Measure Spawns Cottage Industry

By Patrick Kiger

Jan. 30, 2009

While businesses tend to fear the Employee Free Choice Act as potentially ruinous, the prospective legislation also promises to provide an economic stimulus—for lawyers, that is.

    Even as it awaits introduction and passage by the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress, law firms across the country already are marketing an ever-increasing array of services—ranging from breakfast lectures and webinars to full-scale instructional courses on DVD—to corporate legal and human resources departments desperate for advice on how to cope with what some believe will be the most sweeping change in labor law since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.

    At the forefront is nationwide labor-law firm Jackson Lewis, which has been both sounding the alarm about the act’s possible negative effects and offering advice to companies on how to deal with them. This fall, one of the firm’s trademark products, its 1½-day seminar on the latest developments in labor law, focused on the Employee Free Choice Act, says San Francisco-based partner Michael Lotito. But that was just the start. The firm also recently put on a free web­inar that Lotito says has been heard by more than 3,000 corporate users, and its 40 regional offices are in the process of offering in-person seminars. “At some of the offices, the demand has been so overwhelming that we’ve had to schedule more than one program,” he says.

    On the Web, the law firm markets the “EFCA Defense Kit,” a six-DVD course on the nuances of the Employee Free Choice Act, intended to thwart union organizers who might seek to take advantage of the new law. The online ad for the course promises that it will enable “ongoing communication that will help your company stay union-free for years to come—all through great communication tools and positive employee relations.”

    The cost of law firms’ Employee Free Choice Act offerings varies. It costs $219 for an audio recording of “Unions: Why the Employee Free Choice Act Could Change Your Workplace Forever; Get Up to Speed Before It’s Too Late,” a 90-minute presentation by Maria Anastas, a partner in the San Francisco office of Davis Wright Tremaine. Ogletree Deakins offered a daylong Employee Free Choice Act seminar at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in December for $495 a person.

    At the high end, Jackson Lewis charges $4,995 for the six-DVD course, though the firm also gives away some Employee Free Choice Act-related content, such as the webinar recordings and a recent white paper on the subject.

    “The market’s huge, in terms of doing seminar work,” says Peter Bennett, whose Portland, Maine-based Bennett Law Firm charges $1,000 for a half-day Employee Free Choice Act presentation to corporate groups. “It’s probably the most significant issue that I’ve seen in 25 years of practicing law. The good news for us is that this is what we specialize in.”

    But the revenue from the Employee Free Choice Act seminars and archives of webcasts pales in comparison to the six-figure fees law firms eventually may earn from representing companies in the arbitration proceedings that the act would dictate, Lotito says.

Workforce Management, January 19, 2009, p. 22Subscribe Now!

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