The pros & cons of practising . . . bankruptcy and insolvency; in Vancouver; privacy; in a boutique


Practising bankruptcy and insolvency law

JANE DIETRICH, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, Toronto


• I typically deal with things as they happen. If I’m dealing with a company going through a restructuring that has run out of money you’re dealing with a situation that is currently happening and you’re changing that situation. Rather than other types of law where you are looking back trying to figure out who was right, who was wrong in something that happened years ago. You are dealing with the present which is one of the things I find rewarding.

• There is a good blend of litigation and court time. And you deal with different areas of law. Companies going through this have issues in a lot of areas of business law.

• You really are being relied on as the expert and it is a specialty and it is quite complex, which makes things interesting and intellectually challenging.

• The clients that you are dealing with, obviously there is the debtor company that isn’t a repeat customer, but in a lot of respects you are dealing with the same people all the time. Dealing with licensed trustees, who you deal with repeatedly, and you are dealing with the same players, some of the major creditors like the banks. It really is a small community in that respect.

• What you are doing is negotiating practical solutions. It is not true litigation. Often you are negotiating with a lot of people who have an interest in a business succeeding, and how best to get there.



• It is real-time litigation, for instance, if a company can’t make payroll tomorrow. Although I like the fact that you are dealing with real-time aspects often from a time pressure and sensitivity, it can be challenging. There is not a lot of time in many respects to plan and reflect ahead of time.

• It definitely can be a challenge depending on the type of person you are. You are served with a motion the morning of or the night before and you are in court that day. And needing to respond to it, because of the time pressures that go along with those decisions and the economic realities of the decisions.

• If your client is a company and they need to close one plant so that another two or three plants can survive, there is a lot of impact on people who haven’t done anything wrong. That is unlike normal litigation where you have two people fighting about somebody doing something wrong. Here people are suffering but it is not because of anything they did, it’s just because there is not enough money.


SAM RAPPOS, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Toronto



• I have a practice incorporating both corporate law and litigation, as insolvency matters typically involve both areas. Additionally, as time is often of the essence in insolvency matters, the practice area provides the opportunity to focus on the portion of each area that I enjoy the most, without having to focus on the less enjoyable and tedious facets. I have always described the practice area as corporate law without due diligence reviews, and litigation/oral and written advocacy without endless document discovery.

• We often represent clients who may have diverse interests and goals on any one insolvency matter. We may act for a debtor company attempting to restructure its affairs while holding off its creditors on one file, working for an accounting firm that is appointed by the court to act in the best interests of all creditors on a second file, and working for a secured creditor trying to recover as much as possible on the loans it made on a third file. As each file provides an opportunity to act for different parties and look at matters from different perspectives, the practice area is rarely monotonous.

• The practice of insolvency and restructuring law is a complex and specialized area that is constantly changing, and there is a relatively small and collegial bar and judiciary that practise in this area. As a result, the practice is intellectually stimulating and challenging, and there is an opportunity to frequently work with the same colleagues and judges on a number of matters.



• It is an intense practice area, as matters often move at breakneck speed. It has been analogized to working in an emergency room setting.  As a result, there may be unpredictable hours and little notice of new matters that may fall on your desk.

• There is a fair amount of continuing legal education, business development, writing, and networking required to have a successful practice. As a result, it may not be the optimal area for individuals who do not enjoy such activities.

• Depending on the size of the firm and the insolvency and restructuring group that one practises in, it may be necessary, in positive economic periods where insolvency matters are few in number, to supplement an insolvency and restructuring law practice with other practice areas.


Practising in Vancouver





• Vancouver is big enough to give you access to complex matters, complex issues, but it still has a west coast feel to it.

• There is still a relative informality amongst the downtown bar, a sense of collegiality that I’m not sure would exist in some of the more major centres in North America.

• The outdoors, the weather, which everybody focuses on is certainly a draw for many, to be honest it is not as big a thing for me. There is a focus from downtown firms to get people outside as well, there is a focus on sports teams, intramural between firms. Client activities will usually focus on getting near the water, up to Whistler, down to Semiamu Bay, or getting to the golf course and that is something that can be done year-round.

• From a litigator’s perspective, some of the most interesting cases in the country seem to come out of B.C. Our court of appeal is an interesting and active one. We are pleased with our representation in Ottawa, Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin is a former lawyer from our firm. There is a recognition if you are into litigation there is interesting litigation to be had in B.C., beyond just commercial litigation.



