EPISODE 2 : Kelsey Orth


Kelsey Orth

Kelsey is a partner at CCPartners, after joining as an associate in 2006.

Having completed a Master’s Degree in Industrial Relations in addition to his LL.B., Kelsey strives to understand his clients’ “big picture”, allowing him to provide strategic and proactive advice. With this approach, Kelsey has assisted employers across a broad range of industries in avoiding exposure and limiting risk, by helping them to develop and implement sound human resources and labour relations policies and practices. In particular, Kelsey focuses on avoiding or dealing with issues of unionization, unionized labour disputes, collective agreement negotiations and working through the grievance process. Kelsey also regularly presents workshops and seminars on various labour and employment law topics for managers, supervisors and human resources professionals.


When an adversarial approach is more appropriate Kelsey is also a proficient and persuasive advocate for employers at all stages of the litigation process, whether before an administrative tribunal, in grievance arbitration, or in civil litigation. Kelsey regularly represents employers before the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and has appeared before all levels of Court in Ontario.

Regardless of the forum or issue at hand, Kelsey seeks the most effective and efficient way to help his clients overcome the legal obstacles that get in the way of business.


Episode transcript

Brad Semotiuk: Hello and thank you so much for listening to episode 2 of steal from the best, a podcast to help listeners succeed in both business and life by stealing invaluable ideas and experiences from the best in class. We aren’t talking to the Richard Bransons or the Jeff Bezos’s which are the one in a millions…we’re talking with guests who are awesome people, and have a more relatable, raw story of business and life who share their experiences that have got them to where they are. I’m Brad Semotiuk, and along with Andrew Hodd, we’ll be talking to Kelsey Orth, an Employment Lawyer who is a Partner at Crawford, Chandon and Partners. Kelsey shares some insight about tackling whatever you are doing in business and life with 100% effort. He shares his great definition of success whereas it’s measured by constantly getting better from one milestone to the next. Kelsey also addresses common mistakes that employers make with the lack of solid employment agreements. Thanks again for listening and hope you enjoy and continue to listen to and steal ideas from the experience of our amazing lineup of guests.

Brad Semotiuk: Kelsey thanks so much for joining us today on Steal from the best.

Kelsey Orth: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Brad Semotiuk: What role did you take to get to where you are professionally today?

Kelsey Orth: That's, I don't know if it's interesting to your listeners but I actually never expected to be a partner in a law firm or even a practicing lawyer for that matter. I grew up. My dad has always been in labor relations with human resources. And I realized I think probably in high school that was the path I wanted to follow. So I thought the way things are going I will go do my schooling and go to law school get the legal training and background and then go into the field as a labor relations practitioner.

I found a great programmer at Queen's University that allowed me to do my master's in industrial relations and law school. And as part of that program, I had to summer and article which are the precursors to becoming a lawyer. And I found the first summer that I worked at a law firm I really liked it loved the environment like the way that things went and it was labor and employment law that I was doing when I was summering there or learning I should say. It was far from me a practicing lawyer at that point and kind of never looked back from there. I had one opportunity coming out of it when I finished my masters and not yet been to the law school. I applied for a job that was exactly what I had thought I wanted it. And I had my interview. So I had the master's in industrial relations I had an interest. In my interview, the vice president of labor relations at the company had coincidentally the same qualifications that I was working towards. He had his master's in investor relations and his legal training and he asked me,Kelseylook I like what you're talking about. If I put your name forward for this though, Are you ok with never practicing law and that was probably the best advice I ever got given where I am now? Because I went away and I came back to me I said Look I really appreciate you asking me that question because I think I have to at least see what it is to practice law to at least get to that point before I make that decision. So, you know. This many years down the road I'm a partner in a law firm never expected to even be practicing law in the first place. So 15 years out of law school and here I am.

