Meet James Botana

Rebecca Riddle

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James Botana is a people person — and he’s spent over three decades as a labor and employment attorney specializing in the hospitality industry. Based in Chicago, he’s a principal at Jackson Lewis, a national management side employment and labor law-focused firm with offices in cities nationwide. His role allows him to combine the joy he finds in personal connection with another one of his other core interests: restaurants. 

He’s the type of person who regularly becomes friends with clients. He attends clients’ weddings (and some attended his wedding), has them over for pizza parties in his backyard, and takes them to the theater or ball games. From James’ perspective, it’s a lot easier to have frank conversations with people when you’ve developed relationships with them. This rings especially true when working with people in hospitality, whose businesses are often so much more than just a business. 

Though James only spent two short days working in the industry (waiting tables at a pizza place during a Grateful Dead concert wasn’t his forte), his genuine love for food, restaurants, and helping the people who work in the industry translates into him being able to support his clients by harnessing the synergy between his love for labor and employment law and his enthusiasm for food and restaurants. 

James represents management in employment cases in federal court, state court, and before administrative agencies. Though his current role primarily focuses on litigation, he also works with hospitality clients to provide training and conduct workplace investigations. His approach can be defined by two core concepts — positivity and prevention. 

First and foremost, he works with clients to find ways to effect positive change from the perspective of both employers and employees. Alongside his commitment to the principle that a better workplace results in employers being able to better meet their objectives, he helps his clients take preventive measures that benefit everyone in the industry by creating a better workplace. 

He looks for creative ways to help his clients keep their employees happy by getting to know their businesses inside and out, which ties back into his deeply personalized approach. His methods are practical and anchored in weighing options in the specific context of the hospitality space.

When James isn’t working, you can often find him watching soccer, plays, traveling, or taking his kids to experience the Chicago dining scene alongside his wife and friends. Community service and mentoring are a huge part of James’ life, and the number of boards, committees, and philanthropic causes he’s a part of are too many to list. 

Navigating a Changing Landscape 

One of James’ stand-out traits is his ability to look around corners. His forward-thinking mindset is invaluable to his clients since it allows him to successfully tackle issues restaurant employers are currently facing, as well as prepare his clients for what lies ahead in an industry that’s notorious for change. 

As a natural mentor, part of what he loves about his job is being able to offer advice, and to be the person his clients turn to when facing problems both legal and otherwise. He goes beyond just looking at the legal issues to help find long-term solutions.  

His years of experience working specifically in the hospitality sector have provided him with insight into what’s next for employers. He’s seen a rise in governing bodies’ involvement at all levels, as state and city governments have started to take a more active role in employment law especially in areas affecting the hospitality industry. 

The dynamics between administrative agencies that deal with workplace issues like the Department of Labor and the restaurant industry are also changing, and he aims to stop problems before they start by implementing policies, training, and proper documentation. 

Bringing the Industry Together

Since the meaning James finds in his job is grounded in his interest in people, he always strives to create and maintain relationships.  Born in Cuba and raised in Spain, he’s a native Spanish speaker who prides himself on being able to connect with a broad range of people. Being able to communicate with the large population of Spanish speakers in the hospitality industry in their native tongue is just another way he brings the industry together. 

As an Authority Member at Together Hospitality, James is able to share his insights and expertise with the industry. His passion for hospitality is clear, and he enjoys engaging with people who work in every facet of the business. He hopes to continue to provide targeted expertise to members of the organization and expand his reach by continuing to focus on connection.