Boston And New England - Law Firms A National Employment And Labor Law Firm Takes Hold In Boston

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews David C. Casey, Managing Partner at Littler Mendelson, P.C.'s Boston office.

Editor: Mr. Casey, would you tell our readers something about your career?

Casey: Following law school I clerked for a year with the Massachusetts Appeals Court. After a short stint with a small civil rights and criminal defense firm, I started my own firm and gradually began to focus in the labor and employment area. Over time this evolved from a practice representing primarily plaintiffs to one representing defendants exclusively. By 1999 I had developed a number of Fortune 100 client relationships, and I needed access to greater resources than were then available to me. I moved my practice to what was then known as Bingham Dana, a very fine Boston firm with national aspirations. I was there for some four and a half years. During this time Littler Mendelson was very successfully expanding what historically had been a West Coast practice to the national level, a development I observed with interest. I accepted an offer to start their Boston office, and I was fortunate enough to be able to recruit some very fine lawyers for the office. We are now a year into it and constitute a group of 11 lawyers handling labor and employment work for national, regional and local clients.

Editor: Would you tell us something about the firm's San Francisco origins and its evolution over the years?

Casey: Littler Mendelson started as a small group of lawyers back in the 1940's with an emphasis on traditional labor work on behalf of management. Over time, and with the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts in the 1960s, the firm broadened its practice to include employment-related counseling and the defense of clients in discrimination cases. In the 1970s Littler decided to move to a national platform but to retain a focus on labor and employment work. During these years the firm grew from a small San Francisco-based operation to one with more than 400 lawyers operating out of 28 offices across the country. The firm is, in fact, developing an international practice as well.

Editor: Can you tell us about the firm's decision to establish a presence in Boston? What were the things that made Boston attractive?

Casey: Boston is one of the larger markets in the country for legal work. It has a diversified economy, and certain sectors are particularly strong, including financial services, high technology, life sciences, healthcare, professional services, education, hospitality and tourism, and traditional manufacturing. It also has a robust retail industry. This is a market that Littler was anxious to penetrate for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the city's attraction for international clients. Boston is a part of the firm's international strategy.

Editor: How does the Boston office connect to the rest of the firm?

Casey: By virtue of its firm-wide investments in knowledge management technology and knowledge management practices Littler Mendelson's offices connect seamlessly, and the personnel and resources of all of the offices are available to each office. We staff our projects on the basis of expertise, not on where people are located. As an example, I am currently working on a national wage and hour class action for a company with headquarters in Massachusetts and a nationwide retail presence. It has been sued in the Northern District of California, and I am calling upon colleagues in both California and Texas, including the co-chair of our National Class Action Prevention and Defense Practice Group, Alan King. In addition to being a practicing attorney, Alan is a Ph.D labor economist, which gives you an idea of the depth and sophistication Littler enjoys in our various practice areas. This depth is available to all of the firm's offices.

Editor: Littler Mendelson is new to Boston. How does a firm that is identified with San Francisco go about announcing its presence in Boston?

Casey: Littler chose to enter the Boston market and establish a presence here not by bringing in lawyers from California or Florida or Texas, but rather by recruiting a group of lawyers already established in Boston. This group comes to Littler from four of the premier commercial law firms in the city, and we have deep roots in the Boston market. We are involved in a variety of civic and community activities as well, including undertakings with the various bar associations, the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and numerous non-profit and charitable organizations, all of which has helped Littler hit the ground running.

Editor: Diversity, and particularly corporate diversity, is a matter of great importance for your practice and for that of the firm. Can you give us an overview of workplace diversity as of 2005?

Casey: I think that the briefs filed by the various amicae in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases - which encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court to understand the importance of diversity in our culture - was a watershed moment. Those briefs reflected the fact that sophisticated corporate America accepts diversity not simply as a moral aspiration but also as a business imperative. As of 2005 the movement toward embracing diversity in the workplace as part of an overall business strategy, in terms of both its national and global implications, is gaining remarkable momentum.

Editor: What, in your view, are the elements that make up a sound corporate diversity program?

