“Specialty of The House”
By Bill Becker
Major employers flock to Ballard, Rosenberg & Golper because the firm’s close-knit, boutique mentality provides a high level of dedication and expertise in all employment matters.
The three defense attorneys on the Stafford v. McDonnell Douglas Corp. [USDC Case No. 94-5771 RSWL (Kx) (1999); Ninth Circuit Court Case No. 95-56109; Supreme Court Case No. 97-1000; remanded back to Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC109065] case agree on the phrase that best describes Ballard, Rosenberg & Golper, their 25-attorney, nine-partner firm. Formed in 1986, the firm is a “cutting-edge boutique” for labor and employment law matters.
They also agree that the culture of their practice is collegial and tightly knit, helping them react swiftly and knowledgeably for their clients. Pointedly, they practice employment law exclusively on behalf of management, said John B. Golper, partner and lead attorney in Stafford. The firm’s three areas of concentration are traditional labor law (union relations), employment advice and employment litigation.
Lead name partner Ken Ballard, a union specialist, “has probably … negotiated more labor contracts for major hotels around the country than any single labor lawyer in the country,” said Golper. Another major focus is aerospace labor and employment – the firm has ties to McDonnell-Douglas, Boeing and Lockheed.
How does the firm view its track record? Admittedly, some of it is the luck of the case,” Golper said. He knows. He heads up the litigation specialty. “You could be working on a case that has unique issues. You luck out and get to advocate them. But, you’re ready to advocate them.”
That was the case in Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 7 Cal.4th 1238 (1994), in which Golper and John J. Manier, first co-counsel on the Stafford case, persuaded the California Supreme Court to establish statewide, pro-employer standards applicable to the issue of constructive discharge. To Golper, cutting-edge also means that the firm doesn’t just litigate. It can provide ongoing support and training, steeping its corporate clients continuously in preventive law. Name partner Richard Rosenberg typically leads the firm’s employment-advice specialty. This service includes counseling, and conducting “vulnerability audits” and lecture series for employer groups throughout the state.
The partners say the boutique label signifies more than just their singular focus – it also means they foster a culture of dedication. Golper chose a labor and employment law career well before law school, as did his associate on the Stafford case, sixth-year associate Douglas N. Silverstein.
Before matriculating at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, from which he graduated in 1975, Golper was careful to determine that the law school staff included three labor-law professors.
Silverstein, who has earned a master’s degree in business administration, said that his career path in employment law was shaped by his childhood in Ohio, where his family owns a structural-steel business that employs union labor. He maintained this interest through graduation from Whittier Law School in 1994.
Silverstein started honing his litigation skills before joining Ballard, Rosenberg. During his last semester at law school, he worked full time as a judicial extern for Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He later worked in the same capacity for Judge Irving Shimer of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Manier, senior associate and the firm’s appellate specialist, has extensively litigated employment-related cases in the decade since his graduation from UCLA School of Law. His specialty practice has been fundamental to the firm’s numerous published appellate and Supreme Court decisions, including Davis v. Consolidated Freightways, 29 Cal.App.4th 354 (1999), which created favorable law – for employers – on at-will employment issues. He was counsel of record in Turner, is editor of the firm’s quarterly newsletter, Employment Law Update, and has contributed practitioner articles to the Daily Journal on labor and employment issues.
Golper reinforces the virtues of the firm’s smallness and singular focus. He uses a number of methods to achieve that focus. One tool is a weekly Friday-morning roundtable at which one of the firm’s associates presents and discusses new labor- and employment-law developments. According to Golper, the meeting introduces all major cases in the appellate reports and other publications of the previous week. This overview is followed by several hours of discussion among all the lawyers.
“It’s a training ground for the less experienced, younger lawyers,” posited Golper. The more experienced attorneys correct and advise the newer ones on their strategies, thoughts and reactions with regard to each development.
“We may have 15 different lawyers piping in with their different opinions – how they would react, how they would advise the client. … Whenever you get 15 to 25 employment lawyers together in a room discussing a hot topic, the educational value is just amazing.” In addition, a “firm approach” to many of the issues emerges.
To the defense counsel in Stafford, “cutting-edge boutique” boils down to the concept that the firm makes every effort to solve its clients’ problems – whether that means training big guns on the adversaries or training clients.
“I think what truly separates us [from other firms] is that we don’t sound like a bunch of lawyers,” said Silverstein.
“Lawyers are sometimes seen as problem makers, not problem solvers. We’re problem solvers. We present our clients with the broadest array of solutions that could possibly resolve their potential labor and employment issues.”
Silverstein also stressed that less experienced associates are given wide latitude to develop new clients, especially in such cutting-edge fields as e-commerce. “The firm supports younger attorneys taking substantial responsibility and developing business.”