Being the Voice for New and Young Lawyers in Labor and Employment Law: Tales from a Liaison

A group of young lawyers

You could label Sarah Burke a new and young lawyer, though she’s anything but new to labor and employment law.

Burke grew up in a “union household,” as she describes it. Her father was a union organizer and Burke developed the same passion for labor organizing and advocacy. In 2011, Burke followed in her father’s footsteps and began working as an organizer for both public and private sector unions.

After coming into contact with administrative investigations and hearings during organizing drives, Burke decided to pursue a career as a labor lawyer and enrolled in law school in 2014. During law school, she received a CALI Excellence for the Future Award in labor law and the King County Bar Association Mary Ellen Krug Scholarship for Excellence in Labor and Employment Law, before graduating cum laude with a specialty focus in labor and employment law and being admitted to the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) in 2017. After graduating, Burke started as an Honors Attorney with the National Labor Relations Board Region 19.

Today, Burke is the WSBA New and Young Lawyer Liaison to the Labor and Employment Law Section, and an ABA Young Lawyer Division Labor and Employment Law Fellow. As if that’s not keeping her busy enough, in May Burke served as a faculty co-chair—alongside former WSBA District 5 Governor Angela Hayes—for the WSBA Practice Primer on employment law, “Managing the Employment Relationship.”

All of these roles allow her to learn new things about her unique area of law, an area that she says is always providing new challenges.

“People tend to identify very strongly with their jobs,” Burke said. “So being able to understand the role they have and the work they do and why it’s meaningful to them is something that I find fulfilling.”

Burke recently spoke with NWSidebar about her experience as a WSBA New and Young Lawyer Liaison. See her responses below. (For another perspective on this role, read last year’s interview with former liaison to the Solo and Small Practice Section, Jordan Couch.)

Serving as a liaison is an invaluable experience that can offer you insight, community, and connections for years to come.

How has your service as a liaison impacted your practice?

In my experience, the labor and employment bar tends to be a close-knit group of practitioners that repeatedly sit across the aisle from each other. My work with the section provides me with the ability to better connect with, and learn from, these practitioners.

What most surprised you about serving as a liaison?

Serving as a liaison provided me firsthand experience in the amount of work involved in setting up CLE conferences. I think it’s easy to forget the amount of time, planning, thoughtfulness, and hard work that goes on behind the scenes to put on a conference that section members will find valuable.

Did you gain any special knowledge or skills from being a liaison that you wouldn’t have otherwise?

Serving as a liaison helped me to develop leadership skills and feel more connected to the law community as a young lawyer than I likely would have otherwise.

What activities and programs has your section developed for new and young lawyers?

The section offers mini-CLE events in both Seattle and Spokane at minimal cost that serve as valuable and accessible opportunities for new and young lawyers.

Did you have any concerns before becoming a liaison? Were those concerns assuaged after you began serving?

My only concern was whether my input would be valuable to the committee as such a new lawyer. However, the section made me feel immediately welcomed, supported, and valued.

What type of lawyer is best suited to being a liaison?

Someone who believes in the important work sections do; someone who is willing to learn, volunteer, and is interested in serving their community.

How did you manage the time commitment?

I found the time commitment to be very manageable with flexibility to tailor it to my specific availability. However, the time commitment you put in is proportional to the amount you will learn and grow, so don’t be afraid to step up.

What would you most want to impart on future liaisons or people who are considering applying?

Serving as a liaison is an invaluable experience that can offer you insight, community, and connections for years to come. If you are thinking of applying, do it — you will not regret it. If you are selected, be an active participant on your committee and look for opportunities to assist in any way you can.