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Interview with Michael W. Fox, Partner and Employment Lawyer in Texas

Recently, we enjoyed the distinct honor of interviewing Michael W. Fox, a partner in the Ogletree Deakins law firm. Mr. Fox is regularly listed in the Best Lawyers in America in Labor and Employment Law, and as one of America’s Leading Lawyers for Business by Chambers USA.

In this interview, Fox recalls his start with employment law, his perspective of the changes in the legal profession in the past thirty-five years, and how the role of social media interacts with the art of being an adaptable communicator.

In July, 2002, Mr. Fox started the first employment law related web log, Jottings By An Employer’s Lawyer, which is now affiliated with Law.com. Mr. Fox is also the Editor of HR Specialist, Texas Employment Law, a National Institute of Business Management publication and regularly contributes content to BusinessManagementDaily.com.

michael-foxWhat event or series of events led you to initially specify the employment law area for your area of expertise? Please elaborate.

It was actually serendipitous. In law school I signed up for a moot court and the topic was labor law. I enjoyed it and when I later clerked for a firm in the mid-west that had a large traditional labor practice mentioned my interest. As a result I attended several arbitrations and an NLRB administrative hearing. When I graduated from law school, I went to a firm in Houston that wanted to develop both a labor and employment law practice. Employment law was still relatively new, and so in many ways I got in on the ground floor. Employment law is an intellectually challenging legal area, but it is also interesting because it deals with human nature, always a fascinating topic.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in the employment law specialty and the steps you took to meet these challenges.

When I went to law school there were no classes on employment law, only traditional labor law. When I first started, I had no framework to analyze issues and there were not a lot of more experienced lawyers, particularly in my firm to turn to. Fortunately, there were some good articles that gave me at least a starting place. One advantage was that even as a young lawyer I was given far more responsibility than I might otherwise have had, just because there was not anyone who had been practicing in the employment law area and knew more than me.

How would you advise an individual entering the legal professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?

The legal profession has changed substantially since I was licensed in 1975. The business side has become more important. It would be easy for a young lawyer to get swept away with the importance of developing clients before putting in the time to actually master the fundamentals of being a good lawyer. That takes time and experience. Business development is essential, but it cannot be done at the expense of first ensuring that you are a good lawyer.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I recently had a case representing an entity and four of its top officials. It was a very complicated set of facts, but underlying all of it was a belief that the top human resources official had actually worked with an employee to set up the entity and the four officials. However, finding hard proof of it was very difficult and on the surface it sounded preposterous. As we got closer and closer to trial, the pressure to settle for a substantial sum became greater. Finally, we discovered some tape recordings which actually proved our theory. Instead of a substantial settlement, we were able to get the case dismissed on summary judgment.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the legal professional just entering the field?

One of my early mentors would always say that he was just a “facts lawyer.” He meant that for someone doing trial work, there was nothing more important than knowing the facts of your case. He actually also had a great legal mind for analysis, but knew the importance of attending to the details. Even today, any new case I get, I start with building a detailed chronology.

As an accomplished author of a blog related to practice employment law, what advice would you offer to the legal professional concerning the role of social media in their profession?

Being a trial lawyer is about being a story teller. Social media is one more way of reaching an audience, but it may require a change in style. What works well for a law review article intended for academics and lawyers, is not going to work in a blog. While your message may remain the same, you have to adapt your manner of communication. The ability to be flexible and adaptive are hallmarks of a good lawyer.

This is the last question and time for your inner lawyer to break free. What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise legal professionals to mine their own strengths to further their careers.

I am a quick study and can get up to speed in a short amount of time. Frequently, I have been called in to try a case on short notice. Last year, I got a call on Thursday, attended the pre-trial conference on Friday, and went to trial a week later. (Successfully of course. It’s not that a good trial lawyer never loses cases, one just doesn’t talk about the losses.)

One other trait is the ability to communicate complex legal arguments simply. When someone comes up after a presentation and thanks me for making it understandable, I feel like I have done a good job.

There are many paths to being a good lawyer. It is important to find the style that works for you and that you can be comfortable with, rather than trying to emulate someone else’s.

We sincerely thank Michael W. Fox for sharing his experience and advice with our audience. You can learn more about Michael at his blog, Jottings by an Employer’s Lawyer.