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Stewart Manela has seen many changes in his job even though he’s spent his entire 40-year legal career at Arent Fox in Washington.
“We basically are never away from work” now, Manela told Bloomberg Law Nov. 2. Because of “the freedom that we all have to work from any location,” lawyers are expected to be available “whether you’re at home in your study or walking with a tour group through the Vatican,” he said.
“The definition of a large firm” has changed during those decades, the management-side labor and employment partner said. The 100-plus lawyers that Arent Fox had when he arrived qualified the firm as a big one, but “now that doesn’t qualify for midsize,” Manela said. Furthermore, Washington had “a handful of large homegrown firms” in the 1970s, but now almost every major law firm in the country has an office in Washington, he said. “The multi-city practice” has become standard.
Manela also recalled that law firms used to set up their libraries with great care. Now, law libraries are much smaller because “everything is at our fingertips” through various technological devices. “If you’re here on WiFi or in your hotel in Tel Aviv,” it’s possible to find the necessary resources. This is “one of the most significant changes in the way we practice,” he said.
Worklaw used to involve fewer types of cases, with lawyers concentrating on the National Labor Relations Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Manela said. “Back in the ‘70s when I started, there was a lot more union management in the practice” of labor and employment law, but now practices that deal only with labor relations law are “a vanishing breed,” he said. “Wage hour was a tiny part of what employment lawyers did. It just blossomed in the last 10 years or so.”
The portion of Arent Fox’s federal court appearances allocated to employment cases during the past year was 8.1 percent, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics feature.
Furthermore, economic pressures no longer end when an attorney lands a client. Instead, an attorney must ensure that the firm handles the client’s matter cost-effectively, Manela said. “The demand that work be done economically and efficiently becomes greater every day.” Clients’ newfound “willingness to experiment with different lawyers” means that lawyers “have to be smart and efficient.”
Many of Manela’s clients are government contractors, which means they are subject to additional rules. “President Obama was a great believer in using the authority of the executive to impose obligations and special conditions on federal contractors that didn’t apply to others,” Manela said.
Another of his clients is the Washington Capitals ice hockey team, for which he has handled workers’ compensation matters.
Manela’s first trial involved a claim of race discrimination brought by a black employee against a black supervisor who worked for a nonprofit organization that Manela represented. The case “was the first time I am aware of that the D.C. Circuit awarded attorneys’ fees to a private employer Title VII defendant,” Manela told Bloomberg Law in a Nov. 7 e-mail.
In other cases, Manela won a $4.8 million judgment for a client after a monthlong jury trial in a noncompete case and nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees in a contract dispute. His arguments also established precedents involving the statute of limitations and punitive damages awards in cases involving the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
For a few years, Manela shared his experience with law students at George Mason University, where he was an adjunct professor of labor relations. He enjoyed the challenge of teaching labor law to students who had never seen a picket line. But he stopped teaching to make more time for American Bar Association activities.
Manela is a prominent member of the ABA’s Section of Labor and Employment Law. He has served as section chair and is still active on the section council.
He also belongs to Bloomberg Law’s Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that will enable Bloomberg Law to create products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers.
Manela is also on the board of the D.C. Jewish Community Center. In addition, he does pro bono legal work for nonprofit organizations.
The attorney traces his interest in law to the Vietnam War protests he saw during college at the University of Wisconsin. “Legal issues coming out of it were in our face all the time,” Manela said. He studied political science and journalism and briefly considered becoming a film director or a broadcaster. Instead, the “big impact” of his constitutional law professor influenced him to attend law school.
Manela went to The George Washington University Law School, which offered numerous labor law courses. He took several and got “hooked,” finding “the economic warfare” and the First Amendment issues “intriguing.”
Manela attributes his negotiating skills to his father, a Holocaust survivor. Manela grew up in Pittsburgh, where he watched his father happily haggle over prices as he had in his native Poland.
Manela’s family now includes three adult children and six grandchildren. He bought a vacation house in Rehoboth Beach in Delaware so they could all get together frequently.
The proud grandfather photographs his grandchildren at the beach and then paints renditions of his photos. He also enjoys bicycle riding.
In addition, he listens to audiobooks and reads classic novels, science fiction, and alternative history. “I usually have four or five books that I’m reading” at once, he said.
Despite all the changes that have occurred in the legal profession since Manela entered the arena, the goals remain the same, he observed. “The way we accomplish what we need to accomplish has changed, but what we need to accomplish has not.”
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