Labor of love . . .


 Employment attorney a ‘lawyer for lawyers’

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In an early job as manager of a Mediation/Arbitration Program for the Better Business Bureau, Linda Burwell trained individuals — many of them attorneys — as mediators and arbitrators.

Deciding a law degree would give her additional skills, she earned her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School, but with no intention of a career in a law office.

That plan flew out the window when Burwell clerked for a law firm; exhilarated by the excitement of litigation, she found herself gravitating to employment cases. 

“I grew up working in a 24/7 family business and appreciated the differences in employees and what they have to offer,” she said. “Employment law gave me the opportunity to work with business clients to solve problems and help them creatively resolve issues while building relationships between businesses and their employees.”  

That passion led to almost two decades of building Nemeth Burwell, P.C., a certified women-owned employment and labor defense firm; and to her current niche as a solo employment law consultant. “I had a nice run and built a nice practice as the co-owner of a labor and employment firm, but with my marketing and development duties, I wasn’t able to work as closely with my clients as I liked,” she explained. “I also saw the trend of needing independent investigators to conduct workplace investigations in more situations and on a more regular basis.”  

Burwell launched National Employment Counsel, PLLC last year so she could personally work with her in-house counsel, law firm, and insurance clients. A nationally recognized employment law expert with over 25 years experience, who has successfully overseen hundreds of investigations, including those of CEOs, presidents, CFOs, board members, and other executives, she specializes in workplace investigations, mediation, monitoring and consulting — and is quickly becoming known as “the lawyer for lawyers.”

“When they hire National Employment Counsel, PLLC, they are hiring my personal services. It’s a perfect blend of my talents,” she noted. “While other employment law firms offer one or more of these services, they are still a law firm that engages in the same business as the lawyer who needs the service.  Often times a lawyer or law firm is not comfortable hiring a competitor. I offer very limited specialized services so I’m not in the same wheelhouse as those lawyers who hire me.”    

Being an independent is proving invaluable to her clients, she notes. 

“I’m discovering law firms are more likely to confide in me knowing I’m not a competing law firm,” Burwell said. “Also, law firms, like any other business, have employment issues and I’ve been called in to assist them with those issues.”

She has long believed the practice of law is changing and that — like so many other professionals – should be able to work remotely or in a more flexible manner. 

The type of work she provides is often based on limited consulting matters or short projects, such as a mediation or investigation — work that in contrast to a large litigation matter, is not ideal for a typical firm focused on billable hours. 

“This type of work is best accomplished outside of the traditional law firm setting,” she explained.

A prompt and thorough investigation of employee complaints is often the best defense to discrimination and retaliation charges, she noted — especially in light of the Supreme Court expanding the definition of what it means for an employee to complain, and upholding liability for an employer’s failure to properly investigate those complaints.

She has served as panel counsel to numerous insurance companies writing Employment Practices Liability Insurance since the inception of EPLI; has been recognized as an expert on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the EEOC, and is an independent mediator for that agency.

Burwell, who monitors the EEOC and other governmental agencies daily, says these entities are increasingly more aggressive.

She was the only defense attorney invited by the EEOC to testify in Washington at a hearing to discuss the agency’s investigation and conciliation processes now at the forefront of many cases and challenges. 

“Companies who hire National Employment Counsel, PLLC for mediation, investigations and consulting get the benefit of my experience,” she said. “I’m most proud of the matters in which I’m able to walk in and creatively resolve contentious disputes prior to and during litigation.”

Mediation allows parties an opportunity to resolve issues as opposed to creating more obstacles between or amongst them, she notes. 

“It’s becoming increasingly important and will become more and more important the more expensive litigation becomes and the longer it takes to get through the litigation process,” she said. “I enjoy mediation because I’m able to hone in and learn what each party wants and then with the help of the parties, come up with creative ways to get them to their goals.”

Her track record speaks for itself: in more than 25 years counseling employers on terminations, disciplines, violence, claims of hostile work environment, discrimination, requests for accommodations, and more, only one client had ensuing litigation — and that case was settled with the plaintiff agreeing to walk away with zero.

Due to many years as panel counsel to insurance companies who write EPLI, Burwell knows how to value employment cases — one of several ways she saves clients time and money. 

Because of her extensive experience, she is able to quickly grasp relevant issues and her fees reflect her lower overhead than a traditional law firm. 

Burwell also will represent companies and/or insurance representatives at pre-discovery facilitations, mediations, settlement conferences, pre-trial conferences, and trials.

Employment cases and issues are by their very nature, emotionally charged, she said.  

“Due to social media, these very private issues are sometimes being broadcast to the public instantaneously,” she said. “I often train companies on these issues. One presentation, ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll,’ dealt with employee off duty activities that spilled over to the workplace.”

Another catchy course name guaranteed to get attention is “Hey Get Outta My Face…Book: Emerging Theories of Liability Arising From Social Media in the Workplace.”

Burwell’s training has been pre-approved for continuing legal education credits (CLEs) and continuing education credits (CEs) for lawyers, managers, human resources directors, .

Meanwhile, she is one of few attorneys who has developed and conducted mandatory training required by EEOC Consent Orders for hundreds of managers.

On the board of virectors and a very active member of The National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), Burwell is an ABA Foundation Fellow and is recognized in the Best Lawyers in America, Chambers USA.

She also has been been recognized as one of  Michigan’s Super Lawyers, Leaders in the Law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, Top 50 Female Lawyers in Michigan, Top Lawyers by DBusiness Magazine and was honored with a lifetime achievement award for Women in Leadership from the Michigan Business & Professional Association.

Burwell and Richard Saslow, a corporate attorney and her husband of 26 years, live in Pleasant Ridge, in Oakland County. 

Their five children range from college age on up; three have followed in their parents’ footsteps, with two becoming lawyers and one starting law school this fall.  

In her leisure time, the Belleville native enjoys spending time with family and friends; visiting northern Michigan and participating in all its outdoor activities, traveling and reading as well as sitting on various nonprofit boards. 

Burwell is looking forward to Thanksgiving when she serves as a distinguished clown in Detroit’s annual Macy’s parade. 

“My husband and I agreed to participate with friends in this fund-raiser for one year,” she said. “After seeing the looks on the faces of the children in the crowd, it’s now an annual tradition.”