Lawyers Should Mind Their Clients’ Business, HR-Pro Turned Attorney Says

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

Mark Neuberger, a labor and employment counsel at Foley & Lardner’s Miami office, doesn’t think lawyers should only handle legal issues. They also need to consider their clients’ business situations.

“If you just want to be a legal scholar,” he said, “you’re not going to be an effective counselor.” Clients want their problems “fixed,” Neuberger told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 29, so a lawyer’s advice should take into account the business implications. “If you view what we do as just legal, I don’t think you’re delivering the full service,” he said.

Many people from Latin America come to Miami to start businesses, he said, and often arrive with “assumptions of how things work.” Figuring out what his foreign clients actually need from him “becomes a business problem-solving issue,” he said.

For example, employment contracts are customary for managers in many countries, so foreigners planning to open businesses in the U.S. often try to hire Neuberger to write such documents. They’re surprised to learn that employment contracts aren’t as common here, he said.

Neuberger started practicing law in 1987 and says the pace “has exploded exponentially” since then. In the past, a lawyer might spend a week preparing a contract, but “now they want it by 7 p.m,” he said.

Neuberger is a member of Bloomberg BNA's Labor and Employment Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that will enable Bloomberg Law to create insightful products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers.

Benefits of Technology

Technology can help lawyers keep up with the frenzy. “At Foley, you can’t function unless you’re technologically efficient,” Neuberger said, noting that the firm has invested “huge amounts” in technology.

Neuberger uses Twitter and LinkedIn to stay in touch with the issues that affect his clients and to get “inside their heads,” he said. He belongs to several HR groups on LinkedIn to monitor trending human resources topics.

Neuberger increased his use of technology after the firm’s internal research and reference people said “no more books” and urged him to try electronic alternatives. Foley, like many other law firms, realized that maintaining a huge library “is not the most efficient way to do things anymore,” Neuberger said. “I tend to be a little more technologically efficient than other labor and employment lawyers, but I am not a techie,” he said.

His willingness to try new products led him to become a member of Bloomberg Law’s Labor and Employment Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that facilitates the development of products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers.

Neuberger grew up in New York, the son of immigrants who both belonged to unions. He attended Cornell with a partial scholarship from his father’s union, majoring in labor relations. Originally, he planned to become a union organizer but switched to human resources after interning in the HR office of the ABC broadcasting company.

HR Influence

Neuberger worked for many years in the HR department at PPG Industries, a paint manufacturer, doing “labor relations, EEO, and affirmative action.” Thinking a legal education would help him do his job, he decided to attend night law school at Duquesne. When he won a moot court competition, he got “the bug” to litigate and accepted a job at a law firm. “I figured I’d try it for a year,” he said. “That was 29 years ago.”

Neuberger’s background as an HR professional influences his approach to legal practice. “For 10 years I was a client of people like me,” so he remembers the qualities he sought in his lawyers, he said. “I think I tend to be more practical and results-oriented” than many other lawyers.

“There are things you can’t learn from a book,” such as negotiating a contract with a labor union, he said. “You have to be respectful” during contract bargaining because “when it’s all done, you have to go back and work together.” He said he tries to find a “middle ground” when negotiating. “There are usually a lot of non-economic things” that can be addressed relatively easily, he said.

He also uses his legal skills to benefit the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, serving pro bono as general counsel to the three-day outdoor event that features painters, sculptors, and jewelry makers. In this role, he also acts as “the emcee for the culinary demonstration,” which gives him priority in sampling the food entries.

In his spare time, Neuberger reads nonfiction, especially history. He just finished “Twenty-Six Seconds,” a book about Abraham Zapruder’s film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Next in the queue is a book about former House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Neuberger also follows politics, enjoys traveling, and spends as much time as possible with his five-year-old granddaughter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris in Washington at tharris@bna.com

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