The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Alex Stathopoulos is an employment attorney in Orrick’s San Francisco office. Alex defends employers in complex wage and hour class, collective, and representative actions, as well as single-plaintiff lawsuits involving discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination under both California and federal law. Alex also assists employers with pre-dispute demands and administrative complaints and provides creative and practical counseling to companies on a wide range of employment issues, including new and developing areas of the law.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I defend employers in class, collective, and representative actions that can involve hundreds or even thousands of putative class members. I also handle high-stakes, single-plaintiff claims of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation. One of my favorite aspects of this practice is strategizing with employers on how to comply with the varied and ever-changing employment laws, including implementing policies and advising on personnel matters to avoid litigation.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent a wide variety of clients including technology and life sciences companies, financial institutions, and retail companies. In addition to large, established companies, I have helped many start-up and emerging companies.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I’m managing several wage-and-hour class actions and representative actions and handling a single-plaintiff contract dispute and a couple of arbitrations. I have also been helping numerous employers adapt their policies in light of new laws the California legislature passed and developing case law that affects employers.
How did you choose this practice area?
When I joined Orrick as a summer associate in 2010, I specifically did NOT want to do employment law because my career before law school involved strategic employee communications, and it felt like too much of the same thing. But when I met the fabulous people on Orrick’s employment team, I just knew that these were the lawyers and staff members I wanted as my teachers, mentors, and colleagues. I have never regretted it!
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There really isn’t a typical day—some days I might spend the whole day taking a deposition, prepping a witness to testify, conducting a fact investigation or interviewing witnesses, negotiating a settlement at mediation, or appearing at court for a hearing. A day in the office might consist of a few hours of email; a couple of hours reviewing the work of associates on my team and strategizing about our cases; one or two calls with clients to provide counseling and advice on employment issues; calls with opposing counsel to meet and confer over various litigation issues; and (if I’m lucky) a few hours of focused work on briefs, preparing for a deposition or strategizing about substantive discovery responses.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Apart from research and writing, law school generally does not focus on litigation skills, but these skills are critically important to practicing employment law. I’m very grateful for the practical-skills courses I took in law school (Depositions, Civil Trial Practice, Arbitrations) and that I signed up for every advocacy opportunity I could get my hands on (negotiations team, mock trial, moot court). These experiences made me feel prepared when I was given early “at bats” at Orrick, and I was able to demonstrate that I can handle myself in high-pressure situations. I also highly recommend befriending and learning from experienced staff members wherever you work. As a junior attorney, I learned so much about the mechanics of filings, assembling evidence, and court protocols from senior paralegals, our calendar department, and my legal secretary.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Orrick’s Employment practice is a very special place. In addition to the marvelous people, the Employment group gives early opportunities to associates who demonstrate a desire and readiness for them. I took my first deposition as a second-year associate and drafted my first motion for summary judgment—the whole thing—that year as well. (We won.) I asked to attend mediations and to argue in court, and most often the answer was “yes.” These were the kinds of opportunities I dreamt about when I went to law school, and I feel very lucky to have found a place where they were available to me. Now, as a partner, I pay it forward by providing early “at bats” to associates so they can hone their skills.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Employment law is such an exciting area to practice in because the laws are always changing (especially here in California!) and the ways we work constantly evolve. Right now, some of the hot areas in employment law are arbitration; independent contractor classification; the impact artificial intelligence will have on the employment relationship; remote and flexible working arrangements; the gig economy; issues of gender equity (including pay and parental leave/caregiver status); the #MeToo movement and sex harassment; building strong and comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs; and health and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—and the list goes on and on. I can’t say exactly how the practice will evolve, but if I look into my crystal ball, I’d say rain or shine, there will be plenty of work for employment lawyers to do!
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Employment lawyers have many career options. Becoming a law firm partner is one option, but many of my colleagues have also gone on to rewarding careers as in-house employment counsel, government attorneys, professors, or judges.
What advice do you have for junior lawyers in keeping on top of complex labor and employment laws and the changes to these laws?
My advice is: Be patient and let your interests guide you. As a junior attorney, the volume of employment laws on the federal, state, and local level can be overwhelming. Don’t worry. In just a few years of practice, things will start to click.
That said, we can’t all be masters of everything, so try to find a topic or topics that genuinely interest you, and spend time attending conferences, networking with practitioners within and outside your workplace, reading the legal news, or researching and writing about those areas. If your firm has a research team, work with them to set up email alerts so you can be the first to know when a new case or article or legislation comes out on the topics that interest you. Pretty soon, people will look to you for that subject-matter expertise, and it will become a cornerstone of your practice.