If you landed on this blog post, you are probably looking to retain an employment lawyer or employment law firm, and you are doing your due diligence. Good for you. Never hire a lawyer without doing research. You need to be meticulous. If you are an employee, you are trusting someone with one of the biggest issues you have ever had in your life. If you are an employer, you are trusting someone to efficiently and effectively handle an issue that could hurt your business if not done properly.
How to Find an Employment Lawyer
Start off by asking trusted friends and family if they know an employment lawyer. If they do, ask them if they have any experience with that lawyer. If not, consider doing a search on Google or by calling the Law Society of Ontario’s free referral service. The Law Society Referral Service will match you with a random licenced lawyer who specializes in the area you are looking for. Interview that lawyer to determine if you want to hire her. But note that many, if not most lawyers do not participate in the lawyer referral service.
How not to Review an Employment Lawyer
Do not trust Google to do all your employment lawyer research for you. Google does not review lawyers. Rather, Google only displays the most ‘relevant’ employment lawyer or law firm websites, not the best.
Accordingly, do not blindly hire the first lawyer or law firm ranked on Google (that’s not to say there is anything wrong with the first place lawyer or law firm, just do your research beyond Google). Google only placed the lawyer or law firm there because its bot thinks it is the most ‘relevant’ website for the ‘keyword’ you used. To that end, the law firm is obviously the best at Search Engine Optimization (SEO); it’s just not so obvious they are the best at employment law.
For instance, Google the “best lawyer in Toronto for [practice area]”, and you will see that the first several websites stuff the word “best lawyer” on their webpage in some form or another that doesn’t break Law Society rules, like “we aim to be the best lawyers in [city]”. The Google bot previously crawled the words ‘best’ and the ‘[city name]’ and the word ‘lawyer’ on the lawyer or law firm website and figured this was the website you were looking for because it was the most relevant on a textual level. The same rule applies for other phrases like “top lawyer” or “leading lawyer” or “[city]” lawyer etc.
How to Review an Employment Lawyer
You should be using Google to find a few different employment lawyers or law firms on a few different pages. Check out the first place lawyer if you like, but also check out rank 6, 17, 29, etc.
Once you have landed on the lawyer or law firm’s website, start doing your research. Consider the following factors as very important:
Experience in Employment Law
Does the lawyer or law firm focus on employment law exclusively? This is key. Unless the lawyer has been practising for many years, he or she might not be very good at employment law if they dabble in every area of the law. To understand the nuances of employment law, a lawyer needs to focus on it exclusively for some time. Otherwise, you might be paying them to learn the law. Worse, they might not know certain caveats because they never encountered your issue before. Would you hire a plumber to fix your car?
If I am representing an employer, and I get a demand letter from a divorce lawyer for a wrongful dismissal case, I’m not going to take it as seriously as a letter coming from an employment lawyer. I will immediately assume this is your family or friend who is doing you a
On the flip side, if I am representing an employee, and the other side is a general corporate lawyer at a large firm or in-house counsel generalist, I may assume I am dealing with someone not as experienced in employment law as me. I once saw a general counsel rely on the wrong statute the entire hearing. I’ve also seen some employers take obvious 100% losing cases to trial that any employment lawyer would have warned them about, and it ended up costing them literally hundreds of thousands in needless legal fees (however, to the generalist lawyers’ credit, some clients will refuse competent advice to proceed on crappy cases, and I don’t know what happened in those cases).
Thought Leadership in Employment Law
It is difficult to know if someone is truly an expert in employment law even if they say they are. However, to verify someone is knowledgeable on the law, consider first if they regularly write about the law. Did they write a textbook, do they keep an updated blog, do they write for trade journals and other news sites? These are usually good indicators that someone knows what they are doing because it shows they took the time to research and then summarize the law on an issue relevant to employment law, thus teaching themselves modern employment law.
