Fixed-fee legal services provide ‘peace of mind’ for clients
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
“Fixed-fee service can provide value in an environment where the legal landscape is in constant flux and compliance is critical, and where the cost of non-compliance is escalating. Having a fixed-fee arrangement can prevent a legal fire rather than putting one out, which can be significantly more cost-effective," says MacLeod, principal of MacLeod Law Firm.
Rather than the usual practice of charging by the hour, the firm’s fixed-fee employment law services provide what he calls an “à la carte menu” of items that can be “tailored” to an organization’s specific needs.
The service is broken down into three categories: hiring and termination; practices and policies; and general advice, MacLeod says.
Under hiring and termination, the firm can prepare an employment contract and update it yearly, discuss all new hires, make changes to the standard employment contract, discuss possible employee terminations, and prepare a termination letter and severance package, if applicable.
As part of the fixed fee, the client is allowed to ask unlimited questions about terminations during the term of the service, he says.
“Most employers, big or small, are now almost always using employment agreements, but not all agreements are created equal. I’m a big believer in making sure they’re tailored to the needs of each individual business,” MacLeod says, adding that he has a service where he spends an hour discussing about 30 possible terms or conditions of employment.
The fixed-fee service for general advice covers a wide range of issues, including internal employee complaints, such as workplace harassment and human rights grievances; how to proceed with workplace investigations; how to comply with return-to-work obligations for employees coming back from pregnancy or parental leave; how to respond to requests for accommodation on the basis of disability or family status; and all employment issues arising out of the sale or purchase of a business.
The firm can also review employment practices and policies and identify whether an organization is compliant with key Ontario legislation, such as the Employment Standards Act (ESA), the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and make recommendations. Unlimited questions on compliance from the client are also included in the fixed-fee service.
Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, made “dozens and dozens” of changes to the ESA that took effect this year, MacLeod says. Those changes include the minimum wage, personal emergency leave, vacations, scheduling and holiday pay.
“A big employer may have a large HR department and they’re all over the changes, but a small- to medium-sized employer may not have a dedicated HR person,” he says.
With the fixed-fee service, a staff member from his firm would contact the client and review the organization’s practices and policies to determine if any of them need to be adjusted to satisfy the legislation.
“We would go through all of the Bill 148 changes and then we would give them a written report telling them exactly what they need to do to become compliant,” MacLeod says.
The fixed-fee compliance service is a year-long commitment, and “during the year, if something comes up involving the ESA, for example, they can call us as many times as they want and it’s included in the fee,” he explains.
“That has a great deal of appeal to some employers, especially small and medium-sized companies who are often intimidated by the cost of hiring an employment lawyer.”
MacLeod says the fixed fee — which is based on the firm’s prior dealings with the organization and the legal fees it spent in the past, as well as plans for the coming year — provides “peace of mind” to the client.
“There are many organizations that don’t deal with lawyers on a regular basis. They don’t know when to call lawyers. Sometimes they call too early, or they call when they don’t really need a lawyer, and then other times they call too late when I can’t really help them,” he says.
“If you call me 10 minutes before you’re going to terminate someone, I can help you much more than if you all me 10 minutes after.”