Some employees are surprised when I tell them that despite my years of legal training, my years of experience practicing as a lawyer, the number of cases that I have argued against lawyers from some of the most reputable law firms in Canada, the lessons that I have learned from cases that have not gone as planned, and the amount of cases that my clients and I have won and/or settled, I still from time to time experience feelings of fear – sometimes intense fear – when I represent new employees and work with them to secure the justice that they deserve.
I can tell you that in my experience, despite the depictions of lawyers that we see on television, or the flattering adjectives that they use to describe themselves on their websites, a lot of other lawyers are scared too. Contrary to the images of bravado, machismo and fearlessness typically associated with lawyers, I and many other lawyers are really no different than you. Why recognition of this reality is not more widespread is a question that I don’t claim to have all of the answers to, but in my opinion many lawyers clearly have a vested interest in not outwardly acknowledging their fear in front of would be customers like you, especially when you might hire them for a considerable fee.
In my view – whether you are a lawyer or an employee – there is nothing wrong with acknowledging fear or any other emotion for that matter. In truth, it’s not at all surprising that you might be scared. If you’re thinking about hiring a lawyer, the stakes are probably pretty high. It may even be the first time that you are taking legal action against your employer. To you, it’s about more than mere dollars and cents. You are taking the time, making the effort and going through the expense of taking legal action against your employer because it has done something to you that violated your sense of dignity, self-esteem or self-respect, or was an affront to your basic understanding of what is right and wrong.
You’re probably afraid because in the back of your mind, you know that the employer has the resources to hire a professional with legal training – perhaps with more resources and legal experience than you – who will stop at nothing to thwart your efforts. You think about hiring a lawyer because you fear tells you that you need a lawyer to “level” the playing field.
For what it’s worth, I believe that almost any worker who intends to represent themselves or hire a lawyer should at least feel a little bit of fear, and in most situations, a whole bunch of fear. Taking legal action against an employer is a decision that no worker – self-represented or not – should enter into lightly. Your employer has already violated your rights, and because you are feeling vulnerable, there is a very real risk that you might be particularly susceptible to being lulled into a false sense of security by a lawyer who promises you the world. And if you’re not afraid, you might want to ask yourself why that’s the case, and if you really understand how the legal system operates (i.e., typically not in workers’ favour) and what risks are involved.
But fear is only one part of a much larger picture. The mere fact that you’re considering taking legal action against your employer suggests that you know that you’ve been exploited in some way and you’re not content with the idea of your employer getting away with it. You have or are beginning to recognize your own agency. The anger or righteous indignation that you feel is powerful and can be just as overwhelming (and perhaps empowering) as your fear. Though anger and indignation help to counter-balance your fear, they can also have an equally detrimental effect on your ability to decide whether to represent yourself or hire a lawyer in an objective and informed manner. I have met with employees who, in the heat of the moment, have charged forward with their case, only later to realize that there was another option that could have served them better or that they should not have embarked on this journey for one reason or another.
The point that I am trying to make is that if you are deciding whether or not to take legal action, whether or not to represent yourself, or whether or not to hire a lawyer blinded by fear or anger or both, then you are probably not going to make the most informed decision that you can make about whether or not to proceed, and what proceeding could or should look like.
I have given up trying to rid myself of fear, anger and indignation. Whether I’m representing a worker in the Courts or at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Ontario Labour Relations Board, Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal, or in Small Claims Court, there comes a point when I come to face to face with these feelings, acknowledge them, embrace them, and harness them to better protect my client’s interests.
In my experience, fear and anger and other seemingly problematic emotions are not feelings that you can rid yourself of, hide from or even get someone else to own. They are emotions that almost every worker who has to decide whether or not to proceed with legal action, or to represent themselves or hire a lawyer will have to come face to face with. They are emotions that need to be faced head on, understood, embraced for what they are, and harnessed in order to make an informed decision and follow through on that decision.
Tough questions like “Should I represent myself”, “Can I represent myself”, “How do I represent myself”, and “Can I afford a lawyer” often evoke strong emotions and a worker’s ability to own these emotions, acknowledge their existence and gather information before making a decision often helps her or him to make the ultimate decision whether or not to proceed and/or to hire a lawyer with a level of clarity, understanding and confidence that she or he might otherwise not possess.
While the questions that a lawyer may ask herself (e.g., “Can I win this case?”, “Am I as good as the employer’s lawyer?”, “Will I disappoint my client?”, “Will I embarrass myself?”) may be a bit different than the questions you ask yourself, the process and the result are pretty much the same. It is only when you prepare yourself to make decisions with fear, anger and other emotions in check – when you arm yourself with objective information about the pros and cons of proceeding, and the pros and cons of hiring a lawyer versus representing yourself – that you can truly make an informed decision about the best path that is available to you to seek redress, hold your employer accountable and secure the justice that you deserve.
This brings me back to where we started. Ultimately, a Franklin Law Consultation is really about employees getting timely and objective information, and acknowledging, embracing and harnessing their fear, anger and other emotions; emotions that may hinder or help them secure the redress they deserve. Our consultation process helps workers like you walk through this process and make informed decisions about where to go and what to do next.
Although we really wish that we could, we do not offer free consultations. However, in an effort to make our services accessible to as many workers as we can, we offer consultations at incredibly reasonable flat rates. So reasonable in fact that if you’re an employee wondering about whether or not you have a case, whether or not it’s worthwhile to pursue redress, or whether or not you should represent yourself or hire a lawyer, we believe (in our humble opinion) that you’ll be hard pressed to find a more cost-effective and valuable consultation in Ontario.
If you’re interested in booking a Franklin Law Consultation, please contact our office by calling our consultation hotline at 647-495-7275, our office at 416-572-8525, ext. 1 or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for taking the time to learn about our consultation process. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you in the near future.