Changing legislative labour laws, fighting for the rights of non-unionized employees and running a law practice with over nine specialized lawyers is all in a day’s work for one of Toronto’s top employment litigators, Bram A. Lecker.
A skilled advocate and trusted advisor, Lecker was recently voted one of the top three employment and labour lawyers in Toronto for the third consecutive year by way of votes on threebestrated.ca, a site that uses the firm’s own clients’ ratings as a major criterion. In spite of his astounding portfolio, Lecker actively participates in client cases and mentors a stellar team of employment lawyers to achieve their objectives in complex disputes ranging from wrongful dismissal, minority shareholder oppression, workplace harassment and denial of disability benefits.
Lecker’s firm also encompasses trial and appellate advocacy in employment cases, job layoffs and severance package negotiations.
With experience in the legislative, and judicial branches, he has acted as lead or co-counsel at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. He also advises corporations, non-profit organizations, and executives on their legal obligations and has active directorships on York Community Credit Counselling and the Economic Club of Toronto.
The Edge spoke with Lecker about the secret behind his success and what motivates him on a daily basis.
In a nutshell, can you briefly describe your career background and achievements thus far?
I began my career 36 years ago as a general practitioner. However, 30 years ago, I identified a gap in a niche market to represent non-unionized employees in the field of wrongful dismissal and disability law. I took the bold step to open my own practice and a quarter-century later, I am now the principal in the practice, mentoring over nine talented lawyers in this topical and specialized field.
One of my most influential cases resulted in a legislation being changed in protection of independent contractors and vulnerable employees, which set law and precedent in Ontario’s justice system. It went on to be named one of the 10 most important legal decisions in Canada in 2018.
Another case that comes to mind that I did quite a few years ago, ended at the door of the Supreme Court of Canada, when an employer requested an employee to be on-call for work on a 24-hour shift and the employee refused on the basis that he wanted to ensure quality time with his family. It was for this reason that he was subsequently terminated. The Court determined that the employer’s decision was wrongful. The decision evolved into Canada legally acknowledging “family values” that must be respected in the workplace.
I’m very proud of what I do. I am able to fulfil my passion for representing those who were wrongfully dismissed, and those with disabilities, illnesses or accident stemming from employment and protecting their rights.
All lawyers will tell you that they went into law because they want to help “mankind”- quite altruistically. At the time, when I went into practice at age 26, I, too, felt like I wanted to change the world. But the reality is different – I make a difference by concentrating sufficient resources to help a person with their case and also make a good living at it. After all, it’s a business. We engage our service on a “recovery” basis, with no upfront retainers. In this way, I am fortunate to enable and help my clients, achieve a favorable result and therefore maintain a secure financial operation at the same time.
Who is Bram Lecker as a person?
I like to call myself a prickly pear – tough on the outside, softer on the inside. To do this work, you have to have a passion for the rights of the “underdog” and my blood still boils when I see people being treated unfairly, especially when they are ill or injured.
I believe I have been successful thus far, because I fervently believe I have learnt from my cultural background that it is imperative to treat clients like guests. Surprisingly, a lot of lawyers do not do so. Greet people with a smile, offer them tea and treat them with respect – it’s not that difficult.
What motivates and inspires you on a daily basis?
At this point, 36 years later, it’s putting together an effective reputable team, which really gets me on a high right now. I am fortunate to work with self-motivated, energetic and passionate staff including my eldest son.
I take a lot of pleasure that my group of employees whom are mostly millennials have essentially adopted my style in conjunction with their own. I still don’t understand why they eschew napkins and love bottled water so much. I have been able to develop some pretty good lawyers throughout the years. Just thinking about this is my daily reward – like a teacher.
Due to COVID-19, how has the current economic climate affected your business and your clients? I imagine your services are more relevant now more than ever before.
I don’t want to sound like a mortician, but unfortunately, what has been bad news to the world has been very good for us.
I believe some employers took advantage during this time – they were not financially stressed, yet they laid off staff to reduce costs. With the ensuing deluge of enquiries, we put out a blog essentially saying “employers, we understand your pain, but we hate to be the one to tell you, the Emergency Regulations did not suspend “Common Law” contractual rights and you cannot keep employees waiting forever.” Our website received 33 000 hits for that blog.
What do you attribute as your greatest quality and how has that assisted you in becoming one of Toronto’s most prominent lawyers in your specialization?
Thirty years ago, I was told by a senior lawyer, ‘Lecker you are made up of nothing but 20 percent reason and 80 percent aggression’. I literally have this illuminated sign in front of my office that flashes Winston Churchill’s adage “Action This Day” to remind myself and staff that we exist in a never ending sea of hostility with employers that do not respect our laws. However, we are still Canadian lawyers, and the aggression has to be tempered with reason and civility in the best interests of our clients – 90 percent of whom have never seen the inside of a courtroom.
What are some of the greatest lessons and challenges that you had to endure in your 30+ years of being an entrepreneur?
Managing egos of both arrogant employers and sometimes unrealistic and emotional clients. We work a great deal with mediators and outplacement counsellors – if one could put emotions aside and basically sit around the table and just deal with the facts and law, with no politics or attitudes, we would get a lot more done and save time, stress and money. But then there would be no reason for lawyers – would there?
What is your secret to success?
Delegate to the right people – I am always able to know when it’s time to delegate. Lawyers tend to be hands-on and overwhelm themselves with work – this was me many years ago, but I learnt the hard way, with a back injury that one cannot spread themselves too thin. It’s ultimately limiting to growth. Another secret to my success is spending money to expand. My dad used to say that sometimes you have to crack an egg to make an omelet, that goes for software, office environments and talent.
Any winning advice for future entrepreneurs and lawyers?
Sure, for lawyers specifically, I would say get themselves a good website and a good web marketer – they are rarely the same person. That’s almost a sure way to acquire business and keep the lights on.
Treat your clients as a customer, with dignity. Let them know that you are practically and metaphysically behind them and not just there to take their money.
I am a big fan of influencers as a source of referrals as well. Identify them and cultivate those relationships.
Finally, don’t live to work, work to live – one must have a balanced life. As entrepreneurs, we are all guilty of waiting till tomorrow to really enjoy family and friends.
Veruschka Mungroo | Senior Editor