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Topic: "Interviews" | Main

D. Michael Reilly - Employment lawyer interview
July 06, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

Ross' Employment Law Blog interviewed D. Michael Reilly, shareholder at Lane Powell.

Q: You are the Director of Lane Powell's Labor and Employment Group, and also the Employee Benefits Practice Group. What are your main challenges?

Reilly: We strive to get the younger associates into client meetings early on. In reality, we're in the people business, and we need to understand the law and communicate it in a way that is helpful to the client. So one of our challenges is to get younger associates up to speed on the legal side, and to make sure they can listen and communicate effectively with clients.

The other challenge for us at Lane Powell is our "sundown" rule. We try to return all calls by sundown, and we constantly strive to have a team ready to respond if a new problem develops quickly. We're very good at doing this, but it sometimes takes a team effort.

Q: You have a varied employment law practice. What do you like about practicing employment law?

Reilly: Whether it is advice on an employee discipline or termination issue, the terms of the employee handbook or training, the effect of a collective bargaining agreement, or the terms of an ERISA plan, I enjoy advising and representing large and small businesses. With over 20 years litigating the issues, I think I'm pretty good at communicating with clients, using real world trial and litigation examples, to drive home with clients how to prevent employment issues from turning into lawsuits, and how to resolve lawsuits to their advantage, whether in early mediation or through trials or arbitrations. Very early on I like to give the client the good news . . . and the bad news, so that the client can make savvy business decisions quickly. Employers I represent are becoming much more sophisticated in how to handle employment issues in the workplace. That makes my job more satisfying, and easier.

Q: Is there a down side to it?

Reilly: Sure. Sometimes even the best intentioned employer can get snagged by a procedural technicality, resulting in a claim. It's hard to explain to them that if they had consulted earlier on, even with a quick phone call, the issue would not have festered.

I like to tell clients that I do not tend to bill for shorter phone calls. I find this helps develop a real partnership with the client. I have this policy based on my father's experience with employment lawyers when he ran a chain of drug stores. He avoided calling his attorney because he didn't want to pay for a short phone call. But the later cost was higher than the time he would have spent on the call.

Q: ERISA is an important part of your work. What do you like about dealing with ERISA?

Reilly: ERISA is the federal statute governing employee benefits. It provides huge legal advantages to employers to encourage employers to provide more employee benefits to employees. Many smaller employers haven't tapped into these legal advantages, and they should. We help them do that here, and they are much appreciative at the end of the process.

Q: What advice do you have for a beginning lawyer or law student who is interested in an employment law practice?

Reilly: Attend employment CLEs and become indoctrinated in the law, because it is very specialized. Younger lawyers should do whatever they can to get into the courtroom, even if that means going and watching employment cases being tried. I think I advise my clients better because I have tried the cases in the courtroom. That perspective really helps when advising clients, and preparing to resolve a case, or trying it.

Q: If you could change one thing in the law of employment, what would it be?

Reilly: Some of the Ninth Circuit law governing employment issues. Cases like last week's United States Supreme Court opinion in Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White present some newer challenges to employers in Title VII retaliation cases. But the good news is that the decision in White should have the affect of trimming back some very employee friendly Ninth Circuit law on the issue of what constitutes "adverse employment action."

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