How To Hire An Employment Lawyer Staff Profile Picture
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Ed Hones Profile Picture
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Workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal pay for equal labor, wrongful termination—these violations of employee rights are all, unfortunately, risks one faces just by being employed. Confronting a vindictive boss, predatory co-worker or racist manager can be extremely difficult and stressful. This stress can be further exacerbated if the workplace is one that tolerates such behavior on a regular basis. There’s also the threat of employer retaliation—a violation that tops the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) list of workplace discrimination charges filed in 2019, accounting for more than 50% of all charges filed. With both federal and state employment laws at play, and with so much at stake in taking action against an employer, an employment lawyer can be a valuable resource in standing up to employment discrimination or harassment. Here’s how to find and hire the best employment lawyer for your claim.

  1. Assess your situation and figure out if hiring an employment attorney is your best option.
  2. Start your search for a lawyer, and narrow down your options.
  3. Take advantage of an initial consultation to ask the right questions.
  4. Understand the employment attorney's fee structure and how much you can expect to pay.
  5. Help increase your chances of winning your case by being honest and forthcoming with your attorney.

Assess your situation and figure out if hiring an employment attorney is your best option.

Generally, employees should consult an employment lawyer following instances of:

  • Discrimination on grounds of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, or other protected status

  • Harassment (discriminatory harassment, personal harassment, or sexual harassment) which may include slurs, humiliation, intolerance, intimidation, unwanted touching, or physical threats on the grounds of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, or other protected status;

  • Retaliation, i.e. when an employer fires an employee who has brought attention to workplace discrimination or harassment;

  • Wrongful termination, meaning being fired for an illegal reason, like in retaliation for reporting the employer's violation of law.

If you have not yet filed an administrative charge with the EEOC or a similar state agency (which you need to do before bringing a discrimination or harassment lawsuit under federal law), an attorney can guide you through this process. An employment attorney can also help you determine whether your employer is violating state or federal regulations, such as denying workers regular breaks, and they can advise you if you have been asked to sign documents that may result in diminished rights. Employers are encouraged to consult an employment attorney before mass layoffs, benefits changes, and collective bargaining negotiations, or when facing legal action from a current or former employee. Note that although many issues are resolved during administrative proceedings overseen by the EEOC and state agencies, employment lawyers do represent clients in the federal court system.

Legal issues that often result in litigation include wrongful termination, unpaid overtime, retaliation, harassment, equal pay issues, and whistle-blowing.

Start your search and narrow down your options.

You can begin by visiting attorneys’ websites to determine how much of their practice is devoted to employment law and whether they represent employees or employers, or both. Once you have several candidates, you can contact each law office to schedule a meeting or ask for an opinion. Whether free or paid, a face-to-face consultation is generally the best way to select the right attorney for the job. It’s important to remember that ethical regulations may limit the type of advice that an employment law attorney can provide for free.

Take advantage of an initial consultation to ask the right questions.

Choosing the right employment lawyer is a critical decision that may determine the outcome of a claim. For best results, prospective clients may want to ask the following questions during their initial consultation:

  1. How long have you been practicing law?

  2. What portion of the firm's business is employment law?

  3. How active are you in professional associations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association or state employment lawyers' associations?

  4. Will my case be handled by a partner or associate?

  5. Will you take the case to court?

  6. What’s the best strategy for my case?

  7. What evidence is needed to prove my claim?

  8. Who is available to answer my questions?

  9. How often will you update me about my case?

  10. How long is the full process likely to take to reach completion?

  11. How much will it cost?

Understand the employment attorney’s fee structure and how much you can expect to pay.

Most employment lawyers charge $150 to $350 per hour. Fees for limited-scope representation, such as drafting a demand letter, are generally billed on an hourly basis. If the dispute is likely to lead to a lawsuit or settlement, the attorney may agree to work on contingency, which means that they will take their fees from any monetary award. Hybrid agreements, which include a combination of hourly and contingency billing, are common in this practice area.

Help increase your chances of winning your case by being honest and forthcoming with your attorney.

Workplace discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination cases can be incredibly complex. Often these types of claims involve volumes of past conversations and encounters between employee and employer or among employees, rather than a single incident. Documenting problematic interactions at work can be extremely helpful in building your case. Keep copies of any written communications you have in your possession. But, importantly, do not steal any confidential company documents because that can actually hurt your case. You can also help contribute to the success of your case by taking the following steps:

  • Be candid with your attorney about anything you’ve said in the past that might affect your case. This may include conversations with co-workers or your employer—even seemingly innocuous ones. And it should include statements you’ve made that may show inconsistency. It is not your attorney’s place to judge you because you’ve made an inconsistent statement in the past, so don’t let shame or fear stop you from being honest. Quite the contrary—your attorney will appreciate your candor, since it will provide essential tools to help win your case.

  • Don’t avoid your attorney because you’re afraid of the consequences. Dodging questions or not returning phone calls or emails because you fear revealing inconsistent or problematic past statements will not help your case. Your employment lawyer needs to know what you’ve said in the past—or what you intend to say—in order to build a strong case on your behalf. So make sure to lay it all on the line—the good and the bad—to help ensure the best outcome for your employment case.

Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here’s our list of the best employment attorneys near you.


The materials provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Use of and access to this article or any of the links contained in the article do not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the user or browser. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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Ed Hones is an employment lawyer in Seattle, Washington, who represents workers in lawsuits against their employers. Ed focuses exclusively on workers' rights to help workers who have been victimized by their employers' unfair practices. He handles cases involving discrimination, retaliation, harassment, wrongful termination, and unpaid overtime. Visit: