How to find a good employment law advisor

20 Oct 2020
Author: Andrea Twaddle
 

With so much change lately, there has been good cause for individuals and businesses to seek advice. It’s not always clear whether an advisor has the expertise that they say they do, and this can come with risk for both businesses and individuals. Unfortunately, having provided second opinions and picked up work where an advisor without the required expertise has gotten in over their head, this is not uncommon.

Here’s some tips to help you find a good employment law advisor.

1.Get a recommendation from a trusted source

Remember, not all advisors are created equal. Most lawyers/advisors will have an area of specialty. There are different problems, and it is critical to find an advisor/lawyer that is an expert, and experienced in the area that you need. Ask people you know and other advisors (e.g. your accountant) who they trust or could recommend.

2.Should I choose a lawyer or advocate?

New Zealand law enables employers and employees to be represented by “any person”. However, there are fundamental differences between employment lawyers and advocates, which you should consider before making a decision about who will advise you. 

To be a lawyer, you must have a law degree, have completed a professional training qualification and hold a current Practicing Certificate. The NZ Law Society issues Practicing Certificates where a lawyer demonstrates that they are either working under the supervision of a suitably experienced lawyer, or have the authority to practice on their own account. (This requires sufficient experience and additional training). Lawyers must meet standards not only set out in legislation, but also professional and ethical standards. We are not allowed to take on work where there is a conflict of interest.

Anyone can call themselves an employment advocate, employment representative, employment law advisor, or similar. There is no requirement to have training, or experience. There is no obligation to meet legal or professional standard, and no industry regulation. 

There is no independent body to ensure that advocates are appropriately qualified or meeting quality standards. If you have concerns about the advocate’s service, there is no professional body to assess the merits of your complaint. 

While there are some fantastic employment advisors, many who we work closely with, it pays to do your homework to ensure that their expertise isn’t all in the name. The tips at 3. and 4. below are a good starting point to ensure any employment advisor has the expertise you require.[1]

3.How do you know when someone says they practice in an area of law, that they’re actually good at it?

Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential advisor questions. For example:

  • What experience do they have in this area/working with clients like me in a similar situation? 
  • What happened for those clients? How did that go?
  • Do they have experience in your sector/working environment?
  • Have they represented clients in mediation, the Employment Relations Authority, the Employment Court? 
  • Is this their only area of practice? How much does this form part of their work? 
  • If they’re not very experienced, what supervision do they have?

Lawyers are required to be honest in their responses. While a website may state that someone works in employment or workplace law, their actual employment law expertise may be limited. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for a particular lawyer that you have been referred to. Equally, be prepared to listen if they explain why there may be another advisor better suited to your needs. There can be many reasons for this, including capacity or previous experience with a similar matter or industry.



4.Are advertisements a good place to look for a lawyer/advocate/advisor?

Anyone can be good at marketing, but this doesn’t necessarily make them a good advisor or lawyer. In employment law, reported cases are publicly available at www.employment.govt.nz – you can search on a lawyer/advocate’s name. Remember though, that lawyers have an obligation to act for any client (with a few exceptions). Most experienced and effective advocates will also be looking to resolve disputes as early as possible, to minimise cost, risk and stress for you, so a ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ case should not necessarily be a reflection of their expertise, but will give you an understanding of their litigation experience. Ask about cases that the advisor has been involved in and how this has influenced their advice to you. .

Have a look online whether the advisor has written about their specialist area of expertise. Ask around about what their reputation in the market is. While law awards can be a helpful reference, many awards arise from self-nomination, so these are not necessarily helpful in making an informed assessment of a lawyer or their firm.

5.Can the Law Society help me find a good lawyer?

The Law Society has a Find a Lawyer database on its website.[2] You can narrow your search to find lawyers in your area who practice in a particular area of law, and by region. This can help you narrow down those you are considering. This is more reliable than a simple online search, and it will then give you names to investigate further, such as on their firm’s website or their LinkedIn profiles. 

 6.Should I like my lawyer/advocate?!

You don’t need to like your lawyer/advocate, to know that they’re good at their job. A good advocate can ensure that they apply the right strategy, approach and representation to fit the needs of the job. However, this is a person who you will trust with personal information, and who helps inform you so that you can make good decisions about your employment law issue. They will be representing you and your interests. It is important that you feel they will understand you, your values, and what you are trying to achieve so that they can achieve the best outcome for you, and in a manner that you are happy with. Accordingly, we recommend finding an advisor who ‘fits’ with you, and who you feel comfortable with.

7.Talk about costs

We get it, it can be awkward talking about money. But it’s important. 

If you sign up for ongoing fees based on a contact helpline (and/or the provision of templates), make sure that the person actually giving you that advice will be appropriately qualified to do so, and whether it would be more cost-effective to engage an advisor for specific advice at the time issues arise. Employment law is fact specific, so it is unlikely that a one size fits all approach could or should be taken.

Experienced advisors will be able to give you a good understanding of the potential scope of work required, the costs, risks and potential financial benefits.

Like any service, advisors cost money. You want to ensure that you know what these may be, where they’re fixed or uncertain, and how these could change as your case proceeds. Your advisor should be transparent with you about how and where costs arise, and how costs are managed to minimise these for you, so far as possible. Talk to your advisor about how you may be able to manage payment of fees.

About DTI Lawyers

Finding a trusted advisor is a significant decision to help you make the most of an opportunity, or to resolve a problem, without added stress. These tips will help you make informed decisions about who the right advisor (or team of advisors) is for you.

At DTI Lawyers, we have a specialist team, which is solely dedicated to employment law. It’s led by two Directors who each have over 15 years’ employment law experience. It’s all we do. We’re experts at it. 

If we’re not the right fit for you, we have a conflict of interest, or are at capacity, we’ll know who is likely to be available and can introduce you. 

The specialist employment law team at DTI Lawyers are available on 07 282 0174.




 

[1] For a good understanding of the cost implications that can arise from engaging a ‘no win no fee’ advocate, see www.morrisonkent.com/why-choose-an-employment-lawyer
[2] NZLS Find a Lawyer can be found at www.lawsociety.org.nz

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How to find a good employment law advisor
About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a regular commentator on employment law issues and is frequently sought as a presenter at client and industry seminars, as well as for the provision of advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at andrea@dtilawyers.co.nz