amount of the recovery. But the economics simply don’t work out for a lot of cases. You might have a meritorious case that’s worth $30,000. That’s a lot of money to the average person, but it’s not worth a lawyer’s time to take it through litigation and to trial for the outside prospect of making $10,000. It might be worth the lawyer’s time if it can be settled for 50% with a couple of phone calls, but the client might prefer to fight for the extra money, and then your incentives are not aligned.

          1. zuzu*

            There’s also the issue where the client will often overestimate their chances for success or overvalue their potential damages, or not really take into account negatives in their case that could prevent a recovery.

            Lots of people have the idea that litigation is quick, clean, easy, and results in a big payout. Where in reality, it’s difficult, costly, puts your life and your actions under a microscope, and moves like molasses.

        3. Anony*

          There are certain types of fee-shifting statutes that do this (for successful claims only, of course!) in particular areas where you might want to make sure there are incentives to bring suits — certain civil rights/discrimination, whistleblower, and other provisions. Some of them are meant to make way for suits where the behavior is systemically bad but the recovery is relatively low.

          But the short answer is that probably no, it wouldn’t make sense to do this in all instances where there’s a power imbalance. We probably don’t want to encourage lawsuits where the market discourages them in every place where a power balance might exist. (But fee-shifting statutes make sense — and exist! — in other contexts).

    2. Anon for this*

      My spouse has this exact same problem. We live in a small state, can prove illegal discharge, and cannot for the life or us find a lawyer who will take the case. There is potentially a class action suit here and nobody wants to touch it despite the hugely deep pockets of the former employer. Meanwhile, no unemployment and barely getting by so we’re not good plaintiff material. This system sucks.

      1. Kerr*

        Are all the attorneys afraid of the employer?

        How does the fact you are barely getting by hurt your case? Assuming you haven’t resorted to illegal activities, it makes a clearer picture of damages.

    3. Ann*

      Interesting. That would explain why my husband could not find a lawyer to take his case a few years ago, even though there was clearly a hostile work environment and there were a number of people being harassed. A few of them had heart attacks and died that year, the stress probably contributed.
      He got out, so thankfully that’s behind us. But it’s too bad their boss could not get sued. It’s been a few years, and predictably, the mismanagement has flowed into every aspect of the company, and shareholders are looking at big financial losses.

  10. Coverage Associate*

    In large states, there will be a state bar association, which all lawyers must belong to, and county bar associations, which are optional. At least in California, the county bar associations have the better referral services.

    You will want to contact a lawyer in the county where the employer is, if possible. And if you live in a different state than where you worked or work, you probably need a lawyer in the state where the work was.

  11. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Also try your state bar. They usually have a referral service to help you find lawyers in the right practice areas. Alison is completely right that you want someone who works primarily in employment law and who represents employees. I am a lawyer (not an employment lawyer), and I can tell you, employment law, like many areas of the law, is very specialized and not something any lawyer can just jump into!

  12. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    Plaintiff’s/employee-side attorney here! I second NELA; when a person reaches out to us with a good claim but outside our practice area, and assuming we don’t have any personal connections, that’s typically where we refer folks to search for attorneys. I’m less familiar with the Workplace Fairness org, but I like that they have specialties in their search. State bar associations have more or less useful searches (Oregon, for instance, has a great lawyer referral search that I have used for non-work matters).

    When you find an employee-side firm’s website, I think it’s worthwhile to spend a bit of time and see what kinds of cases they specialize in. Some employee-side firms focus more on discrimination, whistleblowing, wage and hour, contract and severance review, breach of contract, etc. While I imagine most employee-side firms are familiar with all of those, particularly when it comes to smaller firms (like mine) they may be more knowledgeable in one or two areas and so less likely to take on claims in other areas, especially if they’re a bit risky. Worker’s comp and ERISA (retirement benefits) are entirely separate areas of law from federal/state discrimination and wage and hour. We do not take these cases at all, and therefore our website doesn’t contain any info about them.

