Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2002

Center/Program

Center for Institutional and Social Change

Abstract

Lawyers involved in the pursuit of workplace equity are difficult to pigeon-hole. Of course, the practice of many employment lawyers conforms to conventional understandings of lawyers' roles. These lawyers litigate cases on behalf of management or employees, advise clients about their legal rights and obligations, and define their mission as avoiding liability or winning battles in court.1But innovators have crafted interesting and dynamic roles that transcend the traditional paradigm. These innovators connect law, as it is traditionally understood, to the resolution of the underlying problems that create and maintain workplace inequity. Civil rights lawyers working in both public and private settings are using their knowledge, credibility, relationships, and reputation to leverage change initiatives with companies and communities. Proactive lawyers (some plaintiffs', some management's) are spearheading the redesign of employment systems in companies concerned about the adequacy and legal vulnerability of their workplace practices. Civil rights-oriented lawyers are serving stints in newly-designed positions within companies that have embarked on major change initiatives. Workplace advocacy organizations are experimenting with interesting combinations of law, policy, organization, community development, training, and institutional redesign.2In the process, they are redefining the nature of their relationships with other professions and with the constituencies they represent.

In developing creative solutions for problems, and new institutions to implement them, these lawyers are extending a great tradition among American labor and employment lawyers.3 Louis Brandeis originated the concept of the "lawyer for the situation," charged by management to develop solutions to labor problems. Brandeis developed such enduring American workplace institutions as arbitration boards, employee shared ownership, and even pay spreads over the year, as well as such ideas, too radical even for our own times, as elected employee committees to run personnel.4 Brandeis is a powerful example of the lawyer as problem-solver. His career raises questions of accountability and responsibility that continue to challenge his contemporary successors.5

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Copyright 2018 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System; Reprinted by permission of the Wisconsin Law Review.

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