It’s a rare breed of lawyer that makes the Hall of Fame section of our Most Powerful Corporate Employment Lawyers Guide. Among them is Jay Krupin, who earned a spot in the top 100 every year between 2010 and 2018 and is co-leader of BakerHostetler’s labor relations practice. For Krupin, the key to arriving and staying at the top of the employment bar has been becoming a true business partner to his clients – many of which he’s kept for decades. The Washington, D.C.-based Krupin earned an L.L.M. in Labor Law at Georgetown University Law Center in addition to his J.D. from St. Louis University.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within the employment arena?
Jay Krupin: My practice supports management-side labor relations. That includes collective bargaining negotiations, employer-union relations, contract administration, and defending NLRB organizing campaigns. I also advise on labor relations issues affecting the purchase and sale of businesses. In addition to U.S. companies, I represent many international enterprises on these matters in the domestic marketplace.
LD: How did you first become interested in going into employment law?
JK: My dad was the president of the Washington, D.C., restaurant association and engaged in the negotiation of labor agreements covering eleven unionized restaurants. He was intensely focused on the process, and about to institute a lockout. I was in law school and that very week about to sign up for the following semester's courses. I noticed two courses that were offered: Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining. And as they say, the rest is history.
LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying? What keeps you excited about it?
JK: Every day I face a new issue. And many times I need to develop a creative approach to deal with the changing workplace environment. I immensely like the outside-the-box approach to solving management-labor issues. Also, I enjoy helping burgeoning or international companies that are unaware of the intricacies of U.S. labor law, and advise them on the nuances of successfully navigating theses choppy waters.
LD: Can you discuss a few things that it takes to successfully represent employers?
JK: It is vitally important to act as a business partner with clients. This means that I need to understand their business. We have a significant practice in hospitality, healthcare, media, and higher education, among others. Clients continually refer us to their colleagues in these industries because they know we understand how they operate, and therefore our advice and ownership of matters is practical and effective.
When you engage in labor relations, the process can be approached from one of two vantage points. The other side wants to be either dealmakers or victims. The first means you approach the legal process by finding common ground and expand to the key issues that need a bridge. The second means you have to exercise leverage by increasing apprehension and decreasing expectation. The lesson is to determine which road you will be traveling and decide which arrows you need to place in your quiver.
LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students, whether or not they want to practice in employment law?
JK: It is essential that you find a niche that makes you stand out. To excel, you need an expertise that places your name on the top of any list to get the job accomplished. There are many fine lawyers, but we are not hired because we are smart, or capable or nice. We are retained and continue to be so because we understand the specific issue, have experience in dealing with it hundreds of times, and can achieve a successful result. That comes from understanding the reason for the legal dilemma and the means to solve it.
LD: Has your employment practice changed since the early part of your career? If so, how?
JK: Absolutely. The most significant change is the pace of the practice of law. I used to enjoy thinking time, where I would set aside an hour each day to organize thoughts, plan business development opportunities, and review current cases. Today, that is still done, but on the fly. Receiving and answering about 120 emails a day changes the speed of work. You have to adjust accordingly.
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is more memorable for certain reasons?
JK: I am cautious to name names, but I am proud to say I still have clients that I have represented since the 1980s. We literally have grown up together and gone through a life cycle of the business. And through it all, the respect, trust, admiration, and intellectual challenges have made the practice of labor law extremely rewarding. For many of these clients, we have protected their very existence, avoided certain defeats, and advanced the best interests of the enterprise beyond any expectation. These are indeed my favorites.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? Or, how do you think others see you?
JK: I am a business person who happens to provide legal advice in the field of labor law. This requires an immediate understanding of the rules of the game, and wide peripheral vision to apply it prospectively. I am playing business chess every day. I am always mindful of the reaction to the move, anticipating the response, and the counteraction - and the response to that. Every end is a means to another end. And on, and on.
LD: Can you share some strategic plans for your practice or firm in the coming months or years?
JK: I have had the privilege of developing a Master Class in Labor Relations and Employment Law which Baker Hostetler has fully embraced. It is an annual high-end review and analysis of the most important labor relations and employment law issues of the day. The sessions are developed right from the headlines affecting the workplace and the rule of law. It is a very practical program for clients, prospective clients, and new clients. This will always be a cornerstone of my practice. It is incredibly rewarding and successful.
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