Also, check if the lawyer has ever litigated an employment law case. To that end, check CanLII to see if they have a record indicating they have ever been in front of a judge (note CanlII does not show all cases). Do not however rely too heavily on if the lawyer won or lost. What counts is that they attend at litigation matters. The fact is, many good lawyers represent parties with losing cases. For example, the reality of litigation for management-side employment lawyers is often to limit the Plaintiff’s damages, not win the case.
Also, check if the lawyer is a “Certified Specialist” by the Law Society. But, know that these certificates are reserved for only the most senior members of the bar. There are many less experienced lawyers just as good (and usually less expensive).
Further, consider if the lawyer has ever won an award. However, be very aware of shady or dubious awards. I know some awards are bogus because these companies offered me an award in exchange for money or a backlink to their website. Sometimes all you have to do is buy the trophy to earn the award.
Keep in mind that reports suggest the more reputable awards or rankings tend to favour employer lawyers who work at mega-firms. For some of these awards or rankings, you generally need to be nominated by the most people. The bigger the firm, the better the odds.
Alternatively, reports further suggest that ranked lawyers may be nominated for non-meritorious reasons, such as reciprocating nominations, being the only lawyer they know in a certain practise area, or returning a favour for multiple referrals. Finally, look to see how many lawyers have won the award or ranking. It may diminish the award or “ranking” if 1000’s of lawyers in the same city have the same award or ranking each and every year.
Some regulators (not in Ontario) have banned lawyers from calling themselves a rank like Super Lawyer or the Best Lawyer or a Rising Star, etc. (which are seen by some as credible rankings, but others as a joke).
Look to see if the firm goes out of its way to puff its chest in the extreme. Making bold claims like advertising oneself as literally Canada’s “leading law firm” is unverifiable.
Having said all that, there may be reputable awards and rankings, but I leave it to you the reader to decipher which (Hint: Peer review).
Lawyers should be encouraged to advertise they won an award, let’s say for the Employment Lawyer of the Year from a trade association. But lawyers shouldn’t just call themselves the best lawyer straight up.
Employment Law Firm Size
Don’t limit your focus to the size of the employment law firm. There are many sizes of firms with good employment lawyers in Toronto. There are excellent lawyers at mega-firms and excellent lawyers at one-lawyer firms and everything in between. Keep in mind that the large law firms generally only work on management-side issues. So if you are an employee, it is unlikely those firms would work with you anyway. In the same token, most of the employee-side employment law firms tend to be small, and some of those small firms do not work with employers as a rule. Also note that in Toronto, employment law tends to be unique in that there are lots of ’boutiques’. These are firms that are very well regarded who tend to have around six or more layers, but never more than around fifty.
Lastly, don’t fall for the trap of star ratings on Google or other websites. Anybody can open a new burner Gmail account to post a five-star review. At the same time, be cautious of one-star reviews. Litigators in retail friendly practise areas may work on the edge and take risks for their clients. In that regard, some passionate but misguided clients will give a one-star rating for the lawyer losing a tough case even though the lawyer worked as hard as possible and did the best any lawyer could. Furthermore, some one-star reviews may just be bizarre. We once had a one-star review because we couldn’t retain the individual as he was in a union (we only do employment law, not labour law). Other times, some people get angry when a lawyer advises them they have no case despite how delicate they were treated. In summary, to cut through the weeds, look to well written, plausible reviews explaining specifically why they were happy or upset. Do not concern yourself if the reviews are anonymous. After all, nobody wants a permanent record on Google indicating they sued their employer.
How to find the “best” employment lawyer “near me”
The best advice to find an employment lawyer near you is to ask your trusted friends and family for referrals or use Google to find a few different employment law firms in your area to interview. Most lawyers will spend a few minutes for free discussing their practice (not giving free legal advice) over the phone or email. Ask them questions like the ones I just mentioned above. After that, pick the lawyer you feel most comfortable with.
Jeff is an employment lawyer in Toronto. He is the Principal of the Dutton Employment Law Group at Monkhouse Law. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles.