A Lesson in Justice
MY FIRST YEAR AS A LAWYER: REAL-WORLD STORIES FROM AMERICA'S LAWYERS, Mark Simenhoff, ed., pp. 25-31, 1994
7 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 10, 2010
Mr. Stephens came to my office to wage war against his union, and he thought of me, a first-year staff attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, as his personal tank, his fighter jet, and his destroyer. He had filed a charge alleging that the union had wrongly passed him over for a union position with an employer. Government investigators thought he had a case, and I had two weeks to prepare for a trial.
But Mr. Stephens’s dissatisfaction with the union went way beyond getting passed over. I his half-hour tirade, he told me about the many things he felt were wrong with the way the union was run – things he wanted me to change.
I was dismayed to see that Mr. Stephens held such an inflated view of what the United States government could do for him. As an administrative law attorney, my primary duty was to prove one minor charge of illegal conduct. I had no power to instigate a full-scale investigation of union hiring practices. I represented the government, not him. I couldn’t even call him my client. I would have to explain to him that the complaint the government had filed on his behalf would do little more than get him some back pay.
I wondered about this man. What kind of guy would take on a union by himself? I had doubts whether his frenetic personality would impress the court. Finally, who would the union’s lawyer be? Finding out was just a matter of pawing through the endless government forms. My heart sank with the discovery: Here I was, with the ink on my law school diploma still not quite dry, and I was being opposed by one of the most feared labor attorneys in San Francisco.
Keywords: Legal practice, professional responsibility, public interest law, union labor negotiations, administrative law, community service
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