Thursday, May 27, 2010

What to Expect When You Contact a Workers’ Rights Lawyer and How to Put Your Best Case Forward

It is a big step to decide to seek legal assistance for your employment matter. Here at Bryan Schwartz Law, we have represented hundreds of people who have faced discrimination, harassment, wage theft, retaliation, and numerous other workplace wrongs. We understand that deciding to contact a lawyer can be daunting. We hope this blog post can help clarify the process and help you better understand what to expect when you contact a workers’ rights attorney.[1] If you are considering contacting an attorney for help with your employment problem, here are some tips on how to present your best case and what to expect from the initial consultation process.[2]

1. Be Prepared With a 3-D Presentation: Deadlines, Documents, and Dates

Telling your potential employment lawyers that you feel you were wrongfully terminated is not going to help him or her very much in deciding whether to take your case. Be prepared to flesh out the story of why you feel you were wronged with a 3-D presentation—Deadlines, Documents, and Dates. As a general practice at Bryan Schwartz Law, we ask all potential clients to initially provide us with a brief summary of the workplace issue they are contacting us about and for a detailed timeline of events. This information is meant to help us understand and evaluate your case as quickly as possible. We recognize that your employment matter is very important to you and that you need to receive information from us in a timely manner. If you are prepared from the beginning to provide us with your written summary and timeline, as well as documents related to your case, we can get back to you as quickly as possible. Below are a few more details about the 3-D Presentation.

Deadlines & Dates

Employment claims virtually always come with a filing deadline. Some deadlines can come very quickly, especially for federal and state employees. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to figure out what your deadlines are. If you call an attorney with a filing deadline in a week, you will have a difficult time finding representation. So that your potential attorney may analyze your pertinent deadlines, come prepared with your timeline and all dates concerning your case. Your timeline may be fairly basic, like the following hypothetical example:
Jan. 10, 2010 - Notified Manager X that I was pregnant
Jan. 15, 2010 - Received first ever negative performance evaluation
Jan. 30, 2010 - Notified HR Manager that I would request maternity leave in June
Feb. 5, 2010 - Notified that I was terminated because “my personal priorities were getting in the way of those of Company” and that my maternity leave would be a “drain on Company resources.”
March 1, 2010 - Found out from co-worker Doe that Company had hired a male in my former position
March 15, 2010 - Filed pregnancy and sex discrimination complaint with Department of Fair Employment and Housing (Cross-filed with EEOC)

The attorney you contact will most likely ask you early on for documents supporting your claims. Depending on the type of case that you have, examples of these types of documents could include: termination letters; disciplinary documents; administrative charge documents with, for example, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; paystubs; W-2s; and emails supporting your claims. When you are asked for documents, we suggest you go through your documents carefully and select only the documents you think are the most helpful to your case. If you submit hundreds of pages to your potential attorney and most of the pages do not help your case, it will take longer for the lawyer to evaluate the case. Furthermore, you may inadvertently send the message that you are not interested in putting a lot of effort into your own case. As with many things, a good rule to go by is quality, not quantity.

If possible, it is a great idea to be prepared with electronic scans (or extra copies) of the documents that you think support your case before you start contacting attorneys. It is also a good idea to prepare a summary and timeline in advance—your potential attorney will admire the fact that you are so prepared, and it might even help you to organize your thoughts and get a clearer picture of your case from the beginning.

Our friends at Workplace Fairness—a terrific website with many helpful articles about employment issues that affect workers—have a very helpful article about building the best case you can. In section 2 of the article, Workplace Fairness lists the types of documents you should gather in preparation for your case. This list is a great starting point, though some documents may not be available or necessary in your particular situation.

2. Be Patient (But a Little Persistence Doesn’t Hurt)

Please bear in mind that every firm that represents employees operates their intake process a little bit differently. Here at Bryan Schwartz Law, your case will be assessed by an attorney right from the start. Like many firms that represent workers, our firm is small. It is always of the utmost importance to us that you are treated with respect and that your case is evaluated in a timely manner. We understand how stressful it is to try to find an attorney, and we understand that you are eager to hear back from us. However, it is the nature of our work that we may have out-of-town travel, depositions, court dates, or brief filing deadlines that come up at any given time. Therefore, it may take us slightly more time to review your case during one of those weeks than it would during a week with fewer pressing deadlines, etc.

