By working virtually, marketing himself on TikTok, and offering a range of legal services, Michael DeRosenroll is trying to make human rights law more accessible.
Michael DeRosenroll is trying to re-imagin what’s possible as a human rights lawyer.
A past Alberta Human Rights Commission officer and former counsel to three separate directors of the Commission itself, DeRosenroll opened his own firm, Human Law, this past April from the comfort of his St. Albert home.
“Going through the pandemic, I really learned how a virtual law practice could really work, because we were forced into doing it and building the plane as we flew it,” DeRosenroll said.
“[The pandemic] caused the Human Rights Commission and the whole legal system in Alberta to really heavily adopt a lot of really efficient new technologies that allowed me to be much more efficient than I used to be in pre-pandemic days.”
With new-found efficiency, DeRosenroll said he realized it was time to help people navigate the human rights legal system.
“The thing that I noticed while working there was that it’s quite common for people with complaints before the Alberta Human Rights Commission to not have lawyers,” he said. “I just saw time and again that when one side had a lawyer and the other didn’t, it never went well for the side that didn’t have a lawyer.
“There’s a complicated process that a complaint has to go through before it gets to a tribunal, and what I kept seeing was complaints that might have gotten to the tribunal step often didn’t when the complainant didn’t have a lawyer and couldn’ t navigate the complaint process to get to a hearing.”
In his experience, DeRosenroll said, people making human rights complaints often make them without the guidance of a lawyer due to the cost of retaining legal services, and because engaging a lawyer can be an intimidating experience.
“Sometimes it is too expensive for people, especially if you’ve lost your job and you don’t know when you’re going to get another,” he said. “Even if you have a good legal claim against the job you just lost, it can be daunting to engage a lawyer.”
DeRosenroll said he designed the firm specifically to address affordability concerns: the firm is as paperless as possible, doesn’t have office expenses to account for, and offers different types of services.
One type of service DeRosenroll offers that he said is becoming more common is what’s called a “limited scope retainer.”
“It’s like a piece-meal approach,” he said. “If a person has a viable human rights complaint but they can’t afford to retain me, for a flat fee I’ll just write the complaint form for them.”
DeRosenroll also offers a “subscription service,” which he said is more for small businesses and non-profit organizations as it works similarly to an insurance policy. DeRosenroll was inspired to offer a subscription service after working as legal counsel for Alberta Health Services (AHS).
“When I was working with AHS, I felt that I was doing my best work when human resources would call me for advice before they did something. I could avoid a lawsuit for AHS just by giving advice at the front end.”
“[Human rights concerns] are not things that come up every day or every week, but they come up often enough that just having somebody you can pick up the phone and call can really save you a lot of money down the road.”
In order to address concerns around how daunting engaging a lawyer can be, and to market his firm nationally, DeRosenroll started posting videos on TikTok in May. Three of his videos have been viewed more than 50,000 times.
“I can just sit in my home office and film little videos about human rights law and people seem to enjoy them and get value from them,” he said. Whenever a video gets lots of views, he gets “swamped with people wanting to tell me about their cases.”
“I’m now at the point where I’ve got an assistant helping me two days a week, and I think I’m going to need to add to that and hopefully add another lawyer in the next few months, because the volume of cases coming in now is such that I struggle to keep up with all the inquiries every day,” he said.
“One of the nice things about human rights law is that across the country, most of the human rights commissions do things virtually now, so I can actually take cases that are in other provinces.”
Since June, DeRosenroll said he’s helped clients with human rights cases in British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and at the federal level for employees of federally-regulated professions.
“Whenever I get contacted by someone in another province, they usually say ‘Hey! I saw you on TikTok.'”
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