Plaintiffs Bar Perspective: Greenblatt Pierce’s Julie Uebler
Law360, New York (April 3, 2017, 12:42 PM EDT) Julie A. Uebler, a partner at Greenblatt Pierce Funt & Flores LLC in Philadelphia, joined the firm’s employment law practice in January 2017. During her career, Uebler has focused exclusively on employment law, but from different perspectives.
She started practicing as a defense attorney for Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP in Philadelphia, and then moved in-house as employment and benefits counsel to a pharmaceutical company. After her first daughter was born, Uebler started a solo law practice, which was a step she felt confident to take since she had seen her father work as a small-firm and solo practitioner after leaving in-house corporate positions (in intellectual property). Over time, Uebler’s practice expanded to Julie A. Uebler include representation of individuals in employment matters, workplace investigations and mediations.
For the last several years, her work has been devoted almost exclusively to representing plaintiffs in employment matters. Uebler’s varied practice includes assisting C-suite executives in making employment transitions, pursuing discrimination claims on behalf of entry-level employees and everything in between. Now that her daughters are both in middle school, she jumped at the chance to join GPFF and help grow the employment law practice.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of working as a plaintiffs attorney?
A: As a plaintiff-side employment lawyer, I typically represent individuals who are facing some type of crisis in their work life. The most rewarding aspect of advocating for these clients is having the capacity to change the trajectory of that experience. In some situations, resolving a case is life changing for a client. We build relationships with the clients we serve, and it is gratifying to help people get out of a bad situation, and often end up much better off.
Sometimes that means resolving a case early, or negotiating extra severance pay, to help a client avoid the financial disaster that comes from losing a job. Sometimes it means guiding and supporting a client through the process of making a sexual harassment complaint, and then seeing her move on with her career. In every case, we try our best to get relief for our clients when their employment rights have been violated. When we get overwhelmed about our ability to make positive change in our world, particularly in this political climate, it is encouraging to focus on getting justice one client at a time.
Q: Share an example of a case that was particularly challenging, and how you handled it.
A: The most challenging aspect of any case for me is staying focused on our goals during the tedious and often overwhelming process of discovery. We can usually meet the challenge by being proactive, staying organized and being prepared to fight for access to the employer’s records. I handled a high-stakes whistleblower case that turned on our ability to get access to two data sets. The first related to email files for the key players. Although reviewing it felt like looking for that needle in a haystack, we uncovered evidence of a sexual relationship between the decision-maker and the only witness who was corroborating his story. I still remember the day our associate came into my office with the revealing emails, which was a fun surprise.
In the same case, we had to push the third-party company that ran the employer’s compliance hotline to provide us access to its electronic system, and identify a witness who could testify about how it worked. In the document production, we found evidence that the employer’s human resources manager lied in his deposition about when he became aware of our client’s hotline call. Without pushing for the evidence and reviewing it thoroughly, we would have missed out on critical leverage to resolve the case.
Q: What advice would you offer to young lawyers interested in practicing as a plaintiffs attorney?
A: Since I started my career as a defense lawyer, I had the chance to seek out advice on how to be a successful employment attorney “from the other side” when I made the switch. One of the most important things I learned from those discussions was to try cases as often as possible, and don’t be afraid to lose. Most employment cases end up settling. Assuming you have competent counsel on both sides of a case, the ones that get to trial could go either way. Find a client (or several) for whom it’s more important to get his or her day in court than it is to accept a paltry settlement and use that experience to build your skills and confidence in court. In one of those cases that could go either way, I had a client who was not ready to give up his chance to tell his story to the jury in exchange for the negligible amount the defendant was offering in settlement. I expect he would have accepted my recommendation to take the offer, but I wanted the trial experience, and so we put the case in front of the jury. We lost, but we never regretted taking the risk.
When I hung out my shingle as a solo practitioner after leaving a corporate in-house job, I started to slowly get more and more work for individuals. The best advice I received at the time was to run my law office as a business. For those of us doing plaintiff-side work, often on a contingency fee basis, that meant being very careful about the clients and matters we accepted. Given how forcefully some prospective clients will try to convince you to offer free advice, or take on a matter without sufficient merit, you have to be able to firmly and politely say no on a regular basis.
I would also tell young lawyers interested in doing plaintiffs’ work that it is fun to be in the driver’s seat. Except in rare instances when employers were willing to pay for preventative advice and counseling, most of my work as a defense lawyer was reactive. When you are an employment lawyer representing the plaintiff, you are the one creating the case and its momentum. The client might come in feeling like he was fired because of his age, but a thorough interview suggests it was more likely retaliation for his complaint about corporate waste. The facts are the facts, but you build the case. You have the ability to investigate the facts, develop the case strategy, decide when to try to settle, when to push forward in discovery, and what claims to take to trial. For a planner like me, that’s key to my work satisfaction.
Q. What’s one thing defense attorneys don’t understand about practicing as a plaintiffs attorney?
A. Some defense attorneys (and I was one of them) see big settlements or verdicts and think it is “easy” for plaintiffs attorneys to be financially successful. Not true. Making a living as a plaintiffs attorney is very hard, and it is never about one case. Getting to that large settlement or verdict requires a career- long commitment to building a reputation for providing excellent legal services to every client so that when that big case comes up, the client or the referral source will trust you to handle it.
Q: Name a plaintiffs attorney outside your own firm who has impressed you and tell us why.
A. Gloria Allred is a source of inspiration. Throughout her career, Allred has championed civil rights in the workplace, with a particular focus on issues impacting women, including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. As a plaintiffs employment attorney, I need to level the playing field for an individual seeking remedies against large companies and powerful people. Allred is a role model with respect to her skill and determination in achieving justice for her clients from some of the most powerful and well-known people in the world.
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Founded over 20 years ago as an aggressive criminal defense law practice, Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt & Flores is an established, full-service law firm with experienced attorneys skilled in all areas of criminal, employment, personal injury, civil rights, and family law. The firm has offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information on the firm or its attorneys, please see www.gpfflaw.com or contact Ronald Greenblatt at 215.735.1600.