    Many employee-side firms–like, I imagine, plaintiffs-side firms in general–operate on a contingency fee basis, which means attorneys are paid from a settlement or judgment. For us, this means that we do have to be a bit picky in the cases we do and don’t take. Other firms have different standards, so it is worth calling/emailing around if you have the time and energy for it. If you can get your inquiry down to about one short paragraph setting forth the pertinent details, that will get you the best responses. In the meantime, keep and document everything, even if that’s just sitting down with a piece of paper to write down the approximate time frame when things happened.

    Sometimes we refer folks to the appropriate local/state/federal agency, whether that’s for discrimination or wage and hour . We do this especially for smaller $$ matters, such as a few weeks of unpaid wages or trickier discrimination allegations. The upside of these processes is that they are free and often set up well to accommodate people without attorneys. The downside is that they can move very slowly, even compared to litigation.

    I think I can safely speak for many employee-side attorneys when I say we’re always happy to talk, even if it’s just for a question, you aren’t ready to sue anyone, or you aren’t sure whether you have a claim! Talking is ultimately how we get clients and repeat clients. (Just don’t be rude to our paralegals, please, they are absolute saints!!!)

    1. not an expert*

      This is great!! Also a lawyer (but not employment law), and would add that in my community lots of lawyers utilize the news/blog section of their website to showcase their knowledge in their area of law. Spend some time on the website and look through recent articles or example cases if there are any available.

      The search for the right lawyer (like the right therapist, doctor, or other professional) can feel daunting and frustrating. Especially because upsetting events usually lead to the need for a lawyer in the first place. The advice here is great

  13. uiscechick*

    Local Legal Aid societies can be of use. Their work is largely pro bono. Additionally, other non-profits exist to provide legal help for people in particular situations, for instance, an organization called CancerLINC, which helps with a variety of legal issues that can arise from a cancer diagnosis including employment issues.

    1. Pierrot*

      People should be aware that Legal Services organizations might not do employment law at all, so check the website. For general Legal Services orgs that are completely pro-bono, I’ve found that the core practice areas are usually housing (eviction defense), family law, public benefits (which can include unemployment), and potentially consumer law. That said, even if employment law doesn’t come up on the website and they don’t do it, they can probably point you in a direction or they have a connection to a private attorney who could potentially help pro or low bono.
      If there is a local or state legal services organization that specializes in workers’ rights, I’d definitely suggest contacting them. There are orgs that focus on wage theft, discrimination, etc. It can be harder to get them to take your case because there’s a huge need, but it is always worth reaching out at least.

  14. Kevin Sours*

    If you know a lawyer you trust, pretty much any lawyer, ask them. They network and are usually happy to reach out to their contacts to find somebody if case isn’t their area of expertise/jurisdiction/etc.

  15. Problem!*

    Myself and quite a few other female employees were forced out of a good ol boys organization after a lot of sexual harassment and discrimination issues and we tried to get a lawyer to sue our former employer, and it turned out that said employer had some little BS contract with every employment lawyer in the area so no one could take our case due to conflict of interest issues (they 100% did this on purpose so no employees could sue them). This was a few years ago and we’ve all moved on to bigger and better things but I’m wondering what the path forward would have been if we wanted to pursue it further from a legal standpoint.

    1. Pierrot*

      Maybe expanding the search to other practices within the state, but not necessarily local? Or contacting a national non-profit organization that focuses on sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace to see if they had referrals or could offer some guidance.

      1. Problem!*

        Trying not to get too specific here but this was in one of those midwestern states that only has like, one city. So the number of available lawyers in the state is already low, and the number of employment lawyers even lower.

    2. formery plaintiff side attorney*

      This is a very good strategy for anyone. When I got divorced, I conflicted out every good lawyer in our city.

      1. Evan Þ*

        On the other hand, I remember one time on Reddit where a divorcing husband tried that, and the court forced him to pay his ex-wife’s fees for a higher-priced attorney from the next county over. The court has ways to work around that.

        In addition, there are of course ethical problems with that.

        1. formery plaintiff side attorney*

          Really?!? I wonder how the court found out.

          Personally, I don’t see any ethical issues. I read about the strategy maybe 20 years ago in some practice book, and recommend it to everyone.

          1. BubbleTea*

            You can’t see any ethical issues in ensuring that your ex-spouse has unnecessary difficulty finding representation in divorce? Did you also hire someone to hide as many assets as possible, or perhaps a publicist to run a smear campaign?

            I used to work in domestic abuse services and this is one of the abusive strategies perpetrators use.

      2. BubbleTea*

        This is a really shitty thing to do and makes it inevitable that your divorce will be extremely high conflict. Behaving the same way as a discriminatory law-breaking employer is not something to be proud of.

  16. Betty*

    If you live near a law school, many of them will have different kinds of clinics where law students work on cases (under the supervision of a real lawyer/faculty member). Depending on the complexity of the case/financial concerns of your friends, this can be a low-cost option.

    1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

      Law clinics are *great* if you have the right kind of case and they have capacity. Check their website and then call, but be aware that they have to be very picky about taking cases for a number of reasons. Also they run on school schedules, so it can take a while to even hear back.

    2. kalli*

      There may also be community legal centres where law students do a semester placement, or where private firm lawyers do pro-bono hours as well as the in-house generalist lawyers.

  17. Another JD*

    Google, then check reviews but take them with a grain of salt. If a client calls us for an area we don’t practice in, we usually have someone we can refer them to. The lawyer referral services will get you in touch with someone, but they don’t vet the attorneys.

    When you call to set up a consultation, ask first if the attorney is hourly or works on a contingent basis. Hourly is where you are charged per hour, regardless of how much or if you recover. Contingency is where if the lawyer agrees to take your case and if you receive money, they are compensated by receiving a percentage (typically 1/3 but it varies), plus expenses. Expenses can add up, and include things like experts and deposition costs. If you don’t recover, then you don’t owe the lawyer anything. Carefully review the retainer agreement to see if the 1/3 comes before or after expenses. That might be negotiable. There are also tiered agreements where the compensation to the attorney depends on how far along in the case you are when you recover. So for example, the attorney might agree to 10% if settlement occurs early in the case, or 50% if you have to go through a full trial. Per the ethics rules, the fee still has to be reasonable, which depends in part on the outcome.

    There’s certainly a risk for the attorney in these kinds of cases, so don’t be discouraged if they won’t take your case. Attorneys on contingency want as close to a sure bet as possible so they aren’t out the money.

  18. Angelfoodcake4me*

    When you’re speaking with the intake person at the law firm, I recommend finding out the rates for the different levels of lawyers. When I use a lawyer to review an employment contract with a new employer, I’ve found the less expensive / more junior lawyer was perfect for my needs. If you have a more complicated issue where you’re entitled to compensation, the senior / more expensive lawyer may make sense.

    If you can, it’s great to get a referral from someone you know. I’m a huge proponent of a pragmatic lawyer who will help you avoid unnecessary legal fees i.e. will explain your options, give you an idea of the strength of your case, and provide insight on the probable outcome (based on case law and current trends in your jurisdiction).

  19. John*

    I checked with a couple people who left my firm under complicated circumstances, so I suspected they’d lawyered up.

    They were able to recommend attorneys with experience in dealing with my employer, which can be helpful as they know the company’s soft spots and also have some sense of what they can hope to negotiate for.

    (Turned out I was able to negotiate a fair departure on my own, but I had the benefit of a friend who was a big HR exec at another firm to coach me.)

  20. Richard Hershberger*

    My advice for hiring a lawyer is the same as my advice for hiring a tradesman. The first step is to figure out what sort of lawyer you need. You wouldn’t hire an electrician to fix your plumbing. Hiring a criminal defense guy for employment law would be nearly as wacky.

