A lawyer and a writer walk into a bar...My chat with Louis Lessig, #SHRM17 speaker

When you schedule a talk with an employment lawyer who is speaking at #SHRM17, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get. I mean, sure, you’ll get an expert in his field who knows a lot about employment law and how it impacts HR professionals. But these meetings are typically at least an hour long. Good lord, what if he’s BORING?

Well, rest assured, Lou Lessig is anything but boring. He most certainly IS an expert in his field, having done all sorts of impressive, lawyerly things. Check out his official bio:

Louis R. Lessig is a Partner in the law firm of Brown & Connery, LLP. His practice concentrates in labor and employment counseling, litigation and training. He regularly represents clients in state and federal court as well as before multiple administrative agencies. Mr. Lessig speaks across the nation on issues related to his practice area, as well as regularly writing articles that appear in publications nationwide. Every year since 2012 he was recognized as a Super Lawyer in Labor and Employment by his peers. In 2010, Mr. Lessig was selected by the New Jersey Law Journal as one of the “Top 40 Attorneys Under 40” in New Jersey. Mr. Lessig was also selected as a Delaware Valley Human Resources Consultant of the Year Nominee in 2010. He also co-authored the 2002 supplement to “Drafting and Revising Employment Policies and Handbooks” published by Aspen Publications. Mr. Lessig is an active volunteer at the state and local level. Mr. Lessig is the Legislative Affairs Director for Garden State Council – SHRM. As a member of Tri-State HRMA, he serves on their board as it’s President and is legislative chair.

SUPER. LAWYER. I can only assume a cape came with the honor.

The great news is all that smartness and expertise is packaged in a human being who likes to connect with the people he is trying to instruct. This will be Lou’s 10th SHRM National Conference in a row - his first was in Las Vegas in 2007. When I asked him what it was that keeps him coming back to share his knowledge with HR professionals, he said, “HR folks are more fun than other audiences - they have a better sense of humor, are more outgoing.” And even more telling about Lou’s approach to presenting, he calls HR “the family that you choose, rather than the family that you’re stuck with.”

Lou Lessig’s big presentation is The Top 10 Employment Cases of 2017 on 06/19/2017 from 7:00 AM - 8:15 AM. (Yes, that’s AM. As in morning.) The early session time doesn’t scare him off - in fact, he loves it. He sees it as a fantastic opportunity to grab his audience’s attention; reminding them of what they SHOULD be doing, or sharing the new thing that they didn’t know they needed to be worried about. His goal is to make it engaging for the people so they remember things.

The conversation shifted into his session topic, and Lou’s enthusiasm for “The Top 10” approach is apparent. “Every year is a whole new batch of crazy - there is no limit to what employees will do.” With the abundance of cases to choose from, I asked Lou how he can possibly pick just 10 to feature in his session. Lou said he focuses on looking for trends - What are things of interest? Is there an issue about to smack HR in the head with? Also, is there a case that is an important issue that is good to remind people about? He tries to tailor the cases to his audience, so for SHRM he looks at FMLA, FLSA, ADA, and anything big on the state level that could become a national issue (think “paid leave”).

Because employment law involves people, you never really know what you’re going to get. Sometimes there are issues that catch Lou off guard when he’s reading an article, or sees an employee who he can’t believe they tried that, so he tries to incorporate it into his session.

“Bad facts make bad law,” said Lou, “but makes GREAT theatre.”

I asked Lou whether the recent election and goings on in Washington, DC impact the way he selects his cases. “Three things you’re not supposed to talk about - no religion, no politics, no kids,” explained Lou (even though he admits that 9 out of 10 times, his kids make the slide deck). Lou tends to avoid religion, but thinks the the political arena is too prevalent to ignore. “You have to really think about what organizations are faced with - do this, don’t do this. This is law, oh wait...hold on.” In short, it can be tough. (Quick aside: During the conversation, Lou referenced a number of conversations he’s had around this topic and name drops Cory Booker like it ain’t no thing.)

Lou views that this administration is more about pushing issues down to the states - which makes it challenging for HR professionals to look for guidance. And to top that off, different federal departments are putting forth conflicting advice on the same topics, so it’s hard to advise the people who have to work on these issues.

Because you can NEVER talk employment law with a lawyer and NOT ask this question, I asked Lou what his favorite case was, thinking it would be something juicy and hysterical. Not quite. Apparently, Lou was in DC at the Supreme Court to move some fellow Camden Bar Association members in to be sworn in and argue before the Supreme Court. And as luck would have it, that was the very day that SCOTUS issued their decision on the WalMart case in June 2011. Lou had the opportunity to watch Justice Scalia read the decision, not 15 feet away from him. It was an indelible moment he will never forget.

So many other things were discussed in our conversation, but ultimately, it was time to bring it to a close. When I asked if there was anything else he wanted to add, Lou shared, “We love what we do because the average person would NEVER believe what we deal with on a day to day basis - and we think it’s incredibly entertaining.”

If you get a chance, go and see Lou Lessig’s session at SHRM. And be sure to catch him on the SMART Stage, where he’ll conduct a brief FLSA Jeopardy session. He will not disappoint you. How do I know? Because Lou said this to me, several times during our conversation, “I’m not perfect, I just try.” And if that doesn’t sound like a perfect match for HR, I don’t know what does.



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