If you have contacted an attorney and have not heard back within a few days (or shorter if your matter is particularly urgent), you will not be faulted if you call to follow up. Bear in mind, however, that acting like too much of a “squeaky wheel” may not benefit your case in the end. Lawyers must assess whether your case would be a good “fit” for their firm, and if a potential client has unrealistic expectations, or is simply rude, this can be a red flag for the case down the road. Why? Lawyers are constantly thinking ahead—about things like, how would this person hold up if he or she had to testify on the stand? How would he or she do in a deposition? Will he or she cooperate in the litigation process even if it gets frustrating at times? Will he or she be reasonable in settlement negotiations?

On a related note, you should make sure to honor the commitments that you make to your potential attorney. For example, if you have not already provided documents to the firm, they will most likely request supporting documents for your case. If you say you will email documents by a certain date, hold yourself to that commitment. Just as it is the attorney’s responsibility to follow up with you, you have a responsibility to follow up with your potential attorney. If you have a delay in sending documents or otherwise responding, a short “heads-up” email will do the trick.

3. Be Ready to Listen

When we get a potential client call at Bryan Schwartz Law, it is always our goal to treat you with dignity and respect. It is also our job and our responsibility to candidly assess whether our firm will take your case. When you contact an attorney about your case, bear in mind that it is possible that the lawyer will tell you news that you will not like to hear. Employment cases often involve painful experiences and can bring up strong emotions. Remember that, unfortunately, there are many situations in which employees face treatment that is unfair, disrespectful, or even downright cruel, but that do not rise to the level of a legal violation.[3]

Another part of our job is to assess your case for issues you may not have considered. Sometimes clients initially believe they have one kind of case, and end up hiring an attorney to represent them in entirely different employment matters of which they learn from counsel. It is an employment lawyer’s job to spot workplace violations, so don’t be surprised if the lawyer with whom you are speaking asks you a question that you may not have expected—e.g., you may come in thinking you have a discrimination case, and the attorney will ask if you were paid overtime.

We recommend against exaggerating about the strength of the merits of your case. Attorneys will see through such pronouncements, and they may even reflect poorly on your credibility. If your case truly is a “slam dunk,” let your documents show that. Clients who spend extensive time repeating that their case is a winner often do themselves a disservice.

4. What if the Firm Does Not Take Your Case?

Many considerations go into a law firm’s decision in whether to take a case—these reasons may have to do with the firm’s assessment of the merits of your case, or they may have to do with the firm’s workload, variety of cases at a given time, geographical considerations, conflicts of interest, or other factors. If your case is turned down, please do not be angry. Many winning cases have been turned down by multiple law firms before the clients have found the right fit. That being said, be willing to hear and understand vulnerabilities in your case if an attorney shares them with you. You may disagree, another lawyer may see the case differently, but we urge you to be realistic about your case. Employment cases are challenging to win, and you are not doing yourself a favor if you refuse to take a realistic look at yours. We wish you the best of luck in your case and commend your bravery for standing up for your rights.

If you feel you have been wronged in the workplace, contact Bryan Schwartz Law today.

[1] Another helpful article on this topic can be found at Workplace Fairness:

[2] Please note that every firm handles potential client inquiries in its own way. If you are inquiring about a firm’s legal services and have questions about the process, it is always a good idea to ask them directly what you can expect.

[3] A prime example of this issue is the lack of protection for employees who are terminated in retaliation for taking bereavement leave for the death of a close loved one. Currently, the law affords no protection for this situation, though efforts continue to change this. See, e.g., Lange v. Showbiz Pizza Time, Inc. (D. Kan. 1998) 12 Fed.Supp.2d 1150, 1154-1155. AB 2340, a bill currently pending in the California Assembly, would provide up to three days of job-protected time off for bereavement of the loss of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or domestic partner (available at:, and our firm strongly supports this legislation. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar piece of legislation in 2007. (Veto statement available at:

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