Andrew Hodd: It is funny how it all works out. We'll definitely go back to your career. But I really want to ask you about your experience as an athlete growing up playing sports. You're actually a professional lacrosse player. You're a national champion in volleyball. You tell us about those two experiences and then tie it back to how it is affected your career today.

Kelsey Orth: Sure. So I mean, I qualified that there is a semi-professional lacrosse player. I never made it on the floor for an NLL game. I was on the practice roster and I played that kind of summer league semi-professional league for a number of years. But athletics and team sports alwaysa big part of my life from a young age.

I tried pretty much every sport that was out there and eventually fell in love with that with lacrosse and volleyball overall other.

I think my experience there was simply I discovered that I love working with a team. I find that a common goal. I mean it sounds good to say that a common goal unites us. But when you have a team working toward a common goal it is easy to be motivated and it's easy to stay motivated. And that is not necessarily directly translated into the actual practice of law. But the business side of things for sure and getting to where I want to get to in my career. As I said I knew what I wanted to do and the only way I ever got anywhere in athletics was practice, practice, and more practice and smart practice, right. So learning to be efficient about the use of time learning to be able to compartmentalize things you know. It wasn't like I was ever a full-time athlete. But I still put everything I had into those sports while doing other things. So I had to be able to turn one thing off and totally focus on the other. Otherwise, you know splitting your time and trying to quote and quote multitask without being fully focused on one task is never going to work.

You know multitasking is a bit of a misnomer in my view. But you can certainly accomplish a number of different things or be focused on different things at different times. It's the ability to shift gears and shift focus that I think I learned from balancing sports and studies or career or what have you.

Brad Semotiuk: Tell us about some of the challenges that your firm is facing Today. How did you overcome them? What were your takeaways? What did you learn?

Kelsey Orth: Sure. So as I mentioned I been out of court for 2019.so 15 years of practice and 13 years at my firm and another however many it takes before my kids are out of the house. But we are a boutique firm. All we do is labor and employment law and there are ebbs and flows. I mean our area of the laws is one of the more consistent ones. But there are still ebbs and flows to the business world and those affect us. And I think you know in trying to grow our business.

Earlier on and I mean not to say that the firm is mine. But I feel that I've been a part of the firm since my first day there and we can talk a little bit more about that later if you want. But essentially I think early on we had a growth model that was more optimistic than really focused on what our actual business needs were. So that was a challenge because we would fluctuate between having too much work, hiring too many people and not having enough work. And it was because we were taking a look at things on a very ad-hoc basis instead of saying- ok. Here are the business initiatives we were undertaking in terms of where we were focusing our client development or business development efforts. And here are the realistic chances of gaining a foothold in a new industry or a new sector that would yield a whole bunch of new business opportunities vs just saying – Wow! We build a lot. Last year we should hire someone right. And so, unfortunately, it took particularly tough year where we said look we can't keep doing this. And we ended up having to right-size the firm

Brad Semotiuk: What year was that. Was it tied into the recession?

Kelsey Orth: So,yes but a little bit like you are talking what do you mean. Yeah. So it was essentially the half year and year after that where we said – Ok, we've tried to ride it out. but in order to kind of move forward properly we've got to have the right complement and the right size of team to be able to grow the business properly.

Andrew Hodd: What steps to take in order to bring it back into balance? Is it a total overhaul or was it just a bit of tweaking? Like, wowdid it really?

Kelsey Orth: Yeah. It was for the person who was the odd man out it was probably more than just a tweak. But from a business perspective, it wasn't a total overhaul in terms of the team.It was a change in the way we did it.

And I'm simply saying - Ok well we have you know we need a certain breadth of coverage in terms of partners, senior and mid-level and junior associates in terms of supporting the work that we do and we have too many of X. And so, unfortunately, we had to decide where that went. Thankfully we were able to help out in terms of getting people in the right places. But it represented a real shift in business and so. In our growth, we have always prided ourselves on our organic growth. But still, organic growth has to be with a proper view of the right factors.

