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Interview with Daniel Burnick, Employment Lawyer in Alabama

Recently, we had the pleasure of discussing the ins and outs of the legal profession with veteran employment attorney, Daniel Burnick of Sirote & Permutt, PC in Alabama and author of the Alabama Employment Law Blog. In this interview, Daniel looks back over the years of his practice and reflects upon the reasons he chose employment law, his personal challenges with confrontation, and his very personal experiences with law school and the advice he presented to his two sons.

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

Many years ago, when I started my practice, I was engaged in all types of litigation, civil and criminal. As my practice grew, I focused on employment law for a number of reasons. First, in the general litigation practice, I was not involved until a lawsuit was threatened or filed. In the employment arena, I am able to engage with my clients at an early stage, such as drafting policies and procedures, training employees and providing counseling in an attempt to avoid litigation. Second, I enjoy the diversity of my practice. Employment law allows me to work with my clients on numerous levels, from counseling about employment issues, to growing or reducing the work force, to employee morale and helping a business succeed. Finally, I am able to continue learning something new every day.

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

Perhaps the most difficult challenge I have faced in the employment field is disciplining the Chief Executive Officer or President of a client. This individual is at the top of the organization, and is often the one making the decision to retain my services. Unfortunately, improper conduct in the work place can be found from the very top to the very bottom of any organization. Obviously, it is very difficult, and very uncomfortable, to be involved in an investigation and/or to discipline, up to and including termination, of the President or CEO. This has happened on a number of occasions, and it doesn’t get easier.

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

This is a question that is personal to me. My youngest son graduated from Rhodes College in May, and enrolled at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in August. Although I tried to convince him not to go to law school, he decided that is what he wanted to do. This is the first challenge that must be overcome: the desire to spend three years in law school before entering the legal profession. I was successful in convincing my oldest son to not go to law school. He, in turn, got even with me, when, after graduating from college, he moved to Israel and became a paratrooper with the Israeli Defense Force. Fortunately, he served his time with distinction, was discharged, and is now back in the States gainfully employed in a non-legal job. Another challenge of the legal profession is to meet or exceed expectations every day. As I told both my children growing up, in school it is not necessary to make straight A’s in all of your classes. In the legal profession, if you don’t make straight A’s every day, it will be difficult to succeed. Finally, in today’s world of social media, it is easier than ever, whether justified or not, to lose your reputation that took years, if not decades, to earn. Everything you do, both related to the practice of law and outside the practice of law can appear on the Internet and destroy your reputation and your practice in a heartbeat.

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?

Perhaps the most interesting case I have been involved in involved defending a small business in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. Fighting any governmental agency, especially the EEOC, which has unlimited resources, is extremely difficult. My client was steadfast in denying any wrongdoing, and made the decision to defend the claim through trial. Although it took several years, a lot of heartache, inconvenience and money, we were successful in obtaining a defense verdict following a three day jury trial.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

My motto in life is to “Live as if you’ll die tomorrow, Dream as if you’ll live forever.” I apply this logic not only to my personal life, but to my legal life. Savor the victories, learn from your defeats, and continue looking forward to find ways to help clients thrive and prosper in today’s world.

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?

You cannot hide from social media. It is a very powerful tool that can be used or misused, with very serious consequences. I would encourage any legal professional to embrace social media, but do not embrace it solely for the purpose of saying, “I use social media.” Have a game plan, determine what you want to accomplish, and do it. The proper use of social media presents the opportunity to engage the entire world, enhance your reputation, and expand your expertise and continue to educate yourself about what you do.

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.

Through high school and college, I played football. As a defensive lineman, at a relatively small school, football was a labor of true love. It was also an opportunity to learn how to improve individually, as well as work with a team. Playing in front of 40,000 or 50,000 fans for the first time was an intimidating experience. I was able to overcome my fears and intimidation and perform on the field. Law school, as well as paralegal school, can be an intimidating experience, which one must learn to confront and conquer. The practice of law can be even more intimidating when the lives of individuals, or the very existence of a corporation, may be in your hands. As with football, I’ve learned to face the intimidation, embrace the intimidation and conquer my fears to be the best that I can be.

We thank Daniel Burnick for sharing his wisdom and experiences with our audience. If you would like to learn more about Daniel you can visit the Sirote & Permutt, PC website and the Alabama Employment Law Blog.