Getting a Job as a Union Attorney

Published: Mar 10, 2009

 Job Search       
Take an assertive approach

Unions and union-side firms just don't recruit widely like the larger management-oriented firms, so you will have to be proactive to find a job representing labor. According to Ariana Levinson, a union-side lawyer and former AFL-CIO fellow, starting out on the union side definitely requires an assertive approach. These aren't the kind of jobs you will land at the standard on-campus interviewing. Direct mailings and networking with union attorneys are often the best way to find union-side opportunities. Labor-side firms tend to be much smaller than management firms and in-house positions at unions are even scarcer. In addition, attorneys with prior legal experience on the union side typically fill in-house positions, although in exceptional cases attorneys coming straight out of law school may find in-house union jobs.

Networking tips

To help overcome these recruiting obstacles and to locate union-side opportunities in your area you might want to start by contacting the AFL-CIO's Lawyers Coordinating Committee at (202) 637-5214), which will send interested law students their bulletin; you can also ask for a list of unions and union-side firms in your area. Joining the labor and employment section of your local bar as a student member will help you gain access to labor lawyers and labor law events. Remember that, as in any area of law, it is important to thoroughly research any employer you consider working for because there are a wide variety of approaches to practicing traditional labor law and you want to find one that fits your personality and philosophy. For example, when researching unions, you might look into the differences between public and private sector unions.

A "fire" for the labor movement

Candidates for union-side positions should clearly express their interest and commitment to union work. Nancy Hoffman, the general counsel of the Civil Service Employees Association (New York's largest public sector union), reports that nearly every attorney or intern who works in her legal department "possesses a certain fire' for the labor movement." This type of commitment is usually shown through prior work experience or extracurricular activity relating to the labor movement. Coursework that exposes you to federal labor laws is a good starting point, but more substantial activity is obviously preferred. Summer work at a union-side firm, an internship at a union or even volunteering for a union-sponsored activity like a political campaign all provide exposure to union-side activities and demonstrate an interest in union work. Prior union membership also shows a commitment to the labor movement and, along with any other relevant activity, should be specifically discussed in cover letters to potential employers.