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Interview with Charles Krugel, Chicago Labor and Employment Lawyer

Charles Krugel recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his experience as an award winning lawyer, the use of social media as part of his toolkit of success, and his involvement in a labor dispute that was settled through plain-talk and Krugel’s proficient handling of the law.

In the interview, Charles Krugel uses his direct method of communication and reveals a key case that was important to his career, how he has utilized social media to elevate his career, and in particular, the role of LinkedIn in marketing his legal practice. Visit Charles Krugel at his blog, Law and Employment Law and Human Resources Counseling on Behalf of Business.

charles-krugelWhat event or series of events led you to pursue employment law as your specialty? Please elaborate.

My career choice is the result of a long running fascination with workplace behavior, management styles, and how and why people pursue particular vocations. While in college, I advanced my interest by majoring in psychology. After college, I pursued graduate study in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology with the thought of going into human resources management or being an I/O consultant. During my first year of graduate school, I realized that the practice of I/O psychology was too “touchy feely” or soft for me. Consequently, I decided that once I earned my masters degree in I/O psychology, I would attend law school, and become a labor and employment lawyer. Labor and employment law is the “edgier” side of human resources. I’ve been in the field for 18 years now, and am focused solely on running and growing my practice.

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

I’m a solo practitioner in Chicago, so marketing and business development are always engaging and challenging. I’ve come to the conclusion that marketing is “smoke and mirrors.” That is, I’m trying to appear that I’m everywhere at once and a “big shot” without changing my personality.

I’ve been on my own for 13 years now, and I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you pay for, which contradicts the saying that “you get what you pay for.” More specifically, the cost of something isn’t necessarily indicative of quality. There’s a lot of free or cheap services available for business people. For example, my website designer is someone whom I never met or spoken to, and he’s in Romania. We got hooked up via a freelancing website. He charged me only $600 to design my site, and it’s on WordPress so it’s very low overhead and easy to maintain, and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on it. Since designing my website, we’ve also become friends. One of my earlier website designs was created by a high school student in Sao Paolo, Brazil. She did this for me for free, and we met via the internet. I sent her a bunch of Chicago and White Sox items as a “thank you” to her. Long story short, if you exercise good judgment and are nice to people, you can find a lot of free or cheap resources out there.

I also serve on a number of boards of directors or advisory boards for organizations, and use LinkedIn a lot. I created my own LinkedIn group, Charles Krugel’s Labor and Employment Law and Human Resources Practices Group, that currently has 2,380 members from all over the world, and from many different companies.

Public relations like public speaking and media interviews are also crucial for my marketing. A lot of organizations ask me to do presentations on labor and employment law and HR management, and I’ve been interviewed and quoted by many video, audio and print media entities. In fact, I created my own YouTube channel to house all of my video interviews.

Except for my time and effort, none of my business development activities cost much out-of-pocket money, if any money at all. LinkedIn, YouTube, and WordPress are all free.

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

Don’t always follow “conventional wisdom.” Think for yourself and experiment. Failure is imminent, so keep your cool and bounce back. Be patient and persistent. I know that this sounds like a lot of self-help crap, but it’s true.

Finally, size doesn’t matter. Today, whether you’re a solo practitioner or in a larger firm, the playing field has largely been leveled for lawyers. For the most part, we all have access to the same resources and clients. In terms of success, what differentiates one professional from another is a willingness to take risks and act – don’t stand still.

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 won’t disclose the identity of a client in answering this question, but one success I had was helping to minimize the impact of a labor union on a decades old family owned business. This labor union is well known for being very difficult to deal with. In fact, they’ve directly contributed to the dissolution of some well-known businesses.

When we opened negotiations with the union on a new collective bargaining agreement, they refused to budge on any issues concerning pension contributions. At my urging, we also gave the union copies of the company’s tax returns for the past few years in order to prove to them that the company was in serious financial trouble, and that the union’s pension was a significant contributor to this financial distress. However, none of this resonated with the union.

Because the company was in such financial turmoil, and because the company’s owners had little-to-no experience in firing or disciplining employees, I personally had to go to the workplace and fire some union employees due to the company’s finances and inability to keep contributing to the pension. The least tenured of these employees had been there for 10 years, and the longest tenured had been there for about 25 years. It was a very painful and difficult experience, but it had to be done.

Subsequently, the union filed charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an attempt to get my client to capitulate to their demands. It took about a year to work this out, but on the day the case was set to begin trial at the NLRB, we ended up reaching a very good settlement with the union and NLRB. The employer, my client, didn’t have to hire anyone back, was able to minimize any pension costs and contributions, and avoided imminent bankruptcy. Needless to say, they were thrilled with my work, have referred others to me, and I continue to represent them in employment related matters.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Be persistent; don’t give up.

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

Personally, I’ve found social to be an invaluable resource for marketing and public relations. As I indicated above, I started my own LinkedIn group, Charles Krugel’s Labor & Employment Law & Human Resources Practices Group, that currently has 2,380 members from all over the world and from many different companies. My group has given me access to companies and individuals I probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise. It’s also great for keeping me informed of cases, trends and issues. Because this costs me nothing out-of-pocket, I always advise legal professionals to consider using social media for business development. However, whenever someone asks me how social media has contributed to my bottom line, I always point out that I don’t believe it’s solely led to new clients, but is just one factor in reaching potential clients. Plus, besides being cheap or free, it’s extremely simple to use.

This is the last question and time for the inner lawyer in you 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.

One key strength is my communication skills. I’m able to plainly explain labor and employment law and HR principals to clients and the public. People seem to enjoy listening to me discuss these principals with them (at least most seem to stay awake!). The fact that I’m able to avoid “legalese” and talk like a businessperson makes me that much more approachable and personable. The same applies to my writing skills. Clients often tell me how much they appreciate my ability to plainly tell them what I think they should or shouldn’t do and the advantages and disadvantages of taking one action as opposed to another. They also appreciate it when I plainly tell them that I don’t know something or if I’ve made a mistake and quickly rectify it.

We thank Charles Krugel for sharing his insights and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Charles at his blog and the Charles Krugel’s Labor & Employment Law & Human Resources Practices Group on LinkedIn.