More so than with most lawyers, one gets the feeling about David Long-Daniels that there cannot be much that he has not seen in a career of 30-plus years. He was a captain in the U.S. Air Force before ever attending law school; he has held public office in Alabama; and has had a full career as a law professor and teacher, all before coming to Greenberg Traurig, the largest U.S. law firm, where he is a shareholder, Co-Chair of the firm’s Global Labor & Employment Practice, Co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Practice’s Complex Employment Litigation & Trials group and Chair of the Atlanta Labor & Employment Practice.
Lawdragon: What influenced you in deciding to go to law school? Did you consider other career choices, such as remaining in the U.S. Air Force?
David Long-Daniels: My interest in law school started in my sophomore year of high school. A very good friend of mine, who happened to be African‑American, was arrested and charged with assault. His arrest was the consequence of a series of unfortunate circumstances. He was horsing around with a friend after work. At some point, the other young man jumped on the hood of his car and fell off. The fall resulted in significant injuries and the young man fell into a coma for a significant time. My friend was arrested and accused of intentionally assaulting the young man and causing the accident. He had very little income so he remained in jail, pending the disposition of the case. He could not find a lawyer locally or in the next largest city, Montgomery, Alabama. I and most other members of my high school basketball team were very concerned about my friend’s plight, but there was very little we could do to help. Thankfully, the young man came out of his coma and readily admitted the accident was his fault. My friend was released from prison, but his temporary vulnerability made me want to go to law school. So I remained hopeful throughout my years as an Air Force Officer that I would eventually be able to pursue this dream. I was a Captain in the Air Force and likely would have been promoted to Major “Below The Zone,” when I decided to take the opportunity to attend law school.
LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
DLD: I have been blessed to have a number of great mentors in my life. Coincidentally, several members of my family are first generation lawyers. In fact, my brother, my uncle and several of my cousins are lawyers. My familial examples significantly impacted the shape and direction of my professional life. In addition to my family, three of my former colleagues – General Ed Friend, Jack Held and Mason Davis – from my former firm, Sirote and Permutt in Birmingham, Alabama took a great interest in my career. Each of them exemplified the intellect, spirit and practice that I think drives the integrity of this profession. I still hold the three of them in the highest regard. I have many fond memories and valuable lessons from each of those relationships. One of my favorite memories of General Ed Friend, a retired 2-star General, however, occurred outside of the office. I remember when there was a rally against racism in downtown Birmingham, after a homeless African-American was beaten to death by a few misdirected White men. I arrived at the rally a little late because of work assignments. I walked into the park and was pleasantly surprised when General Friend greeted me by saying, “What took you so long?” He demonstrated a dedication to justice that you cannot simply learn in a classroom or a courtroom. I was honored that he selected me as one of the pallbearers at his funeral.
LD: Why and how did you choose to focus on employment law? And what trends do you see emerging in your practice going forward and how do you strategically plan and adjust?
DLD: My first love was constitutional law. Unfortunately, given the local area in which I practiced, there was very little opportunity to practice constitutional law. Thankfully, employment law was a close runner up. I became an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama Law School and taught Individual Rights in Employment, as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act, for many years. Employment law is challenging because: one, it is about people; and two, how they react to each other. Those two forces create countless interesting fact patterns. In my view, employment law will continue to be one of the most explosive areas of law going forward. Employment law is always shifting because it is influenced by so many factors. It will always require forward thinking. Right now there is a lot of discussion about sexual harassment and sexual discrimination based on the current climate. I believe “Pay Equity” is the next logical focus in the demand for gender equality – the laws are on the books but the rate of compliance is deplorable. My team is currently preparing for that possibility by writing, researching and teaching on this issue across the country.
LD: You’ve been involved in a wide range of outside activities – pro bono, academic, nonprofit and political. Which have been especially meaningful to you?
DLD: While I enjoy all of my outside activities and take great pride in the work that I have done in various areas, academics is my first love. I loved serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama Law School and serving briefly as an adjunct professor at my alma mater, Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. I thoroughly enjoy my interactions with the students and the purely intellectual discussions that are common in the academic arena. I relished the opportunity to ensure that my students understood not only the black-letter law, but also the respective rationales and purposes that underpin it. Having the opportunity to help develop the minds of young future lawyers is extraordinarily important to me.
LD: You were a professor of law for quite a number of years. How has legal education changed since you went to law school and what changes do you see on the horizon?
DLD: I believe that legal education has changed in several respects. One of the most important shifts is the growing trend in all schools to make legal education more practical. I see many more practicums that are available today than were available during my law school tenure. The practicum programs are valuable because they enhance the students’ law school experiences and simultaneously benefit the community. The practicums are great for students because they have a chance to apply their theoretical knowledge in the real world. Clients look for practical solutions to complicated problems. Oftentimes, pure classroom experience does not prepare students for this reality. The programs also benefit the communities because practicums typically provide legal services to many persons who have restricted or no access. I hope that law schools continue and expand this trend.
LD: Do you think there exists a heightened awareness of sexual discrimination resulting from the “#MeToo” movement, and is it having an effect on employers?
DLD: There is no question that there is a heightened awareness of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. I believe many employers are proactively working to ensure that their employees are properly trained and complying with the law. I think there is a chilly wind blowing for those employers who fail to take advantage of this opportunity to improve.
LD: What is the most personally satisfying case or work experience you’ve ever had?
DLD: My most satisfying experience occurred when I was a summer associate at the Jones Day law firm in Atlanta. As a result of our work with the Legal Aid Society, I was given an opportunity to represent a single mom who had been involved in a car accident that destroyed her only means of transportation. Unfortunately, she trusted the other driver’s promise and did not file a police report. The other driver reneged on his promise and refused to repair her vehicle. Through our team’s efforts, I was able to locate the other driver and the police officer who was present at the scene. We obtained a declaration from the police officer, and as a consequence, the other driver repaired our client’s car, plus a little extra. I have secured verdicts of well over $30 million, but that victory was my most satisfying win because I personally saw the impact of my efforts on my client’s ability to provide for her family.
LD: What keeps you excited about practicing law?
DLD: I am always excited about practicing law because good lawyers have to think. My mantra for my team is: “think, think, think.” We try to advance our client’s interests and the law. I find zealous advocacy exciting and challenging. There is always something new to learn.