Photo provided by Jackson Lewis.

Photo provided by Jackson Lewis.

While many firms have quality employment departments, Jackson Lewis managing partner Patrick Vaccaro believes that his firm’s exclusive focus on workplace law offers several advantages. He is not alone. BTI Consulting Group, in its Litigation Outlook 2011 report, gave Jackson Lewis the distinction of employment litigation "powerhouse." The firm now has more than 650 lawyers across 46 offices.

Lawdragon: What do you think are some of the factors that led to the distinction given to Jackson Lewis in BTI Consulting's litigation outlook report?

Patrick Vaccaro: There are several factors that led to our recognition. First, we provide effective and consistent advice throughout our 46 offices all in a very client-centric and cost effective way. Second, we perceive ourselves as an extension of the in-house employment law department and are very comfortable partnering with in-house counsel. And finally, we are known for our client service and attentiveness and very willing to accommodate client needs whether in pricing, personal attention, work sharing, etc.

LD: Are there trends in the type of litigation matters the firm is seeing, such as an increase in any particular type of lawsuits?

PV: Among the major trends are the following: Much more class action litigation in general and wage-hour class actions in particular; a much more aggressive EEOC that will pursue more systematic discrimination matters whether race or sex related; and much more "bet the ranch" type of litigation where the stakes are extremely high.

LD: When did Jackson Lewis begin to experiment with alternative fee arrangements, and how has the process evolved at the firm over time?

PV: We have used some form of alternative fee arrangement almost from the inception of the firm. Our arrangements break down as follows:

1) Retainer for general advice: We have always provided some form of monthly retainer for general consultations. There was either an "open-ended" retainer not tied to hours or a certain number of hours provided at a reduced hourly rate. We continue this type of retainer to this day and it is widely accepted by clients. Both retainers were designed to give clients the comfort of knowing that they can call with a question without worrying about incurring huge fees for a simple inquiry.

2) Project and Flat Fee: We have always provided this type of arrangement for "one-off" types of projects such as educational sessions for company managers and supervisors or conducting various audits of company policies to ensure compliance. We continue this practice today.

3) Discount off of Regular Rates: For certain high volume work or as a special accommodation, we have always offered a percentage discount off of standard rates. We continue this practice today.

4) These prior arrangements have grown and evolved over time and include, in addition to the above, the following:

a. Volume discounts over a certain amount of billings within a year;
b. Caps on rates by category: partner, associate, paralegal: also blended rates;
c. Caps on fees through various stages of litigation: e.g. summary judgment and through completion of discovery;
d. Caps on fees for an entire single litigation: most often limited to single plaintiff litigation;
e. Caps on all litigation, by category, for the entire billing year. For example, a certain capped amount for all single plaintiff litigation within a year.

LD: Many law firms have employment departments. What are some of the benefits of having a specific focus on workplace law?

PV: The benefits of having a firm with a total focus on workplace law are unparalleled. To have every lawyer in a firm of 650-plus attorneys in 46 locations practicing exclusively in the area of workplace law provides a reach and expertise that cannot possibly be matched by a department within a general practice firm.

In addition, because of our singular focus on workplace law and our size, we can have subject matter expertise on every conceivable workplace law sub-specialty with lawyers who can devote their entire attention to the particular subject matter. The value to the firm and to the client cannot be overstated.

Also, a workplace law firm can provide enormous opportunities for attorneys to practice their craft to a wide range of clients in virtually every conceivable industry, again, benefiting the client who gets the value of their expertise. This opportunity is limited in the department of the general practice firm.

In addition, a firm such as ours with 650-plus attorneys throughout the country has probably handled every conceivable type of matter within our area of expertise. This intellectual capital cannot be matched by a department and is of enormous value to clients.

LD: What are the firm's plans for growth in the years ahead?

PV: We will continue the strategic initiative of lateral growth we started in 2006 and we are open to additional offices that can add to the geographical coverage necessary to be where our clients do business. We will also expend considerable resources on our global strategy.

LD: Back when you were a law student or at the outset of your career, what made you want to practice in the employment area?

PV: I had the good fortune as an undergraduate at NYU's School of Business to be taught by and work with professors who practiced within the field of labor relations law and human resources. As an undergraduate I was employed as a researcher by a prominent NYU professor who was a practicing labor arbitrator.

Because of these influences I went to NYU Law to become a labor lawyer. At NYU Law I was befriended by two labor law professors from opposite sides of the spectrum. Professor Jack Kroer was a brilliant practicing attorney for the Seafarers Union and Professor Sylvester Petro (also one of the brightest people on earth) was an author and very strong proponent of the management side. I was hooked!

LD: How did you become interested in management positions and eventually the job of managing partner?

PV: I do not believe I was ever really interested in occupying the various management positions I held in the firm including the one I have now as the firmwide managing partner. My intent from the beginning was to practice law and my most fulfilling days are when I handle a full case load as a practicing labor lawyer. I managed the White Plains, New York office of the firm for 25 years and grew the office from 5 attorneys to over 40. For years while managing the White Plains office, I was also the Vice Chair of the Firm and simultaneously headed up the firm's marketing department.

When the firm decided to adopt a succession plan I was asked to assume the Managing Partner position for 2 years. At the end of those two years I was elected to a full 4-year term that ends in 2012.

LD: Did the firm face any specific challenges as a result of the economic downturn?

PV: The truth is, the challenges faced during the current downturn had very little to do with obtaining and performing the work. Labor and employment law as a specialty practice is virtually recession proof and, actually, we have had our strongest years during the current downturn. The challenges faced primarily dealt with our clients' ability and willingness to incur and pay legal fees during such an uncertain period. This has made us even more accommodating to our clients' needs and more understanding of their difficulties.

I am proud to say that we are open to any reasonable accommodation on the payment of fees related to ability to pay, as we continue to realize that ultimately our fate as a law firm is intrinsically tied to the health of our clients. We consider ourselves as merely an extension of our clients, and if they succeed, we succeed.