Brad Semotiuk: So you got firm with five partners. I mean, you talk about re-sizing. These are not easy decisions. So what's communication like having five and getting everybody to buy into making these big decisions for your firm?

Kelsey Orth: Sure yeah. Well, we have always been management by committee firm. So some firms will have managing partners and so on and we have actually got a change in the offing there. But I think the reason we have been able to do it we all have a shared vision. I mentioned earlier that I felt like I was in the right place right from the start. And you know we've done all the visioning and mission state and all those typical exercises that companies do. But even without those formal exercises, we all have a shared outlook on the way we practice law in our area and the way we develop business.

Some people when they develop business in the legal industry are about the hard. So, that is not our approach. We prefer to let our reputations speak for themselves. Obviously, introductions and word of mouth get a foot in the door but you have to be able to back it up. So that shared outlook I think makes it easier when we're discussing the business of the firm what direction we need to go. I mean truthfully we have had very few disagreements. We have lots of discussions as you might expect from a group of five lawyers.

But we have I mean generally what we have is each of us has been responsible for our own area of administration of the firm. And we then bring recommendations to the table and we have some discussion ask them questions. And that's pretty much how the decision making is going. What we realized this past year we have been incredibly busy it's been a great year for us. But we were not being as efficient as we could be in both the development and business for future growth and our own practice management and achieving the work-life balance that we always want. And the reason we were at the firm that we were at rather than perhaps somewhere else where there are different expectations. So we have actually gone and hired an office manager who will take some of those administrative responsibilities off our plates and we have decided to have a managing partner role implemented for the first time and we'll do it on a two year rotating basis through all of our five partners. So I got a few years before it gets to my turn.

Andrew Hodd: But so that place which you have a succession planning actually is there and obviously the legal committee is very different partnerships. It is not the same way that the equity stake would be dealing with. But is there a succession plan around the management. It sounds like you have a good rotation strategy. But I imagine the partners are maybe a different vintage from one another. Is there a future plan as to how you deal with the succession?

Kelsey Orth: Yeah. So I mean it is interesting because our firm has been around for 21 years and all of the original partners are still there and we are the different vintages that are basically so Crawford and Chandon started the firm in 1998 and then my other partner Jay Ryder joined them thereafter in 2001 so they are all around the same vintage. And truthfully it is only about a 10-year gap between them and me as the next level and then about a five or six-year gap between me and our other partner Mike McClelland and so we talk about succession planning and it hasn't really been a reality because it's still a young firm and young partnership. The way we are trying to do that though is with the managing partner role. We are all going to end up with exposure to more than just our traditional areas of administration. We have rotated around some of those duties in the past. But now with a view to specific succession planning. From business perspective though or from I should add to that from a practice perspective in the legal field generally practices will transition whether someone's buying a practice buying into a practice or what have you. The change from a partner who brings in the business to more junior lawyers servicing the client.

And so it is kind of a natural progression that way. The key is to maintain those personal connections. So our practice of law is not transactional. In the sense that we want to keep that relationship with the client on that same level at all times right. And so I mean it is maybe an unfair comparison to some of the other areas of law. And of course, I'm not an expert but we were other areas of law that might work on a deal and then have a client go away for a number of years until the next deal comes up. Our interactions are fairly regular with our clients and part of that is that there's a lot of strategies involved in what we do in labor and employment that isn't necessarily always present in other areas of the law.

Brad Semotiuk: What are some of the costly legal employment mistakes that you see business owners make? Some of these are mistakes that could have been easily avoidable.

Kelsey Orth: Sure. Well I mean this is a glib answer, but the first mistake is to act without asking your lawyer or act without information right. I mean that's a mistake that people make from all walks of life. But truthfully if you don't know 100% what you're doing then you should ask before you act. Aside from that on a kind of case by case basis a lot of times we will see clients dealing with terminations. The first question I always ask is,What do you have an employment agreement in place? And as soon as there is a false, I know that they either don't or that it is not gonna be good enough.

