Business Ethics. A Sad Tale of an Immigration Consultant Firm in Toronto

As most of you know, our blog posts are usually about Canada and US immigration visas, our clients’ victories and sometimes defeats. But this one is a little different. It is about what I consider the sad state of our industry when it comes to business ethics among immigration law firms and consultant firms. 

And I have a personal incident to share.

I have been practicing immigration law for over 15 years and I can say I think I have seen it all. Over the years I am proud to say I have developed a lot of close friendships with fellow immigration lawyers and consultants with whom I have collaborated and shared ideas. I am of the belief  that “sharing is caring”.

It’s a big market out there and the old ways of hoarding information for fear of competition is really shooting yourself in the foot. My approach has always been to take a more open, collaborative approach. I certainly don’t know everything and learning things from my colleagues helps me with my practice tremendously–it’s always a give and take.

So this leads me to a sad story about one particular immigration consultancy firm based in Toronto that will remain nameless. This particular firm I have dealt with for many years. The CEO I considered as a personal friend who I respected a lot. Like me, he appeared to take open approach to sharing ideas. He also was big on ethics…so I thought. His firm has done well over the years and offers a unique brand of services online. I have told him that despite that our firms’ websites are one of the most well-trafficked.  I never saw him as a competitor. Rather, I respected what he had done and the feeling was mutual it seemed.

And as such, I made it my business to stay away from offering his unique areas of service while he did the same with me.

But that was then and this is now….

One day, he introduced his IT guy to me. This character, who will also remain nameless, had particular knowledge in VoiP phone technology which I was exploring at the time. In any case, this IT guy got to know my staff, and without a doubt in my mind, he actively recruited one of my staff members for the CEO of the referring firm! Whether he was instructed to do so, I will never know.

In any case, the employee in question left my firm as a result and  joined the CEO’s organization. Ok it happens. We get a lot of employees from other firms as well. (But we never poach).  But there is more. The CEO, after I reached out to him, admitted that this employee of mine did in fact join his firm and he admitted that the way it was handled was totally wrong and he apologized. He said that this sort of thing would not happen again; that we are friends and he was sorry.

So given our long standing relationship, I did not hesitate to accept his apology and chalked it up to an isolated incident and all was forgotten. But that was then and this is now……..

Over 6 months later, another employee of mine, who shall remain nameless, fell ill. She went though some personal issues and took a medical leave. She was my employee for many years. I treated her like family and paid her a very healthy salary way above what the industry commands. I was happy to do it because she was very loyal and dedicated for many years at my firm.

What happened is that my former employee, the first one mentioned, got wind of the second employee’s leave of absence. They knew each other. And what happened next is in a word: unconscionable. She reached out to the second employee and attempted to recruit her to the CEOs firm! Apparently, the second employee and the CEO met and a job was offered. Shocking.

Learning of this, in disbelief, I reached out to the CEO who very sheepishly admitted that “Yes he had met up with this person. And I have every right to be upset and that he would feel even worse than I would if it happened to him”. He told me that he would have a “meeting with his staff the next morning and work it out”. He would then contact me later on in the day with an “update”. Well it turned out that nothing of substance took place at this meeting as all I got from him was: “Michael, going forward we will not solicit any of your staff. It is wrong.”

Going forward? Was he joking? Does he really want to go down this route?

The disturbing thing is that over the years, this guy loved to talk about business ethics: comments like “what goes around comes around”. “Its not all about the money” . The cliches were endless.

I do wish the second employee all the best. She is a great person. And sometimes it’s time to move on. Again our employees always have reasons for staying and leaving.

But back to our CEO.  I told him via email that in essence, all was not forgiven this time. And given what now seems to be a pattern of poaching, we were no longer collaborators but competitors. Sad really because I built my business based on collaboration–whether it be with my staff, colleagues and other professionals. What the CEO did tell me that “what goes around comes around” is something I believe, even if he really doesn’t.

The lesson I think is that in business even when there are opportunities which seem tempting, if they come across your desk that, in the end, will impact your reputation with your colleagues, clients and friends, perhaps it’s best to think twice. There are always opportunities but friends and collaborators do not come by often. Its just big picture thinking.

So while I am not at liberty to publish this guy’s details, feel free to email me for specifics.  I am sharing this story with you in case  you intend to deal with an immigration consulting firm in Toronto  (there are a lot of them) as a client or service provider or even as a colleague.

It’s best to pick carefully. Ethics count.




Michael Niren

About Michael Niren

Michael is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association’s Citizenship and Immigration Section and the Associate Member of the American Bar Association. Read more

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