An employment lawyer and a labor lawyer walk into a bar... OK, that was to lure you in, but I spent some time with Michael D. Jones and John A. DiNome from ReedSmith's Philadelphia office. Both are employment/labor lawyers on the management side and they had some interesting comments about the difference between the two related disciplines.
The difference, Jones explained, is that labor lawyers understand that the "the parties have to live together after the lawyers are done," he said. Unlike the legions of lawyers who handle employment cases, the number of lawyers who work with unions, either on the management side, or on the union side, is relatively small. The lawyers on both sides know each other and face off frequently, often working with the same set of arbitrators over the years. It behooves them all to behave.
On the other hand, the general employment bar is large enough that "it's completely adversarial," he said. "There's a scorched earth policy." Lawyers for both sides are hyper-aggressive, knowing that the chances of them meeting again in the near future are relatively slim. Plus, the cases that need to be settled tend to be once-and-done, and don't require the two sides to communicate much once the case is closed.
DiNome said that the labor law bar is probably the last vestige of the old polite brotherhood of Philadelphia lawyers who could fight fiercely in court and then retreat to the bar for a drink.
Jones compared the relationship between union and management labor lawyers to the relationship between a father and his son-in-law: You may not like the son-in-law, but he's in the family and you have to get along.