Expanding a business’ footprint into another jurisdiction can be daunting, and that’s as true for an American entity moving into neighbouring Canada as with moves farther abroad. Such a venture usually signals that the business is booming and sees a promising market ready to be tapped so the expansion is often worth the effort. Accordingly, landing the right employment lawyer to issue spot is essential.
Workplaces can be complicated and full of liabilities for employers, particularly in Canada. An employment lawyer who can be consulted and trusted to help navigate Canadian employment laws is invaluable for companies looking to operate or expand in Canada.
Determine your needs
There are different types of lawyers who have certain specialties, even within the realm of employment law. Labour lawyers specialize in working in unionized workplaces that are subject to collective agreements and labour laws, while employment lawyers deal with non-unionized workplaces that are generally subject to employment standards legislation and common law jurisprudence.
Labour and employment law are not mutually exclusive and many lawyers handle both as part of their practice. Some also choose to handle mostly employer-side clients or employee-side clients with theories as to the benefits of a mixed practice or practicing exclusively for one side of the employment relationship.
Employment lawyers can also focus their practices on specific areas within employment law, such as employment contracts, workplace policies, pensions and benefits, workplace investigations, mediation, and human rights. Some practices may even focus on helping international employers set up in Canada. Your company may find that one particular lawyer or firm that can help with various types of legal matters, or you may want to consider multiple options for different purposes.
A good way to find out if a particular lawyer may be able to meet your needs is to do some research on the lawyer’s background. Governing law societies in all Canadian jurisdictions have searchable online directories where you can scan licensed members for information such as current practice status, areas of specialty, and location. Law societies often maintain information on any professional misconduct or discipline on a lawyer’s record or complaints that have been filed against them. Some also offer referral services.
You can get a feel for a lawyer by reading their own words if they have any published articles, especially if they cover an area of employment law that falls within the subject area for which a client is looking. Lawyer profiles on law firm websites or blogs often have links to published articles, along with any specialized knowledge and education information.
Check out publicly-available court or arbitration decisions, which can be found on court websites or legal research databases – in Canada, there is the free legal research database CANLII as well as fee-based services – to see how often particular lawyers have appeared in court and how they fared. Firm and practice websites sometimes highlight significant cases in which particular lawyers participated.
There are also media outlets, both mainstream and business-to-business, that publish lists of top employment lawyers and law firms, which may be a useful resource though some are pay-to-play and may not be the most authentic resources.
Word of mouth
Networking has its advantages. If your company has connections to other U.S. companies who have set up operations in Canada, reach out for recommendations about their experience with the process and with finding a lawyer. In addition, any legal counsel that your company uses in the U.S. – or any lawyers that anyone in management may know personally – may be able to point you in the direction of Canadian counterparts who can advise you.
Lawyers and law firms can have a range of fees for their services. Obviously, you don’t want your legal fees to be overwhelming, but opening a branch in a new country is a serious venture and should be budgeted for accordingly. It is important to know what you’re getting into in terms of employer legal requirements in Canada, so while cost is a consideration, you don’t want to scrimp on your legal counsel. Determine what’s right and manageable for your company before you meet with an employment lawyer or firm and, when you do, suss out the available arrangements and payment plans.
Also, don’t forget the potential costs of lawsuits by employees – which can be significant in Canada – as the risk of not having proper legal representation, advice, or defense preparation. You often get what you pay for!
Once you have narrowed down your search for a Canadian employment lawyer or firm, it’s time to get to know them a little bit. A preliminary meeting should be arranged to discuss your company’s plans and legal counsel requirements, and to determine fit.
There are a lot of moving pieces involved in opening a new business venture in Canada. If your company is going to employ people in the country, whether employees or independent contractors, finding the right employment lawyer or firm is a key piece in the process to realizing success in Canada.