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Trying to Set Things Right

Montana employment and labor law attorney Jean E. Faure knows about work trouble

Published in 2014 Mountain States Super Lawyers magazine

Asked to consider her accomplishments thus far—the teaching fellowship in graduate school, serving as president of the Montana Defense Trial Lawyers Association—Jean E. Faure quotes Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”

That the employment and labor law attorney references the British poet and playwright is not incidental. With a master’s degree in English Literature, Faure sees the complex and dynamic relationships between fictional characters mirrored in the cases and clients she fights for: the drama, the clashes, the chance to set things right, or at least keep them interesting.

“When someone loses their job, it’s incredibly ego-driven and personal,” says the 54-year-old shareholder in the Great Falls firm Faure Holden. “From the perspective of the employer, sometimes someone is not a good fit. I get to reconcile these two positions, and it’s fascinating.”

Raised in Montana and Rapid City, S.D., to a second-generation French immigrant family, Faure knew by middle school that she wanted to be a lawyer.

“I am the middle child in a family of nine. Debating and defending myself was a skill I acquired at a young age,” she says. She did not, however, go directly to law school, but to Creighton University for a Master of Arts.

“It was the most remarkable two years of my life,” says Faure, who graduated summa cum laude. “All I did was read and write. I read all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays. Who can say they’ve done this? It was just an incredible time of focus. At the same time, I knew I was going to law school. I was not going to abandon that dream.”

Graduating from the University of Montana School of Law in 1986, Faure gravitated toward the intrigue and complications, the fears and fallout that can attend the workplace. “I love the psychology of relationships, and employment law is all about analyzing what motivates people,” she says. “It’s challenging from a philosophical perspective to get into the framework of the person who’s lost their job.”

Deducing motivations and strategizing best outcomes is a particular cat’s cradle in Montana, the only state that is not “at will,” meaning employers in Montana must show good cause for termination.

“There’s a statutory scheme for termination, a very intensive process of doing it right,” says Faure, who at this stage in her career represents employers exclusively. “There are essentially three [good causes]: failure to perform duty, disruption of operation, and—you’ll like this—other legitimate business reasons.” Faure laughs. “How you define that last one becomes the quintessential challenge.”

Faure has overcome personal challenges, too, if ones that led to a propitious outcome. “I lost two very close male friends and mentors in the first decade of my legal practice,” she says, mentioning that one died in a small plane crash. “When [law partner] Jason Holden became an associate in our former firm, it seemed as if he had been sent to fill the void. Outside of my marriage, he is my best friend.”

Faure, a self-confessed “news junkie”—“and I don’t know how I could live without Twitter”—says she has contemplated going back to school to get her Ph.D. “The law allows you to write a great deal, within parameters. I would like to write, not the next Great American Novel, but it would be great to write fiction.”

Until then, she fondly recalls another bit of writing, one directly related to the law. “One of my favorite jury trials was a case I tried years ago with the now United States District Judge Ron Leighton,” she says. “The jury reached a verdict in favor of our client. On the line designated for damages, they simply wrote, ‘Everything they asked for.’”

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