Robert Burns did not plan to specialize in employment law for public-sector employers. As is often true for many things in life, his career came about gradually.
“I started with civil litigation and then started some employment-law work. From there, I began having more and more employers from the public sector,” said Burns, a lawyer at Davis & Kuelthau in Green Bay. “It is all about solving problems and serving as a sounding board when employers have questions.”
Burns works with business and governmental entities as a general or special counsel. His duties mainly have him involved in contract negotiations, discrimination claims, personnel matters, disability and Americans with Disabilities Act matters.
“It is the ‘human’ in ‘human resources’ that makes things interesting,” he said.
As part of his practice, Burns attends board meetings for both school districts and government entities.
“I actually enjoy those since I get to meet a lot of people, especially volunteers who give of their time to make their schools and communities better,” he said. “I am there to answer questions and provide advice as needed.”
Last fall, Burns received the 2017 George Tipler Award from the Wisconsin School Attorneys Association, which honors people for their excellence and dedication to school law in the state.
There are always changes in employment law, but most don’t come close to being as wide-sweeping as the Act 10 legislation passed in 2011, Burns said. “When you took away collective bargaining, a lot of things changed related to discipline issues, benefits and performance disagreements.,” he said. “It definitely changed how things were done.”
Beyond his public-sector clients, Burns works with private clients of all sizes, including unions.
“The issues are the same as in the public sector,” Burns said. “Things are always changing and whenever you have humans working together, there are bound to be some issues.”