Building relationships, being part of group key to labour relations success, says Jamie Knight (National HR Awards)

Winner: Employment Lawyer of the Year
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/13/2017
Jamie Knight
Jamie Knight says his career as a lawyer specializing in labour relations is the result of a "happy accident." Courtesy: Jamie Knight

Sitting outside a Teamsters’ office in Toronto, Jamie Knight is looking forward to what awaits inside. That’s because labour relations has been his passion for years.

“There’ll be some tough talk across the table but there’ll also be some constructive talk,” says Knight, a partner working out of both the Hamilton and Toronto offices of Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti.

“If you want to be in labour and employment law, the first thing, whichever side you’re on, is you have to genuinely like people and you have be prepared to work with all sorts of different people. And you have to remember that you’re just one person, and it’s always a group effort, and you can always focus on building relationships and being part of a group and not trying to always be brightest light in the room — then you’re more likely to have success.”

Knight has more than 30 years of experience representing management in labour and employment law, including numerous appearances before the courts, arbitration boards, labour relations tribunals, as well as participating in adjudications in human rights, employment standards and health and safety matters.

He also has extensive experience in collective bargaining and assisting employers in interacting with trade unions, including defending against union-organizing campaigns, with clients in various sectors.

“One of the real joys of labour and employment law is I get to spend most of my time out of my office interacting with people, both my clients and the people who are representing the view on the other side,” he says.

“You have this network you develop that you’re able to rely upon, so I think I’ve really been the beneficiary of a lot of support and help from other people, which I think is the only way to succeed.”

Knight first attended the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Quebec before receiving his law degree in 1983 from the University of Toronto. Originally, Knight didn’t plan on pursuing labour relations law, but he knew he wanted to deal directly with people as opposed to tax codes or corporate transactions.

“Like many young law students, I thought criminal might be interesting but then after a while you realize that perhaps it’s not as interesting as it first sounds, so dealing with people in the context of labour relations law proved to be much more interesting.”

Knight took a job at a Toronto hospital where his work involved hiring other students. He then transferred into a labour relations position and got into arbitrations and labour issues.

“I loved it, so it really was a happy accident — I ended up kind of falling into a career that seemed to suit my interests,” he says.

A big part of Knight’s career has been his involvement with the Canadian Association of Counsel to Employers (CACE), a national not-for-profit association of management-side labour and employment lawyers with a mandate to ensure advancements in Canadian law also reflect the experience and interests of employers.

Knight has served on the board since 2008, was chair of the human rights committee from 2010 to 2015, and was president for 2016 to 2017.

In 2017, under Knight’s leadership, CACE established the first “Future Leaders Conference” for lawyers who are in their first 10 years of practice. The inaugural conference was held for two days in Montreal in May and was attended by 80 lawyers from across Canada.

“The (main) conference is at a high level, and we were concerned some of the junior lawyers who were just starting out in the employment labour practice weren’t really being served by us, so we started a Future Leaders Conference,” he says.

Under Knight’s leadership, CACE membership has dramatically increased in the past two years. This was partly because CACE implemented a new structure that encouraged firm membership instead of individual membership, says Knight. In addition, the association removed the membership charge for in-house counsel, “so that’s created an explosive growth in terms of our in-house practitioners, which has been very rewarding for the association.”

The CACE also does interventions at the Supreme Court level, preparing submissions to government and government agencies on legislative and policy development, he says.

Knight has also authored or co-authored some 20 publications for human resources professionals and lawyers, most of them in multiple editions, including the Employment Litigation Manual, Halsbury’s Laws of Canada; Labour, and Accommodation in the Workplace, as well as several Quick Reference Guides to key labour and employment legislation.

In addition, he involves associate lawyers and students in the ongoing updates of the publications, to provide valuable learning opportunities in research and writing.

It’s been an extremely rewarding experience, says Knight.

“The time you put into it is easily repaid by increased understanding of your area of practice (and), most importantly, the opportunity to involve many of my colleagues in being able to write. And when you write, you have to think about how you are communicating with your audience, which includes clients, so you’re able to take sometimes very abstract legal concepts and turn them into understandable and applicable practices and recommendations that will hopefully have a positive impact on the workplace, both from the standpoint of how workplaces are managed, but also… from the standpoint of how union leaders and employer reps can do a better job of representing their members or their individual employee clients — so hopefully all sides can benefit.”

Knight was also involved for several years with the discipline committee of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Ontario. He was involved in trying to establish and implement standards of professionalism for human resources, such as policy input and a code of conduct.

“I was also involved as a mediator when there were issues of professionalism raised, so complaints about somebody’s professional practice. And then, most recently, I was involved as part of a discipline hearings panel, so I was plainly able to lend my expertise,” he says.

“It was really a matter of me providing what I consider to be a public service which I think is really important for any professional to do when opportunity arises.”

Knight is also a frequent speaker and media commentator on labour and employment issues, such as such as workplace violence, respectful workplaces and attendance management. In addition to client training sessions, he taught management and human resources employees in employment law programs at the University of Guelph in Ontario for 20 years.

Through it all, Knight says he’s been successful because he’s been lucky.

“I’ve had a lot of support from my wife and family, they’ve been supportive and understanding in terms of the practice — it sometimes can be quite demanding — and I’ve worked with some excellent people, both in my firm and also through associations.”

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