    We don’t have that problem here. We know we need a plaintiff’s side employment law attorney. How to find a good one? The same way you find a good plumber. Ask around to people who don’t stand to benefit from their answer. You might ask a neighbor who they use. If you know anyone who has had an employment dispute, ask who they used and were they satisfied? If you don’t have any leads there, do you know any lawyers of any sort whom you trust? Lawyers gossip like fishwives, though they call it “networking.” Your trusted guy might be able to recommend somebody, or to point you to someone else who can. If this doesn’t work out, then the state bar association probably has some sort of registry by specialty. But don’t take this as a recommendation. It is essentially like picking a name from the (here I date myself) Yellow Pages. At that point I would be looking at Google Reviews and trying to decide if they are legit: not great, but better than nothing. Same with plumbers.

  21. Dovasary Balitang*

    Judging by the LW using the word ‘speciality’, they might be not in America – so I’m not sure how helpful these links will be.

  22. Temperance*

    You can also call your county bar association and ask for a referral. Typically, larger firms often practice defense-side employment, so calling them won’t get you anywhere.

    There are also boutique law firms that only practice employment law.

  23. Punk*

    You’ll want to find a firm that handles your specific issue – some firms only deal with racial discrimination or sexual harassment, for example. I saw a clear-cut case of workplace violence (in an open-plan office full of witnesses) where the victim ended up being fired for nonexistent performance issues, and it took them a while to find a lawyer. The case was strong but workplace violence isn’t a common legal angle.

  24. Mitford*

    I guess I got lucky, if you can say that, with my issue. When a former employer had a mass layoff, the only two people on my team who were selected were myself, a woman who had just submitted a claim for a reasonable accommodation for a health issue, and a woman who had just told our boss that she was having a high-risk pregnancy. The only two. Shortly after our boss chose to tell us why he’d joined a fundamentalist church (the reason was that his wife had become too independent).

    My husband works for abranch of the government that represents agencies when they are sued by government employees for employment issues. Two days after I was laid off we went to a party at one of the attorney’s homes (my husband is a paralegal) and I told them what happened, watched a bunch of attorneys audibly gasp, and then got a referral to the attorney they said they feared the most from the employee’s side. She referred me to another attorney in her office, and I got about four months’ salary, my legal fees, and the satisfaction of knowing that my former employer spent about $150,000 (estimated by my attorney) to defend the asshat who’d laid me off.

    1. vulturestalker*

      I’m so sorry for what happened to you. But I have to say, this was extremely satisfying to read.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      This surfaces a good lawyer-finding strategy strategy, albeit one that’s only available to people with certain connections: if you know socially someone who usually represents the other side in this kind of legal matter, absolutely ask them who they hate going up against and explain why you’re asking! They probably know who is very good at the other side of whatever part of law they tend to deal with, because they see them in court regularly, and will be happy to point you in the right direction as long as they don’t represent whoever it is you’d be filing against.

  25. NewJobNewGal*

    When I had to find an employment lawyer, the first one I called was an employer-side lawyer. But he called me back and and since I wasn’t going against any of his clients, he gave the the name of the toughest employee-side lawyer he knew.

  26. ANONOmouse*

    That happened to me too. However, one very nice lawyer told me exactly what to say in an email. Which helped me get what I wanted out of the situation.

    1. ANONOmouse*

      Gah! Nest fail, this was in response to FG’s commenting- stating that sometimes your claim won’t be enough for a lawyer to accept it.

      1. Pierrot*

        Yeah, exactly! There are plenty of things an attorney can do short of full representation. In the legal services context, the lawyers I work with will often give advice to people dealing with issues in our practice area, even if we don’t have the capacity to take a case. As a non-attorney that works with people who are reaching out to us for help, I always try to find at least one referral for people with issues that are outside of what we do. I also always say that I can’t guarantee they’ll be able to help you, but I try to at least point someone in a direction so that I’m not just closing the door.

