ECN members gather in Austin for annual national conference

April 2014

(April 2014)  Members of the Employers Counsel Network (ECN) met in Austin, Texas, April 23-25, to network, socialize, and gain insights into employment law trends and issues. Attorneys Michael P. Maslanka, Scott Agthe, and Mark Flora of host firm Constangy Brooks & Smith, LLP helped fill the agenda with expert speakers who addressed a wide range of topics.

Maslanka facilitated a panel discussion on jury selection. Panel members included employees’ trial attorney Paul Schorn (, attorney and trial consultant Robert R. Swafford (, and jury consultant Suzanne L. Davis, PhD ( The panelists shared their methods for identifying and eliminating potentially hostile jurors and asking questions that will reveal which jurors might be leaders and followers when it comes to deliberations. They offered advice for effective opening statements as well as pointers on when to admit wrongdoing and prepping witnesses.

Donna Serdula, author of LinkedIn Makeover: Professional Secrets to a POWERFUL LinkedIn Profile, shared her five tips for maximizing impact and results on LinkedIn. She admonished the audience to view the social network as a professional tool and to look at it strategically, thinking in terms of your target audience and what they need and how they search. Her tips included getting a professional headshot, ditching the “resume” approach, and making as many connections as possible. She explained that LinkedIn is based on three degrees of separation. When you search, you are searching only your network (including 2nd and 3rd connections). So the more connections you have, the more you get when you search and the more people can find you in their search.

Economist Daniel S. Hamermesh, Ph.D., spoke on research that shows that attractive people are more successful. He reported that while beauty may be subjective, research suggests that we tend to agree on it. Hamermesh suggested that beauty can affect which career people choose and even what specialty attorneys choose and offered evidence that better looking people earn more. To that end, he addressed the issues of legislation creating a protected class and employment litigation based on appearance, asking attendees to consider the question, “How is beauty, or lack thereof, different than any other characteristic that you are born with that you can’t change?”

DeDe Church ( of DeDe Church & Associates, LLC offered the group tips on conducting investigations and looking for independent investigators. She warned ECN members that she’s noticed a trend of attorneys who aren’t paying attention to workplace investigations, thinking their part doesn’t start until later. Church then outlined how to conduct and document investigation interviews. She then used an entertaining and informative hypothetical case to illustrate strategy calls that must be made and how to evaluate the answers employees give.

David S. Fortney, of Fortney & Scott, LLC, gave a candid report of agency enforcement and White House strategy regarding employment issues. He noted that previously unheard of federal agencies have been elevated with the White House’s use of directives to make changes with federal contractors that it has been unable to accomplish through legislation due to opposition in Congress. Fortney offered insights into the politics and the processes that affect employment legislation and regulations and gave his predictions for the mid-term elections and the effects those results would have.

For the final session of the conference, Flora moderated a panel of in-house general counsel attorneys, including Kylie Crawford TenBrook (Bestwestern), Shawn Greenburg (GC/owner for Pluckers), and David Hoskins (Excel Energy based in Denver). The three all emphasized cost and the bottom line as important and implored the group to try to think of things from the business perspective. Greenburg asserted that sound legal advice isn’t always the best business decision and said he would rather hear “these are the pitfalls that will cost you real money and these are the things you don’t need to spend too much on.” Crawford TenBrook stressed that communication is important and that she wants outside counsel to know her business, “I don’t want to have to reeducate you every time we talk.”  Hoskins spoke of “fee pressure” and noted that he appreciated attorneys who share information, are willing to be creative, and “communicate the bad facts early.”