J. Bryan Wood: Dependable. Dedicated. Determined.
Bryan has practiced employment law in Chicago his entire career, representing predominantly employees for over half that time. He has helped employees successfully transition jobs and recover for their losses without ever filing legal claims. He also has helped employees win multi-million dollar verdicts and awards after litigating vigorously as part of a team of attorneys. And he has helped companies comply with employment laws and defended wrongful termination actions.
Bryan has spent his entire career practicing employment law – but the roots run deeper. He quit his first grocery store job after being refused a raise up to minimum wage and being told he was still expected to (illegally) operate the meat grinder (he was underage). He later drafted the employee handbook at his college grocery store job – working his way up from stocker to shift supervisor. And he’s always been passionate about ensuring equality and civil rights – studying those issues extensively in college.
After law school, good lawyers at Seyfarth Shaw convinced Bryan he could help protect employees’ civil rights best as the employer’s lawyer – like they did. It made sense – if you help write the policies and help make the decisions under them, you can ensure the law is upheld and promote equality. At Seyfarth Shaw, Bryan represented employers ranging from small, privately held businesses to large, publicly traded Fortune 500 companies in various types of employment matters. But those company’s leaders weren’t exactly calling him for his thoughts on what they should be doing.
Impatient, Bryan left Seyfarth Shaw for Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. – an employment discrimination class action firm – and quickly found himself face-to-face with General Counsel at major corporations discussing systemic changes beneficial to employees AND the bottom line. He also saw how quickly executives’ careers could be ruined because they opposed illegal activities – and learned how to counsel them to protect their careers without turning a blind eye to discrimination or injustice they or others were experiencing.
After several years at Stowell & Friedman, Ltd., Bryan decided to start The Wood Law Office, LLC. There, Bryan tries to have his cake and eat it, too – he advises companies on how to uphold the law and avoid risk through smart business decisions. He helps employees protect their careers and compensation while still making positive changes and being free from discrimination and retaliation. And – when it’s the best option (or sometimes the only option), he helps his clients fight hard in litigation – for years if necessary – to try to expose injustice, inequality or illegality.
Except when he’s at home. Then he’s just trying to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good neighbor.
The Wood Law Office
United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit (2012), Sixth Circuit (2001)
United States District Courts N.D. Ill. (1999), C.D. Ill. (2002) S.D. Ill. (2000)
- National Employment Lawyers Assoc. (2005 – present)
- NELA-Illinois (2006 – present)
- Secretary (2014-Present)
- Board Member (2008-Present)
- Practice Resources Comm. Co-Chair (2009-Present)
- Illinois State Bar Association (2007 – present)
- Labor & Employment Section
- Chicago Bar Association (2004 – present)
- Co-Chair, Labor & Employment Committee (2011-2013)
- Class Litigation Committee
- Federal Bar Association (2013 – present)
- American Association for Justice (2014 – present)
- American Bar Foundation – Fellow (2018-present)
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of Chicago, Inc. (2015 – present)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2001 – present)
Southern Poverty Law Center (2005 – present)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (2001 – present)
Bryan Wood Q & A
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
- I’ve wanted to a lawyer at least since my high school civics class mock trial unit – maybe before. I always thought it was a good way to help people.
Why did you decide on employment law?
- In college and law school, I was interested in civil rights history. The employment context was an area where many of those battles were still being fought in court. It helped that a significant portion of the federal court docket was comprised of employment law matters. So it was a combination of job security and a topic that interested me.
- After law school at Virginia, I followed a girl and a job. I’ve stayed because I met my wife and really enjoyed people’s Midwestern attitude.
Who are your favorite lawyers? Why?
- Charles Hamilton Houston – Thurgood Marshall’s teacher and founder of Howard’s law school. In addition to being a tremendous lawyer and educator, he took the long view. He (and others) saw ending segregation required educating African American lawyers – and he was willing to start there.
- Jocelyn Larkin – Impact Fund Executive Director. She, too, is a tremendous educator and lawyer who is thinking long-term about litigation that can really help people and protecting the ability to engage in that litigation.
What are your favorite cases? Why?
- Brown v. Board, because it represents the best example of what our judicial system is capable of achieving and fundamentally changed society for the better. More recently, I like Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc. (7th Cir 2016) – that case shows that judges are willing to reject doctrines they created when those doctrines no longer help fulfill the purposes of the civil rights laws being enforced.
Can you think of any cases which influenced your career? Which ones? Why?
- Pippen et al. v. State of Iowa – although we lost the trial and all the appeals, I learned so much through a nearly month-long trial and briefing about then-novel concepts like implicit bias. I also had the opportunity to work with great attorneys. Biondo et al. v. City of Chicago – that reverse race discrimination case helped me understand that employers’ well-intentioned actions can harm people when poorly executed.
What do you like about being a lawyer?
- Learning and helping people. Every business is unique and every potential client’s situation is different. Learning about how business operate and analyzing what is motivating the players involved in situations is endlessly fascinating.
What do you not like about being a lawyer?
- Arguing over nonsense. Not being able to help people move past their anger and focus on the future. Seeing members of my profession live up to the stereotypes the public has about us. The list for “what do you not like about being a small business owner” would’ve been much longer.
Advice for younger generations thinking about becoming a lawyer?
- First, figure out if you need to live in the “J.D.” house before you buy one. Law school is expensive. If you don’t need a J.D. for the job you want to do, don’t go to law school. If you go, don’t take yourself too seriously while you’re there or when you’re done. “You, J.D.” is still “You.” The smartest judges and best lawyers still put pants on one leg at a time – just like everybody else. Most importantly, try to make what lawyers do accessible to everyday people and use your J.D. to make what you believe is a better world (even if to you that means a world in which patents are not infringed upon or regional companies find synergies to work as global corporate conglomerates). Charlie Houston said lawyers are either parasites or social engineers. Make sure you’re the later, not the former. That philosophy will affect the way you write, the way you advise clients and the way you interact with others.
Most difficult part of your job?
- Being a small business owner. Finding time to make sure the computers are working, the printers have paper and cartridges and plants are getting watered is much harder than finding that on-point case or key document – and much less rewarding.
Most rewarding part of your job?
- Helping people solve the problems that require a lawyer. I tell people that if you’re not talking to lawyer or doctors, you’re probably happy. You may be dying or getting mistreated or ripped off, but you’re happy. If people are going to go through the unhappiness of addressing a situation that requires a lawyer, I at least want them to feel like they’re better off because of it.
What do you do when you are not working?
- When I’m not working, I go to Target or the grocery store just like every other parent. I also frequent lobbies of places where my kids are having fun – which is fun enough for me. And I enjoy watching movies, seeing friends and traveling.