Employment law firms

If the story of boutique law firms and big national shops was ever about the little guy’s unlikely victory against a giant, that’s no longer the case. “It’s not a matter of David versus Goliath and we’re the David; we’re actually the Goliath,” says Gregory Heywood, founding partner and a member of the management committee at Roper Greyell LLP, a Vancouver-based law firm and one of the top 10 vote-getters in this year’s Canadian Lawyer labour and employment boutique law firms survey.
As new areas like privacy and the use of social media in the workplace proliferate, labour and employment boutiques say they have no shortage of exciting work or the legal skills to tackle them.
One of the biggest changes in the labour and employment market was the arrival last year of Littler Mendelson PC, which snapped up almost all of the lawyers from a well-established Toronto boutique practice. Calling itself the world’s largest labour and employment firm representing management, Littler opened an office in Toronto in August 2015 with seven lawyers; all but one, office managing shareholder Sari Springer, are from Kuretzky Vassos Henderson LLP. It’s the latest move in a series of expansions Littler Mendelson has been undertaking recently, especially in North, Central, and South America, the firm said at the time. It now has more than 1,000 lawyers in 67 offices.
It’s no secret that traditional labour work is going down due to a decline in union representation, says Heywood, but the areas of human rights, labour arbitration, and the question of duty to accommodate continue to yield work. Still, the employment law market remains extremely tight and competitive, according to Janice Rubin, partner at Rubin Thomlinson LLP.
Although employment law work remains a vibrant part of practice at Rubin Thomlinson, the firm has found a niche in the workplace investigations, review, and training area, says Rubin, who led a high-profile investigation at the CBC last year of alleged sexual harassment in the workplace by former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
In part due to prominent cases such as that one, employers are more open to doing workplace reviews before problems reach a crisis point, says Rubin, adding her firm is not only called upon to do these reviews but to also provide a unique training program for employers. “I’d say that we are absolutely continuing to grow workplace investigations, which are reactive. We’re also now working with employers with a slightly more proactive iteration of that, which is the assessment or the review.”
If Ontario passes bill C-132, the sexual violence and harassment action plan act, employers will have a statutory obligation to conduct workplace investigations, which could potentially increase work in this area, Rubin also says.
Even as Canada’s economy faltered in the last year, Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP managing partner Stephen Shamie says 2015 was his firm’s most successful of its 43 years. “That’s the beauty of labour and employment or human resources law practice because we’re busy when the economy is good and we’re busy when the economy is poor,” says Shamie. “We just do different things.”
Employment litigation has been a busy area, according to Shamie, who says the creation of the Ontario government’s new pension legislation also produced “a terrific amount of work” for his firm. Hicks Morley has seen growth in work coming from existing firms as well as new clients, Shamie adds, noting in 2015, the firm hired nine new lawyers, “which is an incredible number for us.”
How we did it: Canadian Lawyer selected Canada’s top labour and employment boutiques by asking readers to rank a long list of notable firms, which was whittled down to a short list through votes drawing on input from our editorial team. The following results are an alphabetical list of the 10 boutique firms that are rated most highly by other lawyers.
Cavalluzzo Shilton McIntyre Cornish LLP
Paul Cavalluzzo, Jim Hayes, and Elizabeth Shilton founded the firm in 1983 with a social justice and equality focus. The 35-lawyer firm now represents clients such as the Ontario English Catholic Teachers, the Ontario Nurses Association, and Laborers’ International Union of North America. The firm’s notable mandates include representing the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression on the Bill C-51 constitutional challenge, serving as counsel to Canadian non-residents in their constitutional challenge relating to their right to vote, and advocating on behalf of complainants and the CCLA in the disciplinary hearings for Supt. David (Mark) Fenton for his role in police “kettling” during the G20 summit in Toronto.
“Depth of talent, longtime commitment to union cause.”
Founded in 1987 by Jacques Emond and Lynn Harnden, Emond Harnden says it’s grown to become one of Canada’s largest fully bilingual boutique labour and employment law firms exclusively representing the interests of management. The firm works with clients in a broad range of sectors, such as hospitals, school boards, aviation, universities/colleges, manufacturing, municipalities, and governmental and non-governmental employers. Its areas of specialization include education, privacy, human rights, occupational health and safety, pension and benefits, civil litigation, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
“Talented, personable individuals who deal fairly with all parties in a matter.”
Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP
The firm’s history dates back to the establishment of full-service firm Ferguson Montgomery Cassels and Mitchell in 1953. In the early ’80s, the firm’s labour department founded Winkler Filion & Wakely, which became Filion Wakely & Thorup in 1993 when founding member and former Ontario chief justice Warren Winkler was appointed to the bench. The firm gained its current name in 2001 with the addition of partner Frank Angeletti’s name to the brand. All of the firm’s 42 lawyers practise exclusively on behalf of employers in industries that range from education and health to transportation and retail. Its clients include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Home Depot, National Steel Car, McMaster University, and Roots. Filion Wakely cites depth of experience and a focus on the clients’ businesses as its greatest strengths.
“Top expertise in all areas of labour and employment, and good talent at all levels.”
Founded in 1992 by 12 partners, the firm has grown to 45 lawyers today and holds the status as the largest management-side employment and labour firm in Western Canada. It acts for leading companies in sectors such as forestry, mining, oil and gas, banking, airline, entertainment, retail, food, and construction. In the public sector, the firm represents most post-secondary institutions and health authorities in the region, as well as school boards and municipalities. It’s currently representing Seaspan ULC in an interest arbitration involving a major restructuring of its collective agreements. It represented the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in the 2014 provincial teacher labour dispute, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority in a challenge to its attendance management program, and the Pacific Newspaper Group in its restructuring.