So getting an employment agreement in place that has a proper termination clause and properly outlines the terms and conditions of employment. Before the employee starts,it is the first step in mitigating risk and making sure that you don't end up down the road with a huge liability, right. Everybody is happy. You know you have whether you are a company of 100 employees or two employees and you want to grow to 100. Nobody wants to think about what happens in a bad situation or the worst-case scenario where things fall apart. And unfortunately, you will have got to be upfront about that otherwise you are 10 years down the road and looking at paying somebody for a year to do nothing whereas you could have been upfront and fair. I am not saying that you are trying to get away with anything that is minimum standards at the very least and you can certainly negotiate fair termination clauses. But if you don't address it, upfront then it is going to be very tough to fix it later on and or you're going to end up with that huge liability that we mentioned if things do end up going south.

Andrew Hodd: There's a lot of talks right now about AI, I mean All Industries. But certainly a lot of talk for AI within the legal industry. Personally, I'm a believer in sort of see the idea of this collective intelligence that we can really take advantage of new technologies and sort of work together with the machines to speak. Do you see, it as a major disruptor to you or speak to it as a legalcommunity as a whole?

Kelsey Orth: Sure. I mean, first of all, I agree with you that working together with the machines has certainly been helpful for me my firm and my practice and probably our industry in terms of allowing more work to happen efficiently. I think in the labor and employment sphere there's a huge element of strategy that I don't know that could ever be replaced and maybe I'm obviously not an expert in artificial intelligence. But the kind of idea that a lot of time is spent discussing with the client what they are trying to achieve and then figuring out how to get there. So the way I see it is there are a couple of steps. And those first couples of steps of talking with the client developing the strategy. I don't think that can ever be replaced. But certainly, I mean I got a demo coming up in a couple of weeks with some new A.I. platform that is specifically focused on labor and employment law that can help streamline research and you know we are going to check it out. One of the concerns that we have this goes back to our growth strategy our organic growth strategy is when we bring people on they are. There to learn they are there to support us but also at the same time they are learning how to be a lawyer in the future. So if we get too efficient at that research, the worry is that we don't have the lawyer who then is able to think strategically. Because they have not that broad base of knowledge - right. And it was actually a discussion that we had when we were talking about this A.I. platform - right. I mean if we stick our heads in the sand that's not a good solution either but we need to be aware and conscious of what we're doing and what we're trying to achieve if we do implement any kind of A.I. solutions. I mean on the straight technology side of things it is been invaluable to be able to use the cloud to be able to access our system from everywhere. Huge productivity gains and even allowing for a better work-life balance and in terms of being able to work from home or work from anywhere and not have to sacrifice one for the other. But the artificial intelligence is it is a tough one and I am sure that's true across many areas of business but that is how we see it in our firm at least.

Brad Semotiuk: You briefly hit on work-life balance, before recording today Kelsey told us that he was up for 25 hours straight. Can you talk to us about work-life balance and what are your thoughts and feelings on it?

Kelsey Orth: Yeah, I mean so there are a few elements and there are a few ways to get to an appropriate work-life balance and in my view and I think it is a big-picture thing overall right. Sure, I was up for twenty-five hours.Because I had to be if that happened to me every day or even every week then I would say that I don't have a work-life balance or I don't have the right work-life balance. I have absolutely no problem working hard when the work needs to be done. But the way to achieve the work-life balance is to make sure that you have the time so that is not the twenty-five hour day is not happening every week.

So for me hugely important and that is why I said earlier at the firm that I am at you know we all have the same kind of views right. So we are not downtown Toronto when the expectations that that brings. We do great work sophisticated works that have many clients. That is the same, I mean not many of our clients are the same as there are any other clients in the labor and employment field. What we don't have is an expectation that you're going to grind yourself into dust and whether that is an expectation or not. Unfortunately, I have heard it anecdotally from friends and colleagues who are either at that point of breaking or turning into dust or who have left private practice. So for me achieving work-life balance is about making sure that you carve out that time and sometimes. It is daily sometimes you have to wait a little while but as long as you're making sure that it's there right. And so the 25 hours/day happened because I didn't want to leave my family the day before to go up to Kingston where I had to be yesterday and I said you know what I would rather have one long day and have time with my family the night before. And deal with it that way. Then, I missed them two days in a row that kind of thing. So it's about making sure that you can carve out the time for yourself and being in a spot where you're able to do that whether that means you have an employer who is. Willing to do that or you've got the control in your career. Which at this stage of my career I generally do I mean some things get scheduled that over which I have no choice and client needs obviously come first. But in terms of controlling my own schedule, I always make sure that I am carving something out and if I am working late it is usually by choice because I have chosen to take some time for my family instead of staying at the office until 8:00 PM. I come home at 6:00 and spend a couple of hours and then work. So to me, that is still a great balance rate and it's rare that it is a 25 hour day.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah. I mean your clients kind of dictate your balance and I mean they put a lot of demands some realistic, some unrealistic which in turn I could see being quite stressful. How do you deal with the stress?

Kelsey Orth: Yeah. So I mean the work-life balance is I mentioned family obviously and work extracurricular interests. So staying physically active I go to the gym. I started playing hockey again a couple of weeks ago which I haven't done in a while. But you know that making sure that you still have an eye on those interests right and that you never get too long without doing something that you actually like. When you do get busy when we all get busy something got to give and it is not going to be work, you have to service those clients. It is not going to be your family because you're not going to let them down - right. So it's those other pursuits and so sometimes it's a matter of carving out that time to do something. And I try to pay attention to that in terms of if I start to feel like I'm too overwhelmed and I generally don't get stressed at the moment. It's more of a cumulative thing for me. I mean obviously going into a hearing there's certain nervous anticipation but I equate that to getting ready for a big game or something like that and I like it. Right, it is the adrenaline type thing knowing I am prepared knowing I am at my best and being ready for that. The cumulative effect of stress is what I try to watch out for and sometimes say,You know what I need to not even take my phone, just go to the gym and throw some stuff around. And that is how I deal with it that in the social aspect I mean I love it.

Andrew Hodd: I have to ask that question or said about it actually I have a business partner who is a bit a partner at a law firm. It is been in the legal community for probably 25 years now and it is really funny because his job has always been to mitigate moment risk and here we are in a business venture together me as an entrepreneur sort of taking on the risk it seems very natural. So we have these funny run ins, but here you are as a lawyer as well as an entrepreneur. Tell me about your thoughts on risk working with you. Tell me about how you really your approach to it.

Kelsey Orth: Sure.It is an interesting dichotomy because on the business side where we are exactly like you said we are an entrepreneur and I talked earlier about rightsizing and making decisions for the right reason like we know our risk if we overextend ourselves in terms of hiring there is going to be less money to go around for the partners that are simply put as it as it gets. Whereas always advising clients we are trying to teach them how to mitigate eliminate or avoid all risk altogether. And I had an interesting discussion with one of our clients whose in-house counsel and he said the difference between your job and mine is that you are trying to tell me how to avoid all risk and I am trying to tell you we're doing it. So we need to accept some risk. Let's figure out how little it is and I think you know, keeping that in mind is the way to balance the two - right. Like there's always going to be some risk. But, and if you can't calculate it you know nothing is as simple as a straight risk-reward equation right.

A equals B, but if you've got a good handle on what your business is and you're getting the right advice about what the risk is whether it's legal advice in the employment sphere or business advice from assessing the market all that kind of stuff. I think finding that balances is not going to say easy but it's possible - Right. And you have to be I mean if you weren't comfortable with some rescue wouldn't be in the business right. If I wasn't comfortable with that I wouldn't have joined the partnership. So that's kind of exciting right. That's why we like doing entrepreneurial things. But it does take a little bit of turning off at some point - Right. Like turning off that lawyer mentality. It is too risky. We can't do it. And just saying no there's a reason that we've explored this opportunity. Let's do it. Let’s go for 100%.