Casey: It starts with an understanding of the importance of diversity and a fundamental commitment to it at the level of the governing board and the CEO. It is essential that people at the top be genuinely invested in diversity, and the best evidence of such an investment is for the company's senior leadership to appoint and empower someone to transform the concept into reality.

Beyond that kickoff point a good diversity program might take many forms. A careful statistical analysis of the demographics, hiring practices, performance evaluation metrics and processes, and of course the compensation and promotion patterns, are necessary to a good program, and the lessons learned from this can be incorporated in any number of ways. What all good programs have in common, however, is an acceptance that diversity is about valuing people from different segments of our society and about hiring, mentoring, promoting and deploying them to help the business maximize its connection to those different segments of society. A generation ago a company wishing to sell life insurance probably employed white middle-aged males to do it because the heads of households interested in such products tended to be white middle-aged males. Today many households in our society are headed by persons who are neither white nor male. If the company is going to make headway in such a market it must have people in its employ who understand the needs of and connect with the people who constitute that market. And what is true of America is, of course, even more true in the global marketplace. If a company is thinking of its diversity initiatives along these lines - as among the most fundamental drivers of its business strategy - it is well ahead of the curve.

There was a time, of course, when companies worried about what they had to do to comply with affirmative action guidelines. We are well beyond that today. Sophisticated companies now look to match their business goals with their hiring and their mentoring practices, and this is a very sensible response to the demographic changes in our society and the extraordinary shift of purchasing power into a variety of demographic sectors. Companies must be proactive in this regard if they are to penetrate all available markets effectively as well as recruit and retain the workforce necessary for them to develop and sustain those relationships.

Editor: Globalization has exposed the American economy to intense competition. American education and training, arguably, may not be enabling us to meet that competition. What is the answer here?

Casey:Our nation's economic success has been the result of our creativity in meeting competition. On the international stage today, a number of our competitors have taken a page from our book, and in order to meet the challenge American business is going to have to locate and recruit talent from a variety of sources at home and abroad. Littler Mendelson's global migration practice is focused on helping clients move people across borders, not simply to and from the U.S. but between Asia, Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.This is part of the response to the challenge that globalization represents, and it is important to recognize that globalization is here to stay. To succeed, American business must embrace it.

Editor: You have spent considerable time on what is referred to as the skilled worker shortage. Would you tell us about this situation?

Casey:This is an issue that is part legal, part political. I am not certain that people in Washington understand the magnitude of the problem and how quickly it is accelerating. If we are going to sustain our economy at its present level - let alone attempt to strengthen it - our immigration policies, with particular reference to the shortages we are experiencing with certain worker skills, are going to have to be addressed.

Editor: Is a desire to enhance diversity and a sense of inclusion in the American workplace hindering our ability to compete in the global economy?

Casey: My intuition tells me that those companies which have been most successful in embracing diversity are precisely those which are most successful in integrating their businesses into the international marketplace. A company which has embraced diversity and possesses a diverse workforce is positioned to communicate with people from a variety of cultures and, accordingly, is much better suited to manage relationships with businesses in other countries than one which has remained one-dimensional.

Editor: What about the future? Where do you see workplace diversity going over the next few years?

Casey: I think workplace diversity is going to accelerate. More and more employers are coming to realize how important diversity is to their success. At the same time people from diverse backgrounds who entered the workforce in the last 10 or 15 years are now coming into positions of leadership. Their presence at senior levels will serve to increase the momentum of the diversity imperative and to implement it in a less cautious and more natural way.

Editor: And your practice? Where would you like to see the Boston office of Littler Mendelson in, say, five years?

Casey: We will be about 25 lawyers, and we will draw on the full resources of our national practice to provide one-stop shopping, if you will, for all our clients' global employment and labor needs.After being with Littler Mendelson for just one year, I am convinced that maintaining focus on one area of practice - and attempting to do the work in that area better than anyone else - and doing it across a national platform makes enormous strategic sense and results in the highest level of service for our clients.

Please email the interviewee at dcasey@littler.com with questions about this interview.