Attorney William Bloch Sheds Insight on the Practice of Employment Law, While Advising the Layperson on the Nuances of the Legal SystemBy Kaylene Peoples | July 6th, 2011 | Category: Human Interest, Law | No Comments »
William Bloch has been practicing law professionally since he graduated from law school in 1987. His practice focuses on employment law, and much of that is on the plaintiff (employee) side. Bloch also has a litigation practice that includes real estate, construction law, etc. Since he started practicing law, he has moved to Beverly Hills, where he has been for most of the last 19 years. The practice encompasses litigation primarily, lawsuits, disputes in state court and federal court involving administrative agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has jurisdiction over things like federal employee disputes.
Having been involved in my own lawsuit for several years, I discovered that the way law is practiced on television and in movies is not at all accurate, especially in regards to expediency, or what I believed was justice. After polling several people who have been involved in legal disputes, mainly civil, I discovered the unanimous consensus was that hindsight is 20/20! If any of us had the choice to do it again, we would all have done things differently. Just as there is a course available to learn how to drive a car, I wish there had been one available to help me deal with my own legal pursuit. Had I been informed about the “real world” legal system, I might have been better equipped to maneuver through the system with far fewer battle scars.
Interviewed by Kaylene Peoples
Responses by William Bloch, Esq.
When you’re dealing with somebody who is in a sexual harassment case or even a rape case that has something to do with employment law, what are some of the challenges?
Well, there are a lot of challenges, but the first thing that happens when you meet with a client is you do not meet with someone who has a full evidenciary record of everything that took place (meaning copies of all of the documents the employee has provided). Typically, you come into a case initially with a limited amount of information your client tells you from her perspective what happened. What she remembers and what she suffered. She probably has some documents that deal with her claims, but maybe not all of them. Typically, she’s going to have at best one or two corroborating witnesses. Sometimes they’re with her to come to the meeting with the lawyer, sometimes not. Sometimes you’re able to get those people on the phone to talk to them. But quite often you have less than all the witnesses. You have less than all the documents. Less than all the information; and yet as a lawyer, you have to evaluate what you’ve heard and decide if it looks enough like a case where you might be able to represent and assist the client in getting some compensation . . . reinstated to a position . . . sometimes you see them get transferred to another department.
Given the limited information, I have to make up my mind as a lawyer: Does this sound like it makes sense? Does it sound like we’re going to be able to provide and get enough supporting evidence for this case to move forward? Does it sound like the employer violated the law? Does it sound like the employer didn’t comply with their obligations under the law to do an investigation? I think one of the biggest challenges is having less than perfect information and yet having to make a decision whether you’re going to go forward. Often times you don’t get enough of the information until after you started the lawsuit. So you’re in a sense gambling that you’re going to be able to gather more information or more witnesses, or develop your case as the case goes forward.
I remember when I first entered my lawsuit. I thought that it was only going to take six months and I’d be done with it. Do you find that to be a common misconception when a client approaches you to represent her in a legal action?
Yes, of course. In fact, most people learn of their world from the media. In our day and age people don’t typically read the encyclopedia from cover to cover to learn about their world. They see their world portrayed in magazines, newspapers, TV shows, and movies. And we as a culture get a little bit lazy, thinking that we’re learning all that we have or need to by sitting in front of our television. But when it comes to lawsuits, law, and courts, they don’t operate on subtlety, specifics of details that are nuanced or shaded—it’s sort of like everything or nothing. Typically, the old LA Law TV show would start with the lawyers meeting in the morning to discuss the case. After the commercial break, they’re in trial, and after the next commercial break, the verdict has come in. So people have the sense that you file your lawsuit and you go to the trial very quickly. And in fact, it’s more cumbersome than that. People find when they file their lawsuit, a lot of paperwork goes on well before they’re even asked if anything in their lawsuit is even true. They do their deposition, and they find out their lawsuit doesn’t even go to trial for about a year, two years, three years. The legal system is more complicated, more cumbersome than is popularly portrayed.
I was shocked in the deposition process. I’d seen it in the movies. I thought that it would be a fair process. But having been stuck in depositions on two different but related cases, I now realize that there’s a lot of legalese that the layperson has to understand while even being in a deposition. There’s a certain way of talking or asking questions. It’s not just a straightforward thing. What do you say about that? Does that seem really fair, especially when you’re dealing with a non-lawyer? I guess that’s why you have a lawyer there to help decipher?
I hesitate to use the term “fair” because fair means different things to different people. Usually, when people say “fair,” they mean, “Is it fair to me? Do I get a good opportunity? Is it skewed in my favor?” They don’t mean consider the interest of my opponent: “Is it fair to both sides?” The opponent in a sexual harassment lawsuit, for example, often times say the following: “None of this took place. These are false charges and I want the thorough opportunity to attack and discredit this person making these charges.” In the sense that the system permits someone defending themselves from charges a lot of leeway, a lot of different tactics, and a lot of different tools to attack or challenge their accuser, well, those people (the defendants) would say the system is generally fair; although they would argue with you it’s not fair because even if they win, they’ve got to pay their lawyers. They feel reamed. And often they can’t get their legal fees back. They spent a lot of money. From the defendant’s perspective, who’s denying that they did these things, that they sexually harassed or took advantage of someone, they want a full opportunity to attack, challenge them, challenge the plaintiff’s credibility, make the other person come up with facts, answer questions, produce documents.
From the person who is the honest victim of a terrible injustice, fairness would seem to mean tell what happened. You answer the questions to just about what happened, and you don’t get your whole life put on trial. But our system allows the defendant to put the accuser on trial. If we were to ask our system “why?” they would respond by saying, “Because truth will come out if people who were telling the truth are challenged and have an opportunity to put their side on and weather the storm of insult. Joan of Arc will ride forward into battle for the crusade and truth will be proven.” The reality is that a lot of people can’t withstand the kind of punishment and attacks they get when they bring charges such as sexual harassment against an employer. That system often discourages them.
It’s the lawyer’s job to try to protect and represent that client and give them a dose of reality that it will be a hard process, but to encourage them and to protect them and advise them in such a way that they can get through a thicket of challenge and attack, belittlement, and all the harsh grievances that one can go through. And hopefully, they will get through to the end of the process and have that claim made and heard.
William’s advice to anyone seeking legal representation is to do your research, get referrals, whether online or in person; and if your case is specific, go to a specialist in that particular practice of law just as you would seek a specialist when looking for a specific type of doctor.
“I think I’ve been very fortunate to find a law career that has allowed me to use my talents and my skills and to help people. I’m very pleased and proud to say that my career in law has not been about heaping huge sums of money and becoming famous and enjoying a lot of prestige or being a big shot. It’s really been about intellectually learning things and mastering skills and being able to help people and provide some meaning and some recovery for people who have been damaged or injured in their lives. And that’s been very rewarding—something that has earned me respect in my field. And that is an important thing.”—William Bloch, Attorney at Law