Brad Semotiuk: So what's the best tip that you ever received? Or better yet would have you stolen from the best.

Kelsey Orth: Well. You know I just mentioned if you are going to do it 100% right. And for me, that came from a discussion I had with two of my partners even Jay back when they were my bosses actually. And that both in terms of dedication to my practice and the business side of things has been what I took from I guess my mentors right there. They are the ones who taught me how to practice law. They are the ones who taught me how to work in the business of law. And now we're partners and it is great. So I think that is probably the one thing that I learned is you know if you are going to do something and you've got an interest in it for a reason so commit to it right and be confident that commitment is going to be well-placed.

Andrew Hodd: Awesome. Ready any resources that we haven't talked about already. That really helped you on your journey to get you to where you are in your business today.

Kelsey Orth: Yeah. Well I mean, I am lucky from a kind of career perspective that my dad has been involved in the same type of industry. I'm not a lawyer but the labor relations side of things. We talk about that kind of stuff all the time. My mentor as I just mentioned. Now my partners and my business partners right. And I think they're kind of having a sounding board whether it be my partners whether it be my dad. I think I like talking things out and that to me the resources around me have been family colleagues and you know not every work environment is necessarily like that but I found one that I really liked and it is for that reason. We are a very collegial firm and that has been my biggest resource from a business perspective and even from a life perspective too like they are 10 years ahead of me. So balancing family and busy practice. I watched them do it and learned from the - right.So I don't know if that answers your question.

Andrew Hodd: Should ask.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah of course. You're a humble guy Kelsey. I won't open this up to you. I mean I want to give you the chance to brag about yourself. What are some of your proudest accomplishments in both life and in business?

Kelsey Orth: Well I think I mean being a partner at a successful law firm at this stage of my career was something I never expected for myself. I'm pretty proud of that and really happy. My family I'm extremely proud of I for the longest time didn't know whether I would ever have kids and then my wife and I decided to try it. And that's been the best experience ever and I don't know many people who would say otherwise but. I'd be lying if I didn't say that was probably my proudest accomplishment having a great family. And we have a ton of fun. And as you guys know it's exhausting at times but it's well worth it right.So I know everybody would say that but I can't say it because it's true.

I think also I mean it's it seems a little bit glory days to say it but I mean I loved everything that we accomplished together playing volleyball. Brad and everything that I accomplished in the cross. I want a couple of national championships playing to the senior level. Those are the kinds of things that stay with me right. And that's all stuff that it's not me personally. It's all part of a team whether it's the firm, whether it's the family, whether it's the sports stuff. My, I think I'm proud of my ability to not just function within a team and this is maybe where I'll get a little less humble. But be a leader and to take charge of things that need to need to be done. I mean unnecessarily the best player but I know how to bring people together.

Andrew Hodd: It's great.How would you say you define success?

Kelsey Orth: That's an interesting question. I mean there are lots of different quantitative measures. but I think from a qualitative perspective it's like. Are you happy and not just happy like once in a while but are you generally happy? Do you feel like your life has gotten better from one milestone or point in time to another? And is that consistently happening? If so then you're successful in whatever you're doing. For me that's you know I've been able to say that every year my life has gotten better and it's not necessarily tied to one specific thing each time I say that maybe a bunch of things and there are always setbacks and things. But on balance, my life just keeps getting better.

Brad Semotiuk: Awesome.You've got an awesome story and I'm really happy that we were able to share it today. You been raw and honest and offered some good tips on employment contracts and getting everything down and has some great insight. Kelsey thank you so much for joining us today on steel for the best.

Kelsey Orth: Thanks guys appreciate.