Employer-employee relationships can get complicated. And, like any other relationship, they can result in disputes and disagreements. That’s why it is so important to have responsible lawyers who can help resolve workplace issues.
Enter Thomas Agnew, an associate at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, one of the top management-side labour and employment firms in Canada. “I understand that people’s jobs are fundamental to their lives,” says Agnew. “I also understand that disputes arise — and when they do, I’m here to help.”
Agnew helps his clients respond to all kinds of legal challenges, from wrongful-dismissal claims brought by former employees to claims of discrimination and harassment. Below, Agnew talks about his experience as a labour and employment lawyer.
How do you prepare for a case?
First, Agnew meets with his client to identify all the legal issues in the case and familiarize himself with the relevant documents. For example, if the case is about an employee who has been terminated, he asks a raft of questions to obtain all of the facts: Are there allegations of theft? If so, is there video evidence? Who are the relevant witnesses? “I get to play detective,” says Agnew. “I want to learn both the strengths and the weaknesses of my client’s case. That’s the best way to prepare.”
This is important because there is no such thing as a “typical” file. In one case, for instance, an employee was caught stealing 20 televisions from a client’s warehouse — and still sued the client for wrongful dismissal.
What’s it like to argue a case?
“I deliver the opening statements and closing arguments,” says Agnew. “I examine and cross-examine the witnesses. So I get to do all of the fun stuff you want to do when you’re a law student. To do this kind of work, you can’t be afraid to stand up and advocate a position.”
Agnew has come to learn that labour and employment law provides a unique opportunity to be an advocate. “When I was in law school, I didn’t know what area I wanted to pursue,” he says. “But I knew I wanted a job that took me out of the office and on my feet. When the opportunity to work at Hicks Morley presented itself, I took it and learned quickly that this was an area that would allow me to be an advocate from an early stage in my career. I haven’t looked back since.”
What other traits would make a good labour lawyer?
Client-relationship skills are key. “I’m constantly interacting with my clients,” he says. “My client relationships last longer than one file. These relationships can be ongoing for many years.” Agnew says the connection he builds with his clients is particularly fulfilling. “When I advocate a position and achieve a good outcome for a client, it’s a great feeling.”