To avoid conflicts of interest, established labour and employment law firms generally act on behalf of either management or unions and employees.
At one time, the decision to become a management side lawyer may have been influenced more by ideology than any other factor. Today, however, most employers recognize that employees are often their most valuable resource. While there are inevitably conflicts between employers and employees, neither side holds the moral high ground. Employment is seldom terminated capriciously.
Working with management allows lawyers to be involved in proactively shaping the workplaces of Canadians. We are regularly involved in the implementation of policies and procedures to ensure that employees work in safe environments free from harassment. We train managers on best practices as well as compliance with applicable contractual and legislative obligations. We have had the opportunity to work on innovative and exciting initiatives such as employee buyouts and alternative work arrangements (e.g. working from home). Our firm represented Algoma Steel with respect to its employee buyout. This was a precedent setting transaction in Canada that received significant attention both locally and internationally. More recently, we assisted a client in a unique collaboration with a union involving a voluntary recognition agreement for significant employee involvement in the workplace and the relinquishment of the right to strike. This innovative collaboration was the subject of both national and international attention.
In addition to allowing for a proactive role with a potentially significant impact on working lives, practising management side labour and employment law typically allows lawyers an opportunity to develop ongoing and stable relationships with clients. We do not represent a different employee in every case. We also have unique access to workplaces and businesses. Our lawyers have toured and learned the operational details of everything from paper mills to automotive manufacturers, postal facilities, schools and stage production companies.
Finally, management-side labour lawyers have greater involvement in negotiations than their union-side counterparts. Employers regularly retain us to represent them in the collective bargaining and other negotiations. By contrast, unions typically have internal staff conduct negotiations. Similarly, management-side work provides greater litigation opportunities as employers more regularly retain outside counsel to represent them in hearings.