  27. Veryanon*

    I’d also like to suggest checking with your employer’s EAP (if they have one). You can usually find a lawyer who will have reduced rates, depending on what you need to have done.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I wouldn’t suggest this for anything involving possibly suing the employer. It’s a good way to get started with legal services generally (if you’re, say, facing eviction, going through a divorce, or some other non-work matter), but I wouldn’t suggest it for anything involving the entity that actually pays for the EAP, and they may even have a specific carve-out about that.

  28. Anya Lastnerve*

    As a lawyer (but not an employment lawyer) I want to clarify one misconception I see over and over on the internet- no, an employment lawyer is not going to give you an hour of free advice as a free consultation. What they may give you for free is an hour where you tell them what’s going on with you and they are able to assess that you have a strong chance of recovering a large sum of money from your employer, so they will represent you in exchange for 30% of the money you recover. But the employment lawyer is not going to write a letter to your company for free, or review your severance documents for free. It comes up so much – “you don’t need to have money to see a lawyer, just do a free consultation” – that I feel compelled to note it.

  29. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

    Ironically, if your company has an EAP, they can refer you to lawyers for all kinds of things, including employment law! There’s also usually some discount on the services if you proceed.

  30. Contracts Killer*

    Attorney here. For any attorney you choose (employment or otherwise), you should do your due diligence. You may be able to find reviews online about them. I’d be much less concerned with whether they won or lost a particular case – sometimes the facts just aren’t in our favor. But I’d be wary of reviews that talk about how it was hard to get in contact with the attorney, the staff was difficult, or the attorney seemed unreliable.

    For many states in the U.S. you can search “roll of attorneys” to find a list of the state’s licensed attorneys. It will often show you how many years they have been in practice and if they have ever had discipline against their law license.

    1. Lady Erra*

      I second. Yelp is not a good source for legal practitioners. We practice in a niche area (not employment) and our one Yelp review is from a non-client, annoyed when the receptionist wouldn’t let them talk to an attorney about their divorce (which we don’t do).

  31. RunShaker*

    I’m in US, and had bad experience. I reached out to 7 different attorneys, employee side. I had to fill out the reason in online form as to why wanted to meet and was rebuffed every time. I even put, I was more than happy to pay for their time and advice since all their websites said first consultation free. I even put that I just wanted to understand if any of possible laws were violated. Hubby was fired. He was 1099 employee but owner treated everybody the same as if they all were employees. Hubby was fired due to me meeting a coworker’s ex for couple of drinks…didn’t know they broke up & that coworker isn’t a friend of mine & none of their business. I figured that wasn’t a violation of any laws but question of his employment & never being paid out his final commission check was a concern. I guess we’ll never know. This all happened in 2021.

    1. Runner up*

      It sounds like you were trying to discuss your husband’s possible claim? I’m sure you were trying to help, but lawyers need to evaluate the actual client, not the spouse (and vice versa).

  32. JM in England*

    Many years ago, I had a legal dispute with my then-employer. Fortunately, my BIL is a solicitor and he referred me to his company’s employment law specialist. They were excellent and helped me negotiate an excellent settlement package when I decided to resign.

  33. JM in England*

    Had a legal dispute with my then-employer many years ago. Fortunately, my BIL is a solicitor and he was able to refer me to the employment law specialist in his firm. Said specialist was able to negotiate a much better severance package on my behalf when I decided that resigning would be the better option.

  34. aebhel*

    It does seem to heavily depend on where you are. My spouse ended up having to hire a lawyer after his former employer got him fired from a new job in what was pretty blatantly a case of tortious interference wrt to an unenforceable non-compete clause, and even with those resources it took us weeks of calling around to virtually every attorney in the area to find anyone who’d even meet with him, because the vast majority only represented employers.

    Also, a consultation is absolutely not free, or even cheap.

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