• We don’t have an exchange here, so if you are looking for a cutting-edge securities practice, Vancouver is not the place. We are also absent a strong manufacturing base, which does change the nature of many practices. B.C. tends to be more of a resource-based legal practice.

• Although our pay is very competitive, the cost of living in Vancouver is probably the highest in the country, certainly the cost of housing. So you are looking at salaries that are probably, at least in the first few years, 20-per-cent less than Toronto and you are dealing with some living costs that are probably 20-per-cent greater. You do pay a price not to shovel snow.

• A personal beef of mine is Vancouver, with the exception of the Pacific Rim, is relatively isolated from other parts of the world. So if you want to get to the Eastern seaboard, if you want to get to Europe, you’ve got a long flight ahead of you. 


JASON TARNOW, Tarnow & Co.



• I was born and raised in Vancouver, I went abroad and got the travelling bug dealt with. I always knew I was coming back home. Even when I was studying overseas at the University of Manchester, I knew  I was coming back to practise in the city I was raised in. I just love Vancouver, it’s got a lot to offer. It is obviously an exciting time here with the Olympics and all the development that is going on leading up to it.  I like the climate too, I
lived in Halifax for a year . . . I went to school at Dalhousie, the winters there were too much for me as well. Here in Vancouver we have it pretty mild.

• The criminal bar has been extremely accommodating to me. I’m a younger guy and there have been times where I was running around in the courthouse with my head cut off not knowing where to go and the criminal bar was extremely friendly. If you are in over your head on a serious file you can pick up the phone and ask senior counsel their two cents on what to do.

• I did a secondment at a full-service, civil-law type firm and I found it to be a little more cutthroat. It just wasn’t as friendly. In the criminal bar you go to war in the courtroom and then you go for a beer afterwards. Collegiality is second to none. The senior lawyers have been kind and accommodating to me and I learned more from them than I did in any classroom.



• One thing that has been tough in my first year of practice is the cutbacks to legal aid. Being a junior lawyer I do a lot of legal aid files. Legal aid has made some significant cutbacks to the funding and it is tough for a lawyer to get on his feet and get a full clientele going when legal aid refuses to cover many people charged with crimes. The legal aid funding in B.C. is pretty awful actually. Especially when you have to consider running a business and paying back student loans, that has been a challenge.

• The Crown always has unlimited resources, that has been a challenge, a bit of a learning curve.


Practising privacy law


DANIEL CARON, Conseiller juridique auprès du Commissariat à la protection de la vie privée du Canada, Ottawa


Le Pour:

• Vous avez l’occasion d’entreprendre du travail à la fois varié et qui mène au défi. Une minute, vous pourriez àªtre en train de rédiger une opinion juridique portant sur l’interprétation d’une disposition de la loi sur la protection des renseignements personnels et des documents électroniques, alors qu’une autre, vous pourriez aider à la préparation d’une soumission à un comité parlementaire.

• Vous avez l’occasion de travailler dans un domaine oà¬π les choses peuvent changer rapidement. Un bon nombre des enjeux en matière de protection de la vie privée portent sur les nouvelles technologies, que ce soit le réseautage social, la biométrie, les nanotechnologies, ou la technologie de l’imagerie à l’échelle de la rue.

• Il y a une dimension d’ordre politique au travail avec le CPVP. Ou, vous pouvez travailler sur des dossiers concernant la réforme des lois, et vous pouvez aider à élaborer des positions vis-à -vis des projets législatifs d’ordre de vie privée.

• Vous avez l’occasion de voyager et de rencontrer des gens d’un bon nombre de professions afin d’aider à sensibiliser le grand public à leurs droits et obligations en matière de protection de la vie privée.


Le Contre:

• Vu que le commissariat est situé à Ottawa, il y a la contrainte de venir s’installer à Ottawa, bien que ce soit une jolie ville à mon avis. Évidemment, bien que vous puissiez jouir d’un bon nombre d’avantages sociaux en tant qu’employé de la fonction publique du Canada, il va sans dire que les salaires versés sont moins que ceux versés à un avocat en pratique privée à Toronto, Montreal, ou Calgary.

