September 2016
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Did you hear the story about the entrepreneur who went skiing with their family over the holidays and unexpectedly hit a tree on their decent and suffered a debilitating brain injury? After a lengthy hospital stay and another month of care at home, this unfortunate individual was bombarded with calls from unpaid suppliers and frustrated employees who were waiting for missed paychecks because the entrepreneur did not have a power of attorney for property.

A power of attorney is an important legal document that provides a plan in the event you become injured, infirmed and unable to make decisions regarding your health and finances. With a continuing power of attorney for property, you can appoint someone to make financial decisions for you, such as paying your bills. If you fall ill or become injured and cannot make decisions regarding your health and medical care, a power of attorney for personal health and care can give someone else the right to act on your behalf to make such health and medical decisions. Powers of attorney can be invoked on a permanent or temporary basis to help you make decisions in the time of need.

The entrepreneur’s brain injury unfortunately did not recover and the doctors found the entrepreneur lacking the mental capacity to create a valid power of attorney. Without having the powers of attorney in place, the entrepreneur’s eldest son had to go through a lengthy and costly experience by applying to the courts to be appointed as the entrepreneur’s guardian to help manage the company finances and property. All of this could have been avoided if the entrepreneur had powers of attorney in place while mental capacity was not an issue.

We encourage our clients to have powers of attorney created, especially when planning for their estate. It not only makes good business sense, but it provides a clear plan for you and your loved ones if an unfortunate event occurs and you are unable to make health and financial decisions.

If you would like to learn more or would like to create powers of attorney for yourself, we would be pleased to be of assistance.

Michelle Eames, LLB, LLM

Yesterday our Paralegal, Murray Brown, celebrated 5 years with our firm. A “workiversary’ of this length is something that needs to be celebrated and certainly, our Paralegal needs to be celebrated.

In Ontario, the relationship between Lawyers and Paralegals has been a tough one since I’ve been practicing law (23 years) and likely before that. The tensions are flaring again in Ontario as Paralegals push to take on roles in Family Law. We don’t practice in that area of law, but I can understand why it is important a Lawyer be involved when there are complicated assets and custody issues.

In the area of Business Litigation, Murray is an asset to our firm as he handles all of our Small Claims Work. Small Claims is a tough Court to practice in. As with all Courts in Ontario, it doesn’t have enough Judges, so dockets are long and adjournments are frequent. Murray’s patience to guide our clients through the system is one of the things that makes him so good at what he does.

The title “Small Claims” does not accurately describe the types of cases that Murray handles in Court. The monetary limit of our Small Claims Court is currently $25,000.00. That is a lot of money to many Small Businesses. The issues in Small Claims Court can be complicated, particularly when dealing with contracts that are not in writing: this is where Murray’s experience as a Business Litigator really kicks in.

Yes, your business can represent itself in Small Claims, however, with someone like Murray who has over 13 years experience and knows how to get results, why would you, particularly when all of our Small Claims Work is on a flat fee basis.

Congratulations on 5 years with our firm Murray – we look forward to celebrating the next 5 with you as well !

Inga B. Andriessen JD
Lawyer & Proud Co-Worker of Murray Brown, Paralegal

Recently we have heard of many businesses being hit with Crypto Viruses. This is a computer virus that holds your data ransom until money is paid to hackers and you receive some but hopefully all of your data. Each of the businesses that were hit did not have a professional running their IT. It was often someone’s brother, who was doing it “on the side” or in the worst case, a business owner who “doesn’t believe in paying for IT.”

Interestingly, after paying to get Data back, people start believing in paying for professional IT.

Similarly, over the years we’ve had clients who “incorporate themselves” …. and do it wrong ….. and pay us to “do it right.” That is the opposite of “saving money”.

The “best” examples of when not to cheap out are the clients who decide they don’t want to pay for us to prepare an employment contract (between $ 500.00 and $ 2,000.00 depending on how complex) and end up paying well over $ 10,000.00 to defend wrongful dismissal law suits and payout judgments for not complying with the law in Ontario.

Remember, sometimes the cheapest solution is not the most cost effective solution in business law.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

September is a busy month for our firm: many businesses who were content to let receivables age over the summer turn the page on the calendar and think “gotta get that fixed before December 31”. This leads to a lot of demand letters and claims flying out the door of our firm.

If you’re looking to collect from a customer, these are the important pieces of information we need to get to work quickly for you:

1. copy of your contract, if you have one;
2. copy of your invoice(s);
3. copy of the credit application, if you have one;
4. copy of any emails promising to pay or saying why they are not paying;
5. copy of any cheques used to pay earlier invoices.

We usually conduct a writ search to see if there are already judgments against your customer before recommending whether to sue or not. If you believe the customer owns property, we recommend a property search as well to see if there really is a pot of gold at the end of the lawsuit rainbow (or if the spouse of the customer owns the property).

Many times a demand letter and follow up phone call from our firm is all it takes to get payment, but there are also times we have to move quickly to obtain judgment or prevent assets from being moved out of Ontario.

If you need help getting paid, give us a shout, we are happy to help.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Sometimes you just can’t fix stupid. I’ll double down on that statement and say all the time you cannot fix a fraudster.

Recently, our firm was contacted by an individual who was convicted of fraud while he was a Chartered Accountant and expelled from membership as a CA because of that fraud. This individual attempted to represent a company in a litigation. Wow. I guess committing fraud as a CA wasn’t enough, the individual needed to try to practice law without a licence.

Leaving aside the fraud, an accountant cannot represent a party to a lawsuit in Ontario. The only professionals who can represent parties are:

1. licensed paralegals, in Small Claims Court and other specific areas;
2. licensed lawyers, who can represent clients in all areas of Law.

