What Does a Labor Lawyer Do?

These lawyers are skilled in working with labor unions

By Tim Kelly, J.D. | Last updated on June 30, 2022

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Labor lawyers are often confused with employment law attorneys. While both types of attorneys practice employment law, there are a few key distinctions worth knowing. Most importantly, labor lawyers specialize in the rules and regulations that govern labor unions.

Labor unions are organizations of workers seeking to further their rights in a particular profession. Such unions are common in industries such as education, steel, and automotive. These associations are governed by both state laws and federal regulations, such as the National Labor Relations Act.

Labor lawyers are well-versed in these laws and the procedures around them. These attorneys can be a helpful resource for both employees and employers, as they can advise both on a wealth of matters. This article will examine the valuable skills of a labor attorney.

Resolving Labor Law Matters

So we’ve established that labor attorneys work with and around labor unions. But what does that mean? Here are situations where a labor lawyer can be beneficial:

  • Establishing a union. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law passed by congress that protects workers’ rights to organize. When workers decide to come together and unionize, labor law attorneys are often brought in to provide legal advice regarding governing rules and regulations.
  • Collective bargaining. In addition to protecting labor unions, the NLRA mandates that workers maintain the right to collectively bargain with their employer and have their grievances aired through a representative chosen by the workers. Such grievances include workers’ compensation, medical leave, overtime pay, general work environment, and working conditions. As you might’ve guessed, these representatives are often labor lawyers.
  • Termination. In instances where employers must terminate a unionized employee, it is often wise to consult a labor attorney throughout the process. In these instances, attorneys advise employers on best practices for avoiding costly wrongful termination litigation.
  • Negotiation. Suppose there is a dispute that leads to a wrongful termination lawsuit from a union employee, and both parties are amenable to settlement. When employers negotiate with unionized employees, you can rest assured that both sides have retained and are advised by labor lawyers. Legal disputes in this area of law can become complex entanglements rather quickly, so it’s best to have a legal team with knowledge of both federal and state laws.


Before they can handle employment law cases and practice at a law firm, labor lawyers must receive quite a bit of schooling. This means earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university before enrolling in law school and obtaining a law degree, known as a juris doctor. Law students embarking on a legal career are trained in performing legal research and educated in various practice areas. Upon earning their doctorate, they are only allowed to practice law once they pass a competency exam and are admitted to a state bar.

Free Consultations

If you anticipate suing or being sued in the future, it’s always a good idea to sit down with an attorney to discuss options and next steps. Many law firms and attorneys offer free initial consultations where the attorney can hear the facts of the case and the client can ask questions and determine whether to enlist the attorney’s services.

Questions for a Labor Attorney

The best way to decide whether an attorney’s legal services are the right fit is by asking informed questions. Here are some good questions to ask during your initial conversations:

  • What protections or legal rights am I entitled to as a worker?
  • Can independent contractors join labor unions?
  • Can an employer ask about my religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or membership to labor unions?
  • Which government agency or agencies regulate my profession?
  • What is your fee structure?
  • Can I join a class action against my employer if I have been subject to similar mistreatment?
  • Why did you choose this area of law?

Finding the Right Attorney For Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices employment and labor law.

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