On November 3, the Labor & Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association awarded the prestigious Frances Perkins Public Service Award to New York-based Outten & Golden LLP at the Section’s annual meeting in Seattle. The Section recognized the firm’s unique approach to running a law firm that incorporates public interest and pro bono work as an integral part of its business model.
Outten & Golden exclusively represents employees in individual matters and class actions. The firm’s core practice is built on advising and representing clients in transactional matters with their employers and partners, handling discrimination and retaliation claims, and litigating class and collective actions. The firm's practice areas are varied and include Executives & Professionals, Financial Services, LGBT, Discrimination & Retaliation, Sexual Harassment and Sex Discrimination, Disabilities and Leaves, WARN, and Class Actions. With that focus, it's no surprise that many of the firm's attorneys come from public interest backgrounds. "Many of O&G's senior attorneys came of age during the civil rights era and are proud to be part of that legacy," says Kathleen Peratis, a partner at the firm and chair of its Public Interest Committee. “Our associates continue that tradition while still taking part in the business and challenge of working in private practice."
O&G's Public Interest Committee gives those associates plenty of opportunity to do pro bono work. The committee, comprised mainly of junior attorneys, has blanket authority to evaluate and accept pro bono and contingency cases. Attorneys at the firm are encouraged to work on these cases and receive creditable hours for working on them. Outten & Golden’s public interest work also supports its regular practice. For example, in 2009, Outten & Golden joined with A Better Balance to launch the Families at Work legal clinic, which provides free advice to low- and middle-income New Yorkers juggling work and family responsibilities. Drawing on an array of different laws, including protections for disabled workers, family leave entitlements, and antidiscrimination laws, the clinic's attorneys help working people understand and defend their rights as caregivers. In turn, some visitors to the clinic become regular clients of O&G. Others become supporters of A Better Balance’s advocacy work for improved protections for working families.
"Frances Perkins was the first woman appointed to a Presidential Cabinet position, as FDR's Secretary of Labor. Almost 80 years later, women have made progress in the workplace, but are still expected to take on a disproportionate role as caregivers." says Reena Arora, O&G's Public Interest Fellow. "The Families at Work clinic is about supporting women and men who have to balance those obligations."
Outten & Golden also provides financial and volunteer support to a range of other organizations. Its Appellate Litigation practice group assists nonprofit and advocacy organizations in submitting amicus curiae briefs on important employment-related issues. It advises advocacy organizations on legislation, particularly through its Whistleblower & Retaliation and Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Workplace Rights practice groups. The firm also contributes a portion of its gross revenues to workplace rights organizations and supports individual giving by its employees through a contribution-matching program.
"We're proud to have built a law firm that strives to do good while doing well," says managing partner Wayne Outten. "It's been part of our vision from the beginning."