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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. In the United States, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for six consecutive years. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.

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Law firms remain active in advising on the increasingly complex mix of federal, state and local employment laws across the US, as the Trump administration brings about changes to regulatory, legislative and enforcement environments. Many states and cities have promulgated jurisdiction-specific laws affecting many policies and procedures of US companies relating to hiring, leaves of absence, accommodation of pregnancy and religion, new protected classes of applicants and employees, and additional requirements regarding engagement of independent contractors and pay practices; and these often differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

At the federal level, the Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Office of Federal Contract Compliance have proposed numerous new regulations and guidance documents, which has led to an increase in compliance work, policy drafting and training advice. Employers are creating workplace and hiring policies that prevent discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in response to a focus of the EEOC. The #metoo movement has also spiked a significant increase in related work, with employers seeking anti-harassment and prevention training and policies as firms report an uptick in harassment claims due to the allegations being asserted against well-known public figures.

New pay equality laws and regulations are forcing employers to balance pay equality and reasonable business practices for salary determinations. There has also been increased litigation concerning website accessibility in accordance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to review its public accommodations policies.

Class action mandates relating to wage and hour disputes, challenges to joint-employer status, the misclassification of employees and pay equity cases remain prevalent.

In notable firm news, McDermott Will & Emery LLP made a big splash in March 2018 by launching a standalone employment practice. The team, which comprises 10 new partners and one counsel, will be led by the former chair of DLA Piper LLP (US)’s labor and employment practice, Michael Sheehan.

The Trump administration has been filling spots on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) - including the general counsel role - with conservative officials who will undoubtedly attempt to reverse the precedents and attitudes established under Obama. Where many firms during the Obama era identified a ‘pro-union bias’ in labor-management disputes, many are now expecting a swing towards a more management-friendly environment.

The main point of discussion in the employee benefits and executive compensation space was the Trump administration’s tax reform bill. While the version of the bill that was ratified did not have the fundamentally transformative effect it could have had, it still had a significant impact on fringe benefits and brought into question the implications of section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), which prohibits publicly held companies from deducting more than $1m per year in compensation paid to employees.

Clients have also been seeking advice with regard to multi-employer plans and healthcare regulations. On the transactional front, many firms reported a steady uptick in M&A activity; this was particularly true in the private equity space, and in public M&A there were a number of eye-catching deals in the media and entertainment sector, including Time Warner’s acquisition by AT&T and Discovery’s takeover of Scripps Networks.

In terms of ERISA litigation, firms reported a deflation in the pressure applied by the plaintiff bar on the ‘church plans’ front after the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2017 stating that a pension need not be established by a church to be recognized as an ERISA-exempt 'church plan'. A small group of firms continue to receive a steady stream of work from the class actions which continue to preoccupy nonprofit organizations, particularly universities, with regard to their 403(b) plans. While excessive fee litigation suits are still commonplace, stock-drop litigation seems to have slowed slightly.

Under the Trump administration, immigration policy has seen a steady stream of restrictions and major changes. One of the key events in 2017 was the President’s passing of the controversial ‘travel ban’ executive orders. The first order barred entry into the US for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and suspended the US Refugee Admissions Programme for 120 days. The second, which was intended to revoke and replace the first, established limits on travel to the US from certain countries and by refugees who do not possess either a visa or valid travel documents. A second key event was President Trump’s announcement in September 2017 of the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation implemented by President Obama; the program gave protection to young undocumented immigrants in the US.

Against this backdrop of controversy and uncertainty, immigration practices reported a steep increase in visa and citizenship application processing as clients sought to ensure their resident status complied with the new restrictions and extreme vetting procedures for all types of visas. Compliance work continued to increase, as companies prepared for more rigorous auditing procedures and immigration regulations as a defence strategy against the lack of stability caused by the rapid changes in immigration policy. Due diligence work remained a key area of activity, as companies increasingly took more of a direct role in ensuring that all key non-US personnel are legally secured. To tackle the challenging market, there were trends in the immigration space for firms to focus on compliance aspects in their advice to clients, find more creative ways to assist clients with establishing their legal residence in the US, and make sure their practices have the capability to tackle the full spread of immigration issues that have arisen as a result of the unpredictable environment - or that are likely to.

Despite the constant changes in the sphere, the law firm market remains a dynamic combination of major international immigration law specialists such as Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP and Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy; smaller boutiques such as Foster LLP and Chin & Curtis LLP; labor and employment law specialists such as Ogletree Deakins and Jackson Lewis P.C.; and full-service firms with a long track record in labor and employment work such as Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, Seyfarth Shaw LLP and Proskauer Rose LLP.

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