Going Back to the Future With Legal Writer James E. Hall

By James Tehrani

Mar. 12, 2015

It seems appropriate that James E. Hall — or Jim as we know him — started writing for Workforce in 1985, the year “Back to the Future” first hit theaters. In some ways, employment law has changed considerably since that time, but in others it’s like sooo-’80s. And while Hall’s work hasn’t produced 1.21 gigawatts as the famed time-traveling DeLorean did in the film, it has produced hundreds of details about gigs and what did the employer do?

We’re estimating Hall, who will be leaving Workforce after the May issue, has written some 180,000 words for Workforce and its predecessors — Workforce Management and Personnel Journal — over the past 30 years. More recently, he and the team at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis have also begun contributing to Workforce’s sister publication, Diversity Executive, as well.

Jim E Hall


Jim Hall, seen here with his wife, Patricia, will be leaving Workforce after 30 years.

The legal triumvirate of partners, Mark T. Kobata, Marty Denis and Hall, have by far the longest-running streak of contributing to Workforce. For three decades, they’ve been populating the popular Legal Briefings section with tales of employer do’s and more often than not employer don’ts punctuated with their “Impact” analysis at the end of every item. But unlike “Back to the Future’s” Marty McFly who didn’t quite fit in in 1955, the trio’s coverage of workplace legal issues fit in quite nicely in 1985, 1995, 2005 and especially in 2015 as part of our continuing coverage of workforce legal issues.

The show will go on without Hall’s contributions as he moves into his new role as an attorney with the legal unit at the state of California's Department of Industrial Relations, but the law offices of Barlow, Kobata and Denis will continue to shepherd the section for Workforce.

We recently caught up with Hall via email to ask some questions about his memories of Workforce and employment law over the past three decades.

Workforce: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what got you interested in employment law?

James E. Hall: I graduated from California Western School of Law in 1980, and received my master’s in labor law from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1981. My interest in labor/employment sparked from a first-year contracts law professor, Robert Meiners, now deceased, who had, in addition to his position as professor, a full-time practice as a labor arbitrator. He’d regale our contracts class with his stories of labor disputes and their peaceful resolution by mediation, arbitration and collective bargaining.

Workforce: How did you start writing for the Personnel Journal?

Hall: The firm started as contributing editors in about 1983-84, but I have contributed regularly on a monthly basis since I started with Barlow, Kobata and Denis in 1985.  

Workforce: What area or areas of employment law have you seen change the most in the past 30 years? And what area or areas seem like they could have been written in 1985 or 2015 because not much has changed?

Hall:When I started practicing law, traditional labor relations played a much larger role in the practice, but with the decline in the organized workforce, the practice has become focused on employment/EEO litigation, wrongful termination, discrimination, and harassment and disability and leave claims. Within the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been a huge increase in claims involving pay, overtime exemptions, and related wage-hour disputes, which typically entail class claims. As a lawyer, the most productive segment of the practice entails counsel and guidance to employers on issues of compliance to avoid costly liabilities.

Workforce: How has the process changed over the years for submitting items?

Hall: When we began submitting to Workforce (and its predecessor Personnel Journal) cutting-edge technology involved faxing our materials to you — who faxes any more? In terms of content, we’ve attempted to offer condensed reviews of legal development but devoid of legal ‘mumbo-jumbo’ so that the ‘message’ to our HR readership is more immediately apparent and accessible. 

Workforce: What are some of your favorite cases you’ve written about over the years?

Hall: Topically, they would entail decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court since it sets the overarching guidance on so many issues which impact HR. However, it has also become key to consider U.S. statutes enacted often in response to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as well as laws and decisions of state courts which trend in directions requiring HR to ensure unique treatment depending on states in which employers operate. HR needs to track these developments to ensure treatment consistent with applicable law in the localities in which they operate.    

James Tehrani is the director of content strategy at FlexJobs.

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