Most of the people reading this will be either employees or employers — and this includes freelancers, entrepreneurs, and contractors. And it seems just about everyone has an opinion on employment law — the number of self-designated experts roaming Canadians offices can be staggering. Which is why anyone who is fired invariably receives multiple opinions as to their “rights,” although most of them are wrong. Employment law is like other types of law: a lot of people think they know more than they do, and most people don’t know as much as they should.
If you have been having issues at work, it’s best to speak with a professional. If you’ve come to the conclusion that you need some legal advice, here are a few tips on choosing an employment lawyer.
1). Check their website – This will give you a feel for the firm and allow you to identify if they have experience in the area of employment law that you need. Check that it has been regularly updated as this will show the firm is up-to-date with regular changes in the law. A lawyer’s website can act like their portfolio; look for brochures, press releases, videos, audio, or anything else that establishes their authority in the areas of employment or labour law.
2). Initial Meeting – The initial meeting or consultation is a really important part of choosing an employment lawyer. Ensure you speak to the lawyer who will be working on your case and not a student or other junior member of staff within the firm. Ask for an estimated cost of pursuing your claim, the likely outcome, and what their suggested plan of action is. The initial meeting will also help you to establish if you actually have an employment claim.
3). Personalities – The initial meeting will allow you to assess if you can work with the employment lawyer. It’s important that you feel you can get along with them, that you trust them, and that you will be able to work closely with them for what could potentially be a long period of time.
4). Recommendation – If pushed for time, a recommendation from a colleague/friend/family member can be very useful. Try to take in as many recommendations as you can and weigh them against each other, like you would a review for any other product or service.
5). Experience – Ask the lawyer about their employment law experience, including how long they have been practicing employment law and their rate of success.
6). Fees – Many people will see this as the most important factor when choosing an employment lawyer. The fees charged will depend on the experience and reputation of the firm and the amount of work they undertake for you. Ask how you will be expected to pay the fees – will they require them up-front, at the end as a lump sum, or will you get monthly bills? Some employment lawyers will offer a “contingency fee arrangement”, also called a “no-win, no-fee arrangement”, which means that you’ll only have to pay their fees if you win or reach a settlement. Before agreeing to such an arrangement, make sure you fully understand all the other costs you could be responsible for paying.
7). Location – If possible, hiring a local lawyer is a good idea. It means you can easily pop in for a face-to-face meeting if you have any concerns, and it may help you to establish a better working relationship with them. It may not seem important in an era of increasing digital communication, but having people in your same time zone or even in the general city of where the grievance is taking place can help make things easier.
8). Size of the firm – You may find, as many do, that a smaller or medium-size firm is more suitable for you; it may be less intimidating and may encourage a closer relationship with your employment lawyer. Different sizes mean different attitudes, so check the websites or marketing materials of the firms in question to see if they’re someone you are willing to deal with.
Employment law is like other types of law: some people think they know more than they do, and most people don’t know as much as they should.
Alex Lucifero is an associate lawyer with Samfiru Tumkarin’s Labour and Employment Law Practice Group in Ottawa, Ontario.