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William Kilberg got his start in labor law as an electrician’s apprentice in New York City. He was just a teen-ager working his way through high school. But Kilberg wasn’t cut out to splice wire. In fact, his electrical engineer father was fond of joking, “as an electrician, my son makes a fine lawyer.” So Kilberg’s union, Local 3, International Brotherhood of Electricians, offered him a scholarship, which he used to attend Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Now the 57-year-old Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner is considered one of the top labor and employment lawyers in the country, representing clients in employee relations, labor relations, compensation and benefits, and employment class actions. A former solicitor of labor, he has argued at the Supreme Court and negotiated during several major strikes. On his union scholarship, Kilberg earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell in 1966, and finished up at Harvard Law School when he was just 22 in 1969. He won a coveted White House Fellows position that same year, and worked as an assistant to Secretary of Labor George Shultz. In 1973, President Richard Nixon named 26-year-old Kilberg to the solicitor’s post. As solicitor of labor, Kilberg is perhaps best known for his negotiation of the 1973 consent decree in which the AT&T Corp. agreed to pay $30 million in back pay to women and minorities who suffered discrimination at the company. “We challenged something that had been accepted forever,” Kilberg says. His time in government was marked by the passage of some critical employment laws, including that of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in 1974, which protects employees who worked under pension plans. “It was a time of major change in what employment law was all about,” Kilberg recalls. “And I was in the midst of it.” His tenure during this “revolution in employment law” enabled him to write his ticket into private practice. He left government for a now-defunct New York corporate firm in 1977. In 1980, Gibson, Dunn asked Kilberg to help build its East Coast labor practice. While Kilberg has practiced in nearly every labor and employment law specialty over the years, much of his practice now revolves around ERISA, equal employment litigation, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. But he’s still called upon to help broker deals in strikes, as he was in the West Coast dock strike of 2002. Kilberg’s recent Supreme Court successes include 2001′s Egelhoff v. Egelhoff, in which the Court held that ERISA preempts state law on designation of pension plan beneficiaries, and 1999′s Murphy v. United Parcel Service Inc., in which the Court said that UPS did not violate the Americans With Disabilities Act by firing drivers with medical conditions that do not meet ADA disability standards. In 2003, Kilberg’s petition for cert in the high-profile reverse-age-discrimination case, General Dynamics Land Systems v. Cline, was granted by the Supreme Court. Although Kilberg didn’t argue the case, the Court ruled in favor of his client, General Dynamics, saying that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not bar employers from favoring older workers over younger ones. In spite of his hefty book of business, including clients UPS, the Boeing Corp., Merrill Lynch, the General Dynamics Corp., and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, clients say that Kilberg remains accessible and attentive. “He always treated us like we were his only client,” says Mark Litow, general counsel of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

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