The decision to dedicate your practice to collective actions will affect the number of clients, the mode of remuneration and the scope of your work’s influence. We discussed these aspects with two lawyers who specialize collective actions practice.
“I think it’s the best way to provide access to justice to the largest number of people,” says Anne-Julie Asselin, of the Trudel Johnston & Lespérance firm, about her specialty, having made collective actions (and public interest remedies) her main battle horse. “We represent hundreds of thousands of members with 11 lawyers in the office,” she adds. “This is exceptional.”
Hundreds (thousands) of clients
It must be said that although the lawyers in the case have as their principal client the representative of the cause that they will bring before the court, each collective action also represents a group of individuals whose size and conditions for inclusion will be determined by a judge in a lengthy authorization process. This large number of clients is an incredible engine, and at the same increases the lawyer’s responsibilities, as Me. Asselin says: “A significant part of our practice is dedicated to the relationship with members, to communicating legal information in everyday terms for them, which many lawyers do not have to do.”
Without a doubt, one of the main characteristics of collective actions is that the remuneration is generally not calculated in terms of billable hours, but in percentage… amounts won in the event of victory. Needless to say, you have to believe in the causes you agree to take on! This way of operating, however, comes with considerable latitude in preparation of your cases, Me. Asselin says. “It gives us a lot of freedom with regards to the time we can spend on a case, because we do not have a client paying us by the hour.”
The litigation that is the subject of collective actions are almost “always issues that can cost the defendant concerned several million dollars,” says Me Alexandre Wery, of the Kugler Kandestin firm, a litigation shop whose services include collective actions. “It is certain that these are always cases that are up against top calibre offices,” he adds. Preparation must therefore be especially diligent!
With the colossal amount of work involved in the long proceedings of collective actions comes a big reward: a sense of duty done multiplied by the number of individuals affected by the judgement.
“What I like the most is being able to change behaviours on a large scale,” concludes Me Wery. “When you pursue a company, saying that such a business practice is illegal and we win, they do not do it any more. We have just changed something for all Quebeckers. And that is very satisfying.”