Just Been Fired? Five Search Tips for Finding an Employment Lawyer

When you’ve just been fired, choosing an employment lawyer to help assess your rights and fight for a better settlement isn’t quite like kicking the tires on a new car or trying on wedding dresses.

The decision is further complicated by an individual’s significant stress level over the termination of employment and uncertainty about future income earning. The self doubt and anxiety do not make for ideal circumstances in which to make such a big decision.

But fear not, one is not lost without a compass!

Like Goldilocks, it can take a few consultations before finding a lawyer that is just right. Not too aggressive but not too restrained. Not too warm but not too abrasive. Not too expensive but not too cheap. Here are five tips that can help make the-who-to retain decision easier:

1. Ask a Friend

There’s a good chance that a friend, or a friend of a friend, knows a lawyer or has used a lawyer in the past and would recommend that person. Better yet, if there is a lawyer in your social network whom you trust, even if that person is not an employment lawyer, ask them for a referral.

Lawyers know lawyers who practice all different areas of law. They went to school with them. They practice with them. They work on opposing files with them. They network with them. Most lawyers can name a human rights or employment lawyer whom they regard highly, or they can obtain a referral from
a colleague they trust.

2. Do your Research
The Law Society of Ontario offers a searchable directory that may reveal past transgressions of a lawyer.

You may also find other background information online that can help you to gauge a lawyer’s track record. Consider:

– Has the lawyer published any articles?
– Does the lawyer have any successful decisions, or decisions in general, reported on CANLII that indicate they are able litigators?
– Are there any online reviews of this lawyer or law firm?
– Check out the lawyer’s or firm’s website. Does the lawyer practice exclusively in employment law or are they a generalist who may not have the specialized knowledge your matter requires?

3. Consultation
The consultation is perhaps the most important step in deciding on an employment lawyer. Reading a lawyer’s published articles, reported decisions and website pages will not tell you what you need to know about their personality, communication style, listening skills, professional demeanour and level of
experience in handling a case like yours.
Book a consultation and be prepared to pay for it. You get what you pay for and free consultations can be rushed, leave out key details, or may only provide you with general information. You need to discuss the circumstances of your termination in full with a prospective lawyer so that they will have an idea of how much work will be involved and the best strategy to advance your case.
For example, cases involving discrimination, harassment and complex compensation packages including pensions, bonuses, commissions, long term incentive plans or shares in the company, likely require an in-depth conversation.

It’s a good idea to write out a chronological account detailing the circumstances of your termination and provide copies of all relevant documents to the lawyer.

4. Talk Fees
For employment matters, most individuals are comfortable starting out by discreetly conducting their own research online. While some may take a step further and call the Labour Board for advice, folks only seek out a lawyer as a last resort. Despite the general online information available, awareness alone rarely helps an employee to negotiate an informed resolution.

Consider the lawyer’s billing structure – is it an hourly rate, a contingency fee or a fixed rate for example – and don’t be afraid to ask the lawyer for a rough estimate or a “ballpark figure” if they charge by the hour or, ask what similar matters average. This will not be an exact number obviously, but an experienced lawyer can usually provide an estimate or range of costs.

Many lawyers offer payment plans which allow you to pay your bill over time. Not only does this help you budget, but it also gives you the option to go with the lawyer you want and not let price be the deciding factor.

Legal fees are often the primary reason why many people avoid seeing a lawyer.

5. Go with your Gut
Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable with the lawyer you choose to represent you in a negotiation, dispute and courtroom. It’s important to remember that you’re not looking for a friend, you’re looking for an advocate who will fight to get you what you deserve within the law and given your particular facts. Having said that, you do need a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable asking questions, discussing your situation and who always acts professionally. If you’ve done your homework, know a lawyer’s track record and believe they are trustworthy based on their knowledge and proposed recommendations, your sharp instincts can help you make the final decision.