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Thursday, December 11, 2014

7 Career Questions with Labor & Employment In-House Counsel, Mike Winters ‘05

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

One of the best ways to figure out what type of law you want to practice is to speak to a professional in the field to find out what a day in the life of a lawyer is really like. This week we are grateful for 2005 alum Mike Winters, Corporate Counsel, Labor and Employment/Compliance Analyst at Wayne J. Griffin Electric, Inc. for taking the time to answer 7 Career Questions.

  1. What interested you in this area of law?
    Shortly after graduation, a friend asked me to be a volunteer juror for him at an MCLE course on trial practice. At the end of the day, the Superior Court judge teaching the course offered some career advice to us. He suggested that we incorporate employment law into our careers as it was a growing, changing, and unfailingly interesting field of law. Over time, many factors have guided me to this practice, but his advice has rung true.  
  2. In your role, what are your duties and responsibilities?
    There are many, including advising the company on applicable legal updates, ensuring that our practices comply with new and existing laws alike, managing litigation/outside counsel, lending assistance to all departments in the company. One of the great things about working in-house is that each day is unique. 
  3. What do you enjoy about your line of work?
    There are many things I enjoy, but some that jump out would be the variety and my team. There are new challenges each week, which means I am always growing and developing my knowledge and skills. I find it very rewarding that my work, with Human Resources and others, allows the company to avoid potential litigation and other legal matters that would be costly distractions from the company’s real objectives.
  4. What do you find challenging about your line of work?
    The transition from working in a law firm to being an in-house counsel can be a challenge. As an associate in a law firm, there is a road map to follow, at least to some degree. You have a certain number of cases at a given time, and each case has a procedural trajectory from complaint, charge or demand letter through trial or settlement. Moving in-house, you are managing outside counsel and perhaps handling administrative claims, but your time is also divided among many other responsibilities. You are wearing many “hats” and “success” can have different meanings. It is a challenge, but one that I enjoy.
  5. What skills and experience are most valued in this area of law?
    Knowledge of the laws and procedures are always of great value. But beyond that, particularly for employment law, I would say the ability to listen and understand another person’s perspective. When I was in private practice, the mediation of an employment claim often revealed new characteristics of the claim. I was always interested to learn the root cause of the conflict. Often times, I would hear that the real “problem” was not directly related to the specific cause(s) of action.
  6. How did you get your first job after law school?
    By keeping positive. Landing an entry-level legal job was a challenge in 2005, and I know that today it is no different. Due to some unique circumstances, I was still job hunting even after being sworn in. But through contacts and perseverance, I found myself working for a small law firm in Boston. I worked hard and represented our clients well. We had a diverse case load, so I was always learning. With only three lawyers in the firm, I was fortunate enough to regularly appear in court and even win a jury trial in my first year.
  7. What advice would you give your 1L self about how to create a successful legal career?
    Be your best wherever you are at any stage in your career. You will face both personal and professional challenges. But if you work hard and find a way to succeed where you are, you will find there is no one path to where you want to be.

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