• Bien que le droit de la protection de la vie privée est un domaine spécialisé, il exige une forte connaissance du droit administratif, du droit constitutionnel, et du droit du litige; c’est peut-àªtre une bonne idée d’avoir un intéràªt quelconque dans quelques-uns de ces domaines.

• Le travail exige une bonne connaissance du système politique canadien, et vous serez appelés à travailler sur des dossiers impliquant des départements ou des agences du gouvernement. 


RACHEL RAVARY,  McCarthy Tétrault  LLP, Montreal



• Specializing in privacy issues, you get the opportunity to explore different areas of law. While privacy issues most often arise in an employment context, we are also called upon to advise in a wide range of matters, including commercial transactions, medical liability cases, matters involving new technologies, and class actions.

• Privacy law is a constantly evolving area of law that keeps practitioners on their toes. New technologies — including electronic surveillance tools, the rise of social networking sites, the use of GPS systems, and the introduction of biometric identification devices — make it possible to encroach on individual privacy in ways we never could have imagined. Our challenge is to adapt to the ever-changing landscape, and then to help our clients navigate through it.

• Our clients rely on us for support at various levels — from day-to-day guidance, to project- or deal-specific advice, to litigation support. From a practitioner’s perspective, this is extremely fulfilling and allows you to hone different skills while developing a multi-faceted relationship with your client.



• There is a patchwork of privacy legislation in Canada, with different rules applicable to organizations depending on where they are located, whether they are federally or provincially regulated, and whether they are in the public or private sector. In addition to specific privacy legislation, there are also privacy obligations under human rights laws and the Civil Code of Québec or the common law. This makes it difficult at times to determine what rules apply and to reconcile overlapping obligations.

• Privacy rules are not always adapted to the realities of life and business, which means that our legal advice is sometimes at odds with our clients’ practical considerations.

• Litigants in privacy matters — especially before specialized privacy and access to information tribunals —
often appear without legal counsel. If you act as corporate counsel in defence, you must be prepared to face the particular challenges of dealing with self-represented litigants.


Practising law at a litigation boutique


KEVIN CARROLL, current president CBA, Carroll Heyd Chown, Barrie, Ont.



• You get to court at an early stage of your career. So a junior or student who comes to this firm, within a month they are in court. They are doing motions, small claims court actions, and attend on discoveries and help to prepare the file for discovery.

• The learning process begins immediately and it is not only sitting in an office conducting research for a senior.

• Instant mentoring: any of the partners here will stop what they are doing and chat with a junior on a particular issue while it is fresh in the junior’s mind. It is not a question of having to wait parts of a day or days to get in and see somebody who can help you.

• I think also there is a certain element of collegiality. After work we might gather in the kitchen and have a session of “I got an issue and I don’t know what to do with this,” so three or four of us will do that. So there’s an opportunity for feedback and assistance from the various views of the lawyers participating, in a big firm that may not be the case.


• Juniors entering a boutique firm most likely will have somewhat less in income than in the large firms. That said, they probably get an opportunity for partnership earlier than the large firms so it balances off.

• In the large firms they have more resources in terms of librarians and research assistants, whereas in the smaller firms we don’t have that. That, however, simply means that a lawyer who is arguing the case, or the junior, will do the research. Today with modern technology of computer researching you don’t have to be two blocks from the library as you would in a Bay Street firm.

• In a large firm another lawyer in the group or in another practice group may have litigated the same issue some time in the past, in which case there is that added resource where in the smaller firm that is less likely to happen. Not never, just less likely.


JASON GAVRAS, Gavras Slone, Halifax



• The benefits of working in Atlantic Canada — Halifax — are many. Several lakes and sailing are within a 10-minute drive, or bicycle ride, of downtown Halifax. Surfing is a 30-minute drive.

• In a boutique firm you don’t have levels of partners overseeing all of your billables.

• Meetings consist of popping your head into the office next door to see if your colleagues have 10 minutes.

• If you don’t understand something, say so, and ask questions. You’d be surprised how often the other side can’t answer your questions.



• The cons are few, the main one being having enough work. But that is also true for larger firms especially in turbulent times. The key is to keep your overhead manageable, something that larger firms have more difficulty doing.

• I always advise young lawyers to train for four to five years with a large or a specialized firm before venturing out to establish a boutique firm. It will save you an enormous amount of time and give you the confidence you need to serve your clients well.

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