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Ring Holes and Tabs

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whistleblower attorneys

Some whistleblowers try to negotiate the labyrinth alone (pro se). Self-representation is clearly stressful; attorney involvement only transforms it. Attorneys cost money, often a substantial proportion of any federal employee's salary or savings. Three decades ago, a government study showed that employees lost about 80% of all formal appeals, with or without attorneys. 59 Virginia L.Rev. 196, 269 (1973). That study did not focus on whistleblowers. It also predated both Civil Service Reform Act (which the Whistleblower Protection Act modified), as well as the Privacy Act (which the MSPB has used to block further studies of its record). So statistics concerning attorney effectiveness are unavailable. But so are statistics showing any employees truly winning without attorneys, and that is the point attorneys will use to sell their services.

Choosing a whistleblower lawyer

Many federal whistleblowers choose to hire attorneys to guide them through the maze of federal personnel laws, especially after unproductive inquiries to the agency's personnel office. This begins an often-lengthy process. Linked pages lay out various factors to consider concerning lawyer referrals and interviews. Specialties exist among whistleblower attorneys: first amendment lawyers, employee rights attorneys, MSPB or EEOC intimates and qui tam lawyers. Some attorneys downplay the fee aspect because laws exist that allow agencies to pay attorney fees. They might not reveal, however, the consequences departing whistleblowers can expect (including later stigmatization or suspicious references), nor the attorney's own record (both experience and diligence). Agency secrecy, client confidentiality and the stigma associated with whistleblowing--all mean incomplete information. Thus, choosing an attorney involves risk and many trade-offs. While many attorneys will eagerly accept a whistleblower's case, some are unsympathetic to whistleblower concerns in the long run, favoring their own wallets or publicity or ongoing relationships with MSPB employees.

Working with a whistleblower attorney

Creating a relationship of respect requires continued attention. Disparities in knowledge and financial resources between these private practitioners and their civil servant clients mean sharp practices which hurt clients are not unknown. Ideally, specialists would be familiar with the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, EEOC, OSC and MSPB practices, and First Amendment law, as well as legal research resources and techniques. Above all, remember that deadlines are real--especially where the both personnel officer and employment lawyer keep mum about them for months. Neither the Federal Circuit nor MSPB grant employees the common break that state and federal judges use to ensure fairness--starting the clock ticking only when the victim learns about his right to legal redress. Most whistleblower cases settle, often on terms favorable to the attorney and agency, but unfavorable to the whistleblower. Hindsight is always 20/20.


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