The fine line of practising in association

Three lawyers will have to go to trial to avoid shared liability after a fourth lawyer they practised in association was hit with a negligence claim.

Alvin Meisels, Diane Parsons, Louie Reznick, and William Taberner practised as sole practitioners in association with one another under the business name Reznick Parsons Meisels Taberner.

But when Meisels’ former clients Paul and Anita Tiago sued him for alleged negligence during his representation of them in two civil suits, they also sued the other three lawyers, alleging they shared responsibility as partners in the same firm.

On Oct. 6, Ontario Superior Court Justice David Stinson dismissed a motion for partial summary judgment from Parsons, Reznick, and Taberner after finding the Tiagos had a basis for believing that the lawyers were a partnership.

The Tiagos now accept that the lawyers were not partners, but according to the judgment, Paul Tiago said he was attracted to Meisels because he appeared to belong to a firm of some depth, and in part because of Reznick’s certification as a specialist in civil litigation. The Tiagos claim they relied on their belief in the existence of the partnership when they chose Meisels as their lawyer.

“This is a question of fact that will require a trial judge to make an assessment of credibility. Without a trial, the plaintiffs’ evidence cannot reliably be disbelieved,” wrote Stinson.

The four lawyers shared office space and a receptions, and had the same fax and phone numbers. They used business cards with the name Reznick Parsons Meisels Taberner above the words “Barristers & Solicitors.”

Counsel for Parsons, Reznick, and Taberner argued that a small diamond-shaped symbol on their letterhead, next to the words “practising in association” should have dispelled any notion the lawyers were partners. But Stinson said the nature of the relationship between the lawyers was not made clear to the clients.

“To a trained and experienced lawyer practising in Ontario, the words ‘practising in association’ may well connote and signify that the indicated lawyers are not partners. To a non-lawyer, however, the words, ‘practising in association’ may well be equated with precisely that which lawyers who are partners in a law firm do: as partners they work in association with one another to represent and advance the interests of their clients,” wrote Stinson.

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