Michael J. Studenka, Partner  , Newmeyer DillionMichael J. Studenka, Partner
Newmeyer Dillion is a multi-service law firm that provides litigation and transactional representation in various practice areas, including labor and employment, real estate, insurance coverage, corporate transactions and business litigation. The California-based company has an award-winning team of renowned litigators, attorneys, and counselors with best-in-class trial skills and extensive jury trial experience.

In an interview with Manage HR magazine, Michael J. Studenka, partner of Newmeyer Dillion, shares his insight on how they equip employers with best law practices to address their everyday challenges. He also spotlights the client engagement model and success stories that provide a snapshot of Newmeyer Dillion’s journey toward helping employers achieve regulatory compliance in the employment law space.

What is your stance on the human resource landscape, and how did you establish yourself as an employment law firm?

In the volatile business world with evolving HR compliance needs, employers have a set of rules to abide by that often limits them from performing certain business operations. Newmeyer Dillion plays the role of counsel in the California employment law space, helping companies bridge the gap between HR operations and compliance needs. Our lawyers strive to provide meaningful and timely recommendations to employers to maintain HR compliance and address the day-to-day operational needs of the company.

We consider every company’s uniqueness in multiple aspects, such as experience, production, and management structure. We understand our clients and find advanced and rewarding approaches to augment their strengths in attaining HR compliance.

What do you think makes Newmeyer Dillion competitive in the market?

The present-day legal profession can, sometimes, become dogmatic in its approach to strategy. Too often we see companies employing legal playbooks designed for other industries or companies that aren’t necessarily tailored for that particular situation. This can eventually lead to inefficiencies and knowledge gaps. But our two-person attorney team comprising a partner and an associate lawyer, focuses on maximizing what we offer our clients from the onset of cases. We tactically and cost-efficiently handle cases by measuring the unique strengths and weaknesses of each individual client company to attain quick decisions without needing to invest more time and money.

In light of your experience, how do you help your clients overcome their challenges in the employment law space?

It can be daunting for employers to comply with the California law governing HR relationships that have traditional rules for payment of wages with nine to five work schedules. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers, HR professionals, and lawmakers had to contend with a spate of new regulatory workplace policy changes. The shift from onsite to remote work model demands employers to attain compliance in everything they do.

In this challenging scenario, Newmeyer Dillion helped them comply with OSHA standards and safety protocols along with all the wage and hour requirements. We applied our legal expertise to provide plans for employers to successfully navigate the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. We had no playbook to perform a one-size-fits-all analysis. It required us to regularly visit the job sites and clients’ locations, and ascertain how to perform temperature checks, accountability, and maintain social distancing, as well as analyze work schedules and production requirements to design our playbook. We look through the employers’ lens to understand their requirements and provide the best possible recommendations.

Could you elaborate on your training and investigation services and their benefits?

We believe that the lowest level supervisor makes or breaks a company. They manage real-time challenges and prevent situations turning from bad to worse. They often have great responsibility but gain the least leadership experience or training. This is where we provide our diverse cycle of leadership training to equip them in handling legal challenges. Our experienced attorneys provide realistic advice and recommendations and train the management team to understand employment law to achieve operations compliance. By getting in front of this level of leadership, we better understand their challenges and trouble-shoot their real day-to-day problems.

Concurrently, we perform state-of-the-art investigations for claims, including sexual harassment and discrimination. With a stable of former criminal prosecutors, we are well-equipped to pursue and investigate these difficult situations. We also work to conduct climate surveys within the companies to explore any cultural problems in order to assess solutions to avoid further claims.

Please shed some light on the client onboarding methodology at Newmeyer Dillion.

I heavily rely on my leadership and personnel management skills as a Marine Corps officer in leading our team. We strive to treat every client uniquely and support them by understanding the dynamics and nature of their unique environment. Our attorneys are always a step ahead in understanding why and how our clients operate and what they are trying to achieve. We focus on assessing the rules, violations, and areas of improvement for our clients. Our decades-long experience enables us to calibrate our recommendations to resolve our clients’ future claims.

Our decades-long experience enables us to calibrate recommendations in resolving clients’ future claims

We also have an extraordinary amount of jury trial experience among our team, which allows us to immediately focus on what is important in a case. This leads to efficiencies and tactical leverage in battle. We can quickly assess the value of a case which gives us a leg up in manoeuvring in litigation.

Can you cite a few of your customer success stories?

I have served multiple clients across industries, leveraging my courtroom experience in all aspects of labor and employment law. One of our clients with wage and hour practices was facing compliance issues with their employees not following regulations on rest and meal periods, off-the-clock, and overtime work schedules. I spent a couple of days investigating the supervisors onsite, understanding their limitations and the demands of operations that led to a non-compliant posture. I recommended staggered shifts and the operation of clocks, whistles, and bells in a relevant manner each day. Our wage and hour lawyers adjusted workers’ schedules and implemented a safe workflow that settled their claims in day-to-day compliance exposures in a relatively low-cost way. I am proud to admit the client achieved the intended results for three years without any new claims.

Another case in point is where we helped a company address its lack of effective management. Their supervisors were not adhering to the law and HR policies in their operations. We went onsite and performed a climate survey to understand where the leadership stood, and learned that the lowest level supervision was failing. It was a blind spot for upper level management. There had historically been a discrimination/ harassment claim every six months. However, I recommended certain policy changes and advised them to restructure the management team by onboarding a new, experienced team of HR professionals and increasing the training of the lowest level supervisors. The client is now claims-free and acquires annual management training whenever necessary.

Our supporting group of lawyers at Newmeyer Dillion continues to aid employers in achieving compliance in day-to-day strategic HR decisions to avoid claims in the employment law space.