For decades, Angela Rae has been a trusted adviser to clients, representing employers in all areas of labour and employment law. In 2018, along with her partners, she founded Rae Christen Jeffries LLP, one of Canada’s newest labour and employment law firms, and already one of Canada’s most respected. Along with her continued representation of clients across diverse sectors, Angela is managing partner of her firm, and remains a sought-after speaker both nationally and internationally.
What motivated you to specialise in labour and employment law?
In retrospect, I think it was inevitable that I would pursue this area of the law. First, I have always been curious about how the world works, and this field provides endless opportunities for learning about human endeavour. Second, as a child I was never hesitant to speak up and argue my point. Labour lawyers know that our field remains one of the best for anyone who wants to actually get on their feet and litigate. Third, I grew up in a blue-collar, working-class household where the only “law” that touched our lives in any tangible way was the law of the working world. With that background, there was no way I was going to end up practising in securities law or estates; the only surprise for my family was that I ended up on the management side!
How has the increase in whistle-blowing activities impacted your practice in recent times?
I used to conduct investigations on behalf of clients with some regularity. Increasingly, I find myself engaged in the management of investigations conducted by third-party investigators. Such investigations have become more frequent, with the subject matter being more complex both factually and legally. Our clients now need significant assistance in navigating management of the investigatory process itself.
What challenges did you face when setting up your own boutique firm?
We were fortunate and remain very grateful to have had the support of clients as well as that of the broader labour and employment law community in establishing our firm. As a result, we did not face some of the more daunting challenges that often confront new law firms. That’s not to say that launching our firm has been easy; there have been many early mornings and late nights over the past 18 months, and the experience has given us an even greater understanding of the challenges faced by our entrepreneurial clients.
How does Rae Christen Jeffries distinguish itself from its competitors?
We avoid being unnecessarily hierarchical in our dealings with our clients and with each other. We strive to assign the right lawyer, with the right experience, to every file, rather than defaulting to a typical “client ownership” model. Operating this way allows our clients to have multiple points of contact in the firm and allows us to provide them with better quality and more efficient service than might otherwise be the case.
What measures need to be taken to increase diversity in the labour law market?
Listen to the clients. Many sophisticated clients on both the management and union sides of the table are demanding that their legal representatives demonstrate a commitment to diversity, both philosophically and practically.
Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable case you have been part of?
Within weeks of our firm launch, I was asked, along with a formidable union side labour law colleague, to jointly represent various Canadian labour arbitrators’ associations in their application to intervene in a significant Supreme Court of Canada matter. I was honoured by the request but nonetheless hesitant, given all of the work to be done in those early days of our firm’s existence. My union side colleague convinced me that “yes” was the only option, and then graciously and disproportionately devoted her firm’s resources to the drafting of our materials. The case is not memorable because of the legal arguments; it is memorable for the faith that was placed in our firm in its earliest days, and the kindness extended by a colleague from “the other side”.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge facing the next generation of labour lawyers?
I don’t think there will be the same kind of “room” in the practice as there may have been in the past. Commoditisation and automation of some of the tasks typically associated with an employment law solicitor practice will eliminate the need for some types of practitioners. But I can’t imagine a world in which the need for highly talented negotiators and litigators will lessen; in fact, at that end of the scale, I think the opportunities will expand, because the skill set is rare and valuable.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position?
In the early years, say yes to every offer. Learn everything you can. In fact, that might be good advice for anyone, anytime.