My practice area is a very tight niche, and explaining it to colleagues sometimes means getting into very tall weeds. Odd conversations tend to follow my CLE lectures. Or bar association happy hours. Or tours of farwaway legislative chambers.
I’ll describe what I do, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I illustrated, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince herself (or himself) that our practice areas don’t overlap.
Oh, but they do, I promise you. The banter usually goes something like this:
Sorry, Aaron. I handle employment law, not immigration. But thanks for doing that CLE. You’re a funny guy.
Well, I appreciate that. I’m glad you enjoyed it. (Inside my head: Funny how? I’m a clown? I amuse you?)
No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of Ned Stark into your slide deck!
Hang on a second… first of all, immigration? You’re kidding, right? You did just sit through my lecture on international law, right? Those are not the same concepts. (She’s not kidding, sadly.*)
More importantly, though, what I do has direct bearing on your employment practice. A huge impact, especially in a global economy where operations are directed from far-flung headquarters around the world. Allow me to illustrate…
Let’s say your client, a gay Latino with a disability, works for a large retail chain that specializes in low-cost furniture and home products.** Let’s also say that the employer provides a unique shopping experience and wonderfully tasty meatballs that are available to take home from a freezer located right next to a pallet of picture frames and window blinds. Your client has been harassed for one reason or another, but his pleas to local supervisors and the company’s management team all the way up to the mothership have gone unanswered. The abuse continues, and in the hope of vindicating the poor fellow’s rights, you take his case.
But who do you sue? Well, the U.S. subsidiary that runs the store, of course. The harassers & managers individually. They’re pretty easy to identify as culprits. Ah, but what of the off-shore mothership? The one in Scandinavia, where the meatball was perfected?
Yes, you name the parent company as a defendant, too. Just because they aren’t here doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the problem. But now things get interesting, because you have to properly serve the parent company where it resides. In this hypothetical, let’s “say” it’s headquartered in Sweden (wink wink, nudge nudge).
You’ll have to translate the service documents into Swedish (setting aside the fact that Swedes speak better English that I do). You’ll have to fill out your USM-94 correctly (that’s a big one– very important, the USM-94). And you’ll have to wait the three or four months it usually takes to get a proof of service back from Stockholm. Odds are, you’ll get a call from opposing counsel to discuss settlement before you even receive the proof, but if you don’t even try to properly serve the mothership…
* A huge segment of the practicing bar thinks that international law is immigration law, and immigration law is international law. My local bar association even conflates the two ideas in its committee structure. This is so baffling that both the international lawyers and the immigration lawyers in town have given up trying to convince everybody else.
** Disclaimer: I love Ikea— especially those Swedish meatballs that are finally available in Kansas City. I know of no situation in which a disabled gay Latino employee has been harassed at an Ikea store, and I imagine that a company born in Sweden would take a very dim view of such treatment of its employees. Its inclusion here is for illustrative purposes only.