Attorneys Across America: Featuring Amanda Fisher

From a tiny office in rural Alaska to a skyscraper in Manhattan, from The Sunshine State to The Prairie State, Ms. JD seeks to capture snapshots of successful women attorneys practicing law from sea to shining sea. Ms. JD had a few questions for Amanda Fisher who works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 

1.     Where do you practice law?

I am an attorney for the United Steelworkers International Union (“USW”), headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  While my office is in Pittsburgh, the USW has members across the country and so my cases come from all over the country.  In addition, I am assigned as the point person to answer questions from USW staff located in Michigan and Wisconsin. 

2.     What are the industries that produce work for lawyers in your area?

The USW has collective bargaining relationships in different industries – including, but definitely not limited to, steel, paper, oil, the public sector, healthcare workers, adjuncts at universities, and even attorneys.  While all of my work is for one client, it can involve any of the diverse industries where the USW represents workers.

3.     Describe your practice area.

As a union attorney, I practice labor law, or the law governing the relationship between employers and unions.  When I am dealing with a private sector employer, the relevant law is the National Labor Relations Act.  As a result, a lot of my time is spent working on cases filed with the National Labor Relations Board.  I also litigate cases in the federal courts as most private sector labor law issues are subject to federal preemption.  If I am working on an issue involving public sector employees, state law will govern.  I file cases either in court or before the appropriate administrative agency to protect rights owed to workers either under the law or by their collective bargaining agreement.  At times, I also defend the USW in cases filed against it.  I also assist the staff of the USW, who work directly with the local unions, on a variety of issues including collective bargaining and contract enforcement.  This can mean a staff representative calls me, we discuss the issue, and I provide advice.  Or, for a more complicated issue, it may mean that I conduct legal research, work with the staff to develop a strategy, and pursue litigation, if necessary.  There is overlap between labor law issues and other areas of the law, for example employment law, including discrimination, and employee benefits law.  As a result, I am often dealing with these areas of law as well. 

4.     How did you get started in this practice area?

I went to law school with the intention of working in public interest law.  During law school, I reached out to a senior attorney at the USW who does a lot of international work for the union.  I thought that his work was very interesting and I asked him to meet me for an informational interview, of sorts, to learn more about what he does.  After meeting him, I clerked at the USW during my 3L year.  This was my introduction to labor law and, happily, I was hired as an attorney after graduation.

5.     Do you think your practice is different because of where you live? If so, in what way(s)?

Living in Pittsburgh does not affect my practice because I actually do not do much work in Pittsburgh, or even Pennsylvania.  But, I will add that Pittsburgh is an amazing city and I love living here! 

6.     What are good resources for women attorneys in your area?

There is the Women’s Bar Association of Western Pennsylvania.  The Allegheny County Bar Association also has an Institute for Gender Equality, which seeks to enhance the presence of women in leadership positions in the Allegheny County legal community, which is where Pittsburgh is located, and to eliminate the gender wage gap.

7.     What has been your hardest day on the job?

My hardest day on the job was when I got an unfavorable arbitration decision in a case involving the pension benefits of employees who lost their jobs as a result of a plant shutdown.  I was disappointed in the decision and did not agree with it, but in labor arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator is final and binding.  I got to know the employees involved in the case well and it was difficult to call them to deliver the bad news. 

8.     What has been your best day on the job?

Thankfully, I have had more “best” days than “hardest” days.  One of my best days was the first time I presented oral argument to an appellate court.  It was a case involving vacation benefits owed to employees following a plant shutdown.  I actually lost the case in the district court, which was one of the hard days.  I appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit.  The court decided to schedule my oral argument on a day when the court was going to be held at the University of Virginia School of Law.  So, my first oral argument was in an auditorium in front of about 200 people.  But, the panel of judges completely understood my argument and it was clear that I was going to win the case, which I did.  I felt very triumphant.  Since then, I’ve presented oral argument before the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits.  Each of those days were exhilarating, although not always as triumphant. 

9.  What advice do you have for women attorneys following in your footsteps?

Networking is very important.  Everyone says that, but that’s because it’s true.  I would add though, the best networking is when you reach out to someone because you are genuinely interested in what they do.  People can usually tell if you are only talking to them because you want something from them (i.e. a job) and for some people that can be off-putting.  Also, people are more likely to remember you if you’ve had a genuine conversation.  Having good references and professionals in your corner is extremely important.  For this same reason, it’s great to take every opportunity you can get, but only if you are capable of following through and making the most of that opportunity. 

Since graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2010, Amanda Fisher has worked as an attorney in the United Steelworkers Legal Department, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Amanda is also currently pursuing an LL.M. in Employee Benefits from the John Marshall School of Law.  In her spare time, she serves on the Advisory Committee of the Jefferson Awards Foundation, Pittsburgh Region, and she enjoys making quilts and hanging out with her poodle, Wallace.

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