When providing legal advice, your lawyer needs to take into account the legal needs of the organization as well as satisfying the expectations of the person who is instructing the lawyer. To do so, your lawyer needs to know:
1. Are there people within the organization with human resource or legal backgrounds?
2. Do you want the law explained to you, or do you just want legal advice?
3. How much legal risk is your organization prepared to assume when addressing employment law issues?
4. Do you consider your lawyer to be an ongoing business partner? Or is advice on a case-by-case basis fine, when and only as needed?
5. And finally, how much value does your lawyer add to your organization?
People often ask about the “client/lawyer fit”. In our experience it is more about getting to know our clients and tailoring our services to meet their needs and expectations. Let us illustrate why knowing our clients is so important with the use of the following two examples:
Organization A has 50 employees and is owned and operated by James. When he has a question he wants it answered yesterday. He does not use lawyers unless absolutely necessary, he doesn’t have a legal budget, and he doesn’t like spending money on any professionals. In short, legal fees are a necessary evil. If he is told that he has been inadvertently breaking the law and his competitors are doing the same thing then his initial reaction is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. He wants to keep the cost of any employee problem to a minimum and is prepared to assume considerable legal risks to minimize these costs. He wants a quick answer to his questions and he is not interested in being educated on his legal rights and obligations. In most cases, there is not a lot of money at stake so he doesn’t want to pay for legal research or opinion letters. His mantra is: “I’ve got a problem; just tell me how to fix it as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
The MacLeod Law Firm helps clients like James when he calls us five minutes before he wants to terminate an employee. Depending on the circumstances, we might advise him to confront the employee with the just cause allegations if he hadn’t already and give the employee with an opportunity to explain his actions before proceeding with the termination. This would mean another short step before proceeding with the termination. This meeting may result in a stronger just cause case, or give him pause if there is a good explanation and therefore a termination could lead to an expensive wrongful dismissal action.
Organization B has 500 employees. Jennifer, the director of human resources is experienced and holds a CHRP designation. She deals with most routine employment law issues on her own. She generally only calls an employment lawyer to discuss non-routine legal issues, or an issue that applies to many employees. She wants to know the applicable law so she can use the learning at a later date. She has worked with lawyers in the past and is authorized to pay legal fees as needed. She understands the value of good legal advice. Organization B considers itself to be a good corporate citizen and a good employer. Accordingly, the director of HR will not expose the organization to too much legal risk. She sometimes wants to use her lawyer as a sounding board to discuss legal issues that might arise out of a human resources initiative she is contemplating. She wants a heads up on new legal issues so she can address them before they become a problem.
The MacLeod Law Firm helps clients like Organization B by advising Jennifer on changes that are needed to be made to her organization’s employment contract. She knows that the Employment Standards Act and other employment laws are regularly updated and judges regularly interpret contractual provisions. Accordingly she knows why the offer letter needs to be updated from time to time. During this review process we sometimes suggest that new clauses be included in offer letters as times change. For example, in some industries we recommend that the use of social media be specifically addressed in the employment contract and/or stand alone social media policies.
At MacLeod Law Firm, we advise all types of employers with a full spectrum of needs. In our opinion, knowing our clients is what makes a good “client/lawyer fit”.