Skip to content

Labour & employment boutiques holding their own

Top Boutiques: January 2012 — Part Two
|Written By Michael McKiernan
Labour & employment boutiques holding their own
Illustration: Jason Schneider

This article is a continuation of "IP boutiques holding their own" from the January 2012 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Click here to read Part One.

The following is an alphabetical list of Canadian Lawyer's top 10 labour and employment boutique firms.

[strong]Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton McIntyre & Cornish LLP




The firm traces its roots back to 1983, when Paul Cavalluzzo, Jim Hayes, and Elizabeth Shilton teamed up to form a firm committed to social justice and equality in labour law. Now they’re up to 34 lawyers in their Toronto base. “Cavalluzzo is on top. There’s nothing they aren’t involved in. They get a lot of high-profile work,” says one union lawyer, and she’s not wrong. The firm represented Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion during the judicial inquiry there, and has taken centre stage in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ Charter challenge against back-to-work legislation that considers whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to strike. Michael J. Fraser and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada were also their clients in the landmark Supreme Court case Ontario (Attorney General) v. Fraser.

Emond Harnden LLP


This Ottawa management-side firm sprouted in 1987 thanks to the efforts of founding partners Lynn Harnden and Jacques Emond, who continue to practise. Now with more than 20 lawyers, it has followed a gradual growth path that has seen most associates first gain experience as articling students, with many later moving into partnership. Public sector clients include hospitals, school boards, municipalities, and colleges and universities. The firm also represents large national and international corporations. It boasts a research department, a resource few lawyers at firms this size benefit from. 

Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP
(Toronto, London, Ont.)

This management-side shop was established in 1982 when the labour department of full-service firm Cassels Mitchell Somers Dutton & Winkler broke off. Founding partner Warren Winkler is now Ontario’s chief justice. The firm settled on its current handle in 2001, when it expanded from its Toronto base to open an office in London, Ont. It currently houses 33 lawyers in the two offices. Its client list has expanded through most sectors of the economy, but has particular depth in manufacturing, construction, entertainment, the public sector, and financial services. The firm hosts a client conference each June, regularly pulling in more than 700 attendees. 

Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP
(Toronto, Ottawa, London, Kingston, Waterloo, Ont.) 

With offices across Ontario, this management-side boutique currently has just over 100 lawyers in five cities. It opened in 1972 with eight lawyers after breaking away from Miller Thomson LLP. The amicable split saw the new firm operate in the large firm’s offices for three months. The firm was co-counsel to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in an overtime pay class action; labour counsel to Vale Inco during the prolonged strike there; and U.S. Steel Canada Inc. during its recent lockout, which ended in October. The firm also counts the Toronto District School Board, the University of Toronto, and Hydro One among its clients. “We deal with them a lot,” says one Ontario-based in-house counsel. “Universally, the feeling is that Hicks is it. You don’t get anyone better on the management side.” 

Neuman Thompson 

Formed in 1977 by Ron Neuman and Brian Thompson, this management-side firm now has eight lawyers, all working out of its Edmonton office. But its reach extends much further. The firm masterminded the labour platform at Saskatchewan-based international grain company Viterra Inc., a template now exported to the company’s Asian, European, and Australian operations. Another key client, B.C.-based West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd., has also called on the firm to overhaul its collective bargaining approach in recent years. The Government of Alberta, Loblaw Companies Ltd., and Suncor Energy Inc. are among the other illustrious names in the firm’s Rolodex of clients. “I’ve heard very good things about them across the country, not just in Alberta,” says one western Canadian partner at a national law firm. 

Pink Larkin
(Halifax, Fredericton)

With a web address like, it’s clear that Pink Larkin is well established in the field. It all started in 1989 when four lawyers left Nova Scotia’s largest full-service firm to better service Atlantic Canada’s labour-side employment law needs. The Halifax office now has 12 lawyers, plus four more in Fredericton, which opened in 1993. Its clients include the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, major teachers unions, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. The firm certainly has the Maritimes covered, recently negotiating a funding deal on behalf of doctors in P.E.I.
Rivest Schmidt

This union-side outfit traces its roots to 1970, when the firm was named Décary Jasmin Rivest. It now has eight lawyers, representing unions, professional associations, and individuals in employment matters. In 2011, La Presse ranked it the second-best labour law firm in Montreal, behind national firm Norton Rose OR LLP. That followed a busy year — the firm represented Quebec prosecutors in negotiations following a bitter strike and back-to-work legislation, which eventually resulted in a new contract signed in September. The firm has also represented the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union and the Hydro-Quebec Pensioners’ Association. 

Roper Greyell

This 24-lawyer firm is the exclusive British Columbia representative of the Employment Law Alliance, a worldwide network of labour and employment lawyers. Former partner Bruce Greyell was named to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2009. He was among the founding partners in 2006 when the Vancouver employment and labour practices from Ogilvy Renault LLP and Greyell MacPhail LLP combined to form the new firm. The firm deals with matters involving management-side labour law, human rights law, wrongful dismissal litigation, drafting employment contracts, privacy law, workers’ compensation, employment standards, and employment-related immigration.
Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP
(Toronto, Ottawa)

Jeffrey Sack, Howard Goldblatt, and Michael Mitchell came together in the mid-1970s to found a law firm that promised to protect the rights of working people. Their mandate has broadened to include criminal and constitutional work, but the labour focus remains. The 49-lawyer firm represented the Canadian Labour Congress in three of the biggest labour-relations cases in the last decade: 2001’s Dunmore v. Ontario (Attorney General), B.C. Health Services from 2007, and Ontario (Attorney General) v. Fraser in 2011. The firm is also spearheading overtime class actions against Canadian banks, and is counsel for the Ontario Conference of Judges, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, and numerous university faculty associations. “We come across them quite often because of the nature of our work,” says one union in-house counsel. “They are really excellent.” 

Sherrard Kuzz LLP

Founders Michael Sherrard and Erin Kuzz have seen their firm steadily grow since emerging on the scene a decade ago. Today, 21 lawyers serve clients, unionized and non-unionized, domestic and foreign, public and private, in virtually every sector. The firm prides itself on its flat internal structure, eschewing associate or partner titles, while its 24-hour hotline is a prized safety net among clients, promising an SK lawyer at the other end seven days a week. “Best labour and employment firm I have dealt with,” says one client.

Honourable mentions:

Ball Professional Corp., Toronto

Grossman Grossman & Gale LLP, Toronto

Loranger Marcoux LLP, Montreal

Rubin Thomlinson LLP, Toronto

Shields O'Donnell MacKillop LLP, Toronto

Click here for the top 10 intellectual property boutique firms.