An individual (not a company) can represent themselves in all areas of Law in Ontario. However, if a corporation is sued, it must obtain permission from the Court to represent itself and this is not always granted, particularly if the individual seeking to represent the corporation is unprofessional in dealings with the Court and/or the other side.

I recently read a statement, though cannot remember where, that said “if you think professionals are expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.” This is very true in litigation where paralegals and lawyers know the process and know how to handle speak to issues before the Court and Tribunals. An amateur will not and that can get very expensive in terms of judgments and cost orders that could be awarded against you.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

On September 8, 2016 Ontario Employers must comply with the changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act that address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

The changes are not difficult to comply with, they essentially involve ensuring your current workplace policies address sexual harassment, have a plan to investigate incidents and complaints of workplace harassment, inform the parties to any such complaint of the results of the investigation and what action is taken and, if applicable, involve the Joint Health and Safety Committee in developing written programs and procedures.

The big take way from the changes are: put it in writing. Do not have verbal policies. Do not only communicate the results of investigations in a conversation. Put it in writing.

While the Ontario Government, in their TV campaign introducing these change in the Spring of 2016 appears to believe that sexual harassment is always a man harassing a woman, that is not in fact the case and employers must be prepared for same sex harassment, transgender harassment and women sexually harassing men.

If you’re not certain your workplace policies comply with the changes required by September 8, 2016, reach out to a Business Law lawyer to have them review what you are currently using. It is less expensive to pay a lawyer to prepare proper policies than it is to respond to a complaint.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

It’s that time of year – students are getting ready to start Law School, Law Practice Program (LPP) Candidates are getting ready for their first in person week. It’s time to Law. (I know, Law is not a verb, but really, it should be.)

If you’re about to enter law school, the best thing you can do is get organized. This isn’t undergrad: your game is about to be stepped up and your organizational skills need to do likewise.

If you’re about to enter the LPP and can afford it: sell your Mac and get a PC laptop. Most law specific computer programs are not Mac friendly: you’ll thank me for this when you’re not up all night during the Real Estate part of the LPP. Really. You’re welcome in advance.

For all those about to Law, check your egos: you’ll learn more if you do. You’re not about to be “better than everyone else” because you have a law degree: it’s just your education, it’s not who you are.

Finally, for all about to law, invest in at least one black suit. Spend as much as you can afford to get the best quality. This will help a lot as you will be wearing it for many assessments and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Good luck. Have fun & welcome to Law !

Inga B. Andriessen JD

First impressions: you never get a chance to make a new first impression.

A couple of older teenagers I know recently decided to go to a Toronto restaurant for Summerlicious. The restaurant was Fred’s Not Here. When they met the host, they were asked if they were there for Summerlicious. When they enthusiastically said yes, they were escorted past the empty patio, past the empty upstairs and deep within the bowels of the basement. Not a great start.

The portions were crazy small, the steak was not done properly, though the server didn’t return to check on it, so it was kind of a moot point. The patrons were drinking cola (being under aged and all) and the server never asked if they would like their drink refilled. The teenagers tipped properly (no doubt to the shock of the server who didn’t earn it) after their meal and left.

They will never go back again. They will tell their friends never to go there. Fred’s Not Here will not get a second chance with these patrons, who are just at the start of their earning and spending years. What a shame and certainly, the opposite effect that Summerlicious was initially created for.

I’m often surprised that new clients to our firm express they were treated in a similar manner to the situation above, when they were trying to find a Business Law Firm to handle their matters. Stories of people being spoken down to, laughed and or simply not heard are too common.

At our Business Law Firm, we enjoy working with start ups, sole proprietors and business people who just have the start of an idea. We work with our clients and do not talk down to them.

First impressions matter: we like to make a good one.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Do you SnapChat? Does your company? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?

You should.

As a business law firm, one of our beliefs is that you must continue to evolve. This doesn’t mean you need to use every new social media platform that is created, but you should understand it and understand how your clients and/or employees are using it.

SnapChat started off as a sexting Ap for teenagers. That would be a very bad use in a work environment.

It has now evolved into a platform that lets people and companies tell “stories” and turn their faces into dogs with tongues hanging out. The last part is o.k. at work, if your co-worker doesn’t object to being turned into a dog’s face; however, doing that without their permission could lead to allegations of bullying and a toxic work environment.

The above two paragraphs are examples of why you can’t ignore new social media if you are an employer. Your obligations to protect your employees from harassment and discrimination don’t end because you don’t understand technology.

Our firm Snaps occasionally. Our Snap Chat name is AndriessenLaw . Feel free to become friends with us if you’re interested in behind the scenes photos of the firm – last week our paralegal, Murray Brown’s guppy tank was featured. We did not turn any guppies into dogs.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

A few weeks ago the City of Toronto floated an idea (which has become common in many circles) that 50% of all of its Board Members must be women.

I am a woman. I am a lawyer. I sit on Boards. I do not like that idea at all.

The reason I don’t like the idea is that it immediately devalues the abilities and accomplishments of women who are appointed to Boards. Many will perceive them as being appointed due to their gender, not due to their abilities. I don’t like being reduced to a gender: if all I have to do to be on a Board is be a woman, then why did I bother with undergraduate studies and a Law Degree?

Women should be appointed to Boards because they are good at what they do. If they want to be on Boards, they should lobby for those positions the same way men do.

Don’t sit back waiting to be asked – let Boards know you want on. Let them know how qualified you are. Be appointed because of your accomplishments: it is much more satisfying.

Inga B. Andriessen JD