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October 8, 2008 5:04 PM

Littler In, Seyfarth Out of International Labor Law Alliance

Posted by Zach Lowe

Littler Mendelson has replaced Seyfarth Shaw as the only U.S. representative in Ius Laboris, a global alliance of about 50 labor and employment firms from 45 countries.

The organization is a kind of mega-strategic alliance in the mold of Lex Mundi. But unlike Lex, which groups firms in all practice areas, Ius Laboris focuses only on labor law. Part of the alliance's mission is to help labor firms form connections with allies around the world, says Carolyn Knox, a former Seyfarth partner who is now Ius Laboris's executive director.

If a Dutch firm has a client that has some question about U.S. law, they could turn to Littler for the answer, Knox says. The Dutch firm gets the information it needs, and Littler gets some extra hours to bill. Corporate M&A deals, for example, often require advice on compensation and other employment matters, Knox says.

Lus has been eyeing Littler for about a year, since it became clear Seyfarth was ready to withdraw. In a statement, Seyfarth said it is leaving Ius Laboris because the firm's focus has expanded beyond labor and employment law, in part due to several lateral additions made over the last two years.

Littler and Seyfarth were the two main candidates for the U.S. spot when the alliance was formed in 2001, Knox says. Littler has the largest employment litigation practice among U.S. firms., so it was an obvious candidate, she says. But at the time, Littler was more concerned with broadening its reach domestically. The American Lawyer reported in June on the drive among labor firms, including Littler, to set up shop in smaller cities across the U.S.

Having done that, Littler is ready to focus on international work, says Michael Weber, a Littler shareholder who participated in some of the interviews with Ius Laboris over the last year.

The alliance will be especially useful because so many of Littler's clients are Fortune 500 companies with global operations, Weber says.

"Not a day goes by without a question from a client that brings up international legal issues," Weber says. As Weber spoke, an attorney e-mailed him with a question about whether U.S. medical leave policies apply to employees working in Ireland for U.S. parent companies.

"This is the kind of question we could forward to our Ius Laboris colleagues in Ireland," Weber says.

The recruitment process was thorough, Weber says. He met with Ius Laboris members from Belgium, the U.K., France, and Mexico a few months ago, and the firm went through several similar interviews over the course of the year. Both sides were looking for a good fit, Weber says.

"We were really looking for the mirror image of ourselves," he says.

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