Lawyers deserve better reputation

There is no shortage of lawyer jokes. Here are a couple:

Q: Why won't sharks attack lawyers?
A: Professional courtesy.

Q: What's the difference between a jellyfish and a lawyer?
A: One's a spineless, poisonous blob. The other is a form of sea life.

Do you think these jokes are funny? I don’t. They are extremely insulting. I take my job very seriously – and I am not alone. It is tragic that some lawyers make bad (and stupid) decisions – it gives other lawyers a bad name.

Here is a real-world example of a lawyer’s horrible decision:

Mr. Martin Wirick was a real estate lawyer in Vancouver and his major client was Mr. Tarsem Singh Gill, a developer. Gill, or one his companies, would purchase a property, redevelop it, and then sell it. Wirick, performing the real estate transfer, would receive the sale proceeds and, instead of paying off the mortgage and other financial charges on the title, he funneled the money to Gill or one of his companies (for reinvestment).

This is the biggest legal fraud in Canadian history and is discussed in more detail on the Law Society website.

The fraud started small: it started with a $20,000 shortfall in a single real estate transaction involving Gill. Gill requested that Wirick delay paying off the mortgage on the property until funds were available (and Wirick foolishly and nervously agreed). Not surprisingly, funds never came, forcing Wirick to commit other frauds to cover up the original mistake.

This scheme went undetected for several years and involved over 100 real estate transactions.

The total value of the frauds was nearly $40 million.

So, what happened with Mr. Wirick? He cooperated with the Law Society in their investigation and pled guilty to the criminal charges. In 2009, he was sentenced to 7 years in jail and ordered to pay $2 million. He lost everything…

You hear these stories and think lawyers are shady, right? That’s because you probably don’t hear about the good things that lawyers do…

You probably never heard that the Law Society paid nearly $40 million, fully compensating all those people who were hurt in the Wirick fraud. And every lawyer in B.C. now pays extra fees each year to help cover this loss.

You probably never hear about the many, many great lawyers who are involved in Access Pro-Bono and who donate their time for low-income earning people.

You probably never hear about how lawyer groups, such as the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), protest against the government creating law that is bad for Canadians. This occurred when the CBA protested against the Conservative Government when it hastily and sloppily made jail the primary tool to ‘fight crime’ (rather than focus on the root causes of crime): CBA’s Reasons to Oppose Bill C-10.

You probably never heard about Mr. Dugald Christie, a Vancouver lawyer who helped set up numerous pro-bono clinics across western Canada. He provided very cheap (and often free) legal services to low-income people and earned less than $30,000.00 per year from 1991 to 1999. He also challenged a B.C. law that infringed on the rights of low-income people.

In 2006, Mr. Christie was bicycling across Canada to raise awareness of the shortfalls of legal assistance programs. Sadly, on July 31, 2006, Mr. Christie was hit by a van during his trip and was killed.

Lawyers who make bad decisions exist: bad decision makers exist in every profession. But, I have confidence that those lawyers either get ground out of practice and leave the profession voluntarily (because they can’t keep clients) or they are removed from practice by the Law Society.

It might be time for people to re-evaluate their opinions on lawyers. Don’t fall victim to the stupid lawyer stereotypes.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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