Laura Juran is used to high-stakes battles. As the top in-house lawyer for California’s largest teachers union, she has helped, for example, to beat back a major challenge to educator tenure and has fought hard to increase public school funding.
But nothing prepared Juran, chief counsel at the California Teachers Association (CTA), for an early August conference call to discuss school campus reopenings in parts of the state that managed to control their COVID-19 infection rates. A CTA staff member who was on the ground in one Northern California county was alternately angry and tearful, as he described a dearth of safety measures like medical testing and contact tracing.
In that instant, Juran, JD ’98, realized that the legal options she and her team had come up with—including filing complaints with workplace safety regulators—were not enough. “They were going to be too slow,” says Juran, who also serves as CTA’s associate executive director. “We all understood in that moment that people could die and there would be blood on our hands if we didn’t take a firmer policy stance to protect students and teachers.”
For Juran and her team, it was one of many pivots in a year of unprecedented challenges that defy description. Not even “intense” and “tiring” adequately capture the trifecta of pandemic, economic catastrophe, and wildfires exacerbated by climate change and the challenges they have posed for CTA. With roughly 310,000 members, it is the state’s largest professional-employee union and the largest state affiliate of the National Education Association.
Almost overnight, novel legal questions around essential worker classifications, hybrid learning programs, Zoom privacy, and—with rising school re-openings—health and safety were added to Juran’s plate of bread-and-butter issues like wages, membership dues, and job protections. In addition to supervising her 11-lawyer department, Juran co-chairs the CTA’s COVID-19 response team and sits on the union’s executive management team. She also oversees 30 law firms in CTA’s Group Legal Services program, which mostly represents individual teachers in grievances with their schools.
“Laura is a quick study and clear thinker,” says Glenn Rothner, a partner in Pasadena’s Rothner, Segall & Greenstone who works closely with Juran as a top outside lawyer to the CTA and as general counsel to the California Federation of Teachers. He adds, “Lawyers in her position sometimes believe, wrongly, that they make policy decisions for the organization. Laura understands that her role is to serve the organization’s leaders as a technician, and she’s masterful at it.”
California teachers couldn’t ask for a more devoted champion. Juran grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of German refugees who came to the United States after World War II with little money and little more than a middle school education. Her mother cleaned houses and her father spent most of his career working at a local tool manufacturer at a time when union jobs were on the decline. Juran was in ninth grade when her
father’s union went on strike.
“Seeing the picket lines was eye-opening,” she says. “My dad was scared about losing his job, and I understood then that the union gave us the economic security we needed as a family to live a dignified, working-class life.”
Her father’s union job, which he held until he retired, also enabled her childhood dream of becoming a lawyer and working on issues around criminal justice and economic inequality.
At Stanford Law, Juran was active in student organizations, co-founding Street Law, a volunteer Stanford Law program that teaches at-risk and incarcerated youth about legal issues, and the Stanford Civil Liberties Union. And she stood out from the start, according to Stacey Leyton, JD ’98 (BA ’88, MA ’91), a former classmate and a litigation partner at Altshuler Berzon.
“Laura was dynamic, quick to speak her mind, and a go-getter,” says Leyton. “She wasn’t driven by competitiveness, but by a sense of purpose. Laura made meaningful contributions to the public-interest experience in law school and the ways in which students were able to benefit the surrounding community.”
“We all understood in that moment that people could die and there would be blood on our hands if we didn’t take a firmer policy stance to protect our students and teachers.”
– Laura Juran, JD ’98
Chief Counsel, California Teachers Association
After law school, Juran clerked two years for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. She then joined Altshuler, where she advised unions representing nurses, public transit workers, and other employees on litigation and other matters. In 2009, almost two years after making partner, Juran joined CTA, a client, as a staff attorney. “I was ready to be on the team, not just the hired gun,” says Juran.
It was a move that put Juran front and center in California public education and in the hot seat over the future of unions. Juran, who became CTA’s top lawyer in 2016, has dealt with numerous court challenges over the collection of nonmember union dues, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2018. She also oversaw CTA’s response to a closely watched lawsuit seeking to end teacher tenure and seniority-based layoffs.
Leading on the front lines of battles over public education and unions isn’t easy. But Juran takes solace in the fact that CTA’s membership has held steady and, she thinks, may even grow as COVID-19 fosters new appreciation for union protections. “One thing I like about the labor movement is that the work isn’t just about bread-and-butter issues like wages,” she says. “It’s about the bigger system and how unions are one institution that’s helping to course-correct, not just on income inequality but social injustices more broadly.” SL
Krysten Crawford is a former senior producer at CNNMoney.com and Fortune.com, who now regularly contributes to Stanford publications.