Christmas Blues

This time of year always gets me down. Not really sure why since as a Jew it’s not my holiday. Perhaps it’s the endless pressure to make nice at a series of cocktail parties and holiday dinners; the fake niceness from people who are rude or dismissive all year; the overly attentive and cheerful retail workers who at any other time of year forget that they work in a customer service business. Maybe it’s that I value authenticity and abhor hypocrisy. And this time of year is full of it. People who don’t give a damn about their neighbours all year suddenly spending hundreds of dollars on gifts for their already pampered children and then as an afterthought buying some dollar store game to donate to a toy drive. People spending hundreds on a single family dinner kicking in several dollars worth of canned goods to a food drive. Or coming out of the mall, having spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gifts and then dropping a measly few bucks in the Salvation Army kettle only because they feel guilty if they don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Donating toys, clothing, food and money to assist those most in need is just plain good citizenry. My sadness stems not from the fact that we do it at this time of year but rather the juxtaposition with what we don’t do all year long. When I lived and practised law in Mississauga about ten years ago, I sat for a number of years on the board of Foodpath (now the Mississauga Food Bank) the largest food bank in Peel Region, serving thousands of clients a month. At Christmas and Easter, the haul was bountiful. But there were months during the year where we were literally scraping the bottom of the barrel to make sure all those in need could be serviced, and meeting the annual operating budget was and always a concern. People who require the assistance of food banks and other front line charitable organizations require those services all year long. All the holiday talk about peace, love, and generosity of spirit, giving-better-than-receiving fades away as quickly after Christmas as the old year fades away into the new.

And what of the unnecessary token gifts and not so veiled business promotional items handed out willy nilly as if from some drunken Santa at this time of year. Not a day has gone by in the last two weeks where I didn’t receive at my office some chotchka from another law firm, court reporting service, mediation company, process serving company or other service provider to whom I pay thousands of dollars a year in fees or refer work. Little paper calendars with no room to actually write anything, date books that can’t record a scintilla of what I can put in my iphone, cheap pens, fridge magnets, mouse pads and two dollar clocks- all embossed with the logo of that particular business. If you really want to send me a logo-embossed gift, have the decency to send me something with MY firm’s name on it. Your so-called gift is nothing more than a cheap shill for your firm, a firm with which I already happily do business. And as for holiday cards, don’t need them. Get dozens every year, all cold and impersonal, recycled as fast as they arrive. The cost to your company in printing, postage and person-hours is money that could be better spent elsewhere, such as charity or community service. I don’t know the total economic cost just within in the legal profession in Toronto to all these holiday cards and gifts but it’s not hard to imagine millions of dollars. Do any of these people seriously think I would punish them by taking away my business if they neglected to send me a holiday greeting card or useless bauble with their name on it if in fact they have provided me or my clients good service over the last twelve months?

All of this money would better serve our community, and uphold the best tenets of our once highly regarded profession, were it donated to food banks, breakfast programs, social service not-for-profits, senior care programs, toy drives and the like.

And that is why none of my clients or business contacts receive holiday cards and gifts. Enough is enough. After 20 years of being sucked in, this year and in the future, if I have an extra few thousand in my promotional budget for Christmas gifts and cards, I’m divvying it up amongst some of those organizations whose need far outweighs those of me and the professionals with whom I do business.

Law Society's Misguided Decision

by Darryl Singer


On September 28th 2012, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) terminated funding of the Ontario Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP), effective December 31, 2012.  For 35 years OLAP has been an arm’s length/Chinese-walled service provider to LSUC members suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, financial stresses, marital breakdown, stress, burn-out and a myriad of other personal and professional issues that impact a lawyer’s ability to properly practise law and serve one’s clients. The LSUC is trying to replace all of OLAP’s services and programs with Homewood Human Solutions (Homewood), a commercial for profit EAP provider, – a move that should be discomforting to all members of our profession and the public. Why?

·    OLAP is a not-for-profit charitable organization staffed by a lean complement of highly trained and qualified professionals supported by a group of lawyer volunteers. OLAP’s dozens of volunteers are themselves for the most part former clients of OLAP, who, having suffered and overcome their own demons, now choose to give back to our profession by acting as peer counsellors, speakers, authors, and ambassadors for OLAP. OLAP has contracted with a commercial EAP service provider, Shepell fgi who provide therapists and counsellors to supplement the work of OLAP’s staff and volunteers. Homewood is a commercial for profit, generic EAP service provider with no experienced peer (lawyer) staff or volunteers.

With OLAP, there has been no direct relationship between the service providers (OLAP staff, Shepell or OLAP volunteers) and the LSUC. This ensures complete confidentiality between lawyer-clients and the treatment providers, with the lawyer-clients being able to focus on themselves without fear of intrusion by the professional regulator. Not only must the lawyer-clients be protected by confidentiality, there must be the unequivocal perception of such confidentiality lest members be fearful of reaching out for the help they need.

Today, except for serious misconduct or criminal activity, anything disclosed to the OLAP case worker or any OLAP volunteer by the lawyer-client is not sent to LSUC. This ensures that lawyer-clients in trouble can openly talk about their problems to obtain the best treatment regimen possible for their particular dilemmas. OLAP assists its clients to get back on track both personally and professionally. It has significant experience helping distressed lawyers transition out of practice in a way that takes into account professional obligations to LSUC and clients, thus upholding the highest standards of professionalism and the protection of the public.

While Homewood may adequately provide services of similar nature and quality to Shepell, the demolition of the wall between the LSUC and the EAP provider is very unwise. 

Homewood will not just replace Shepell with professional services, but in fact replace the OLAP infrastructure in its entirety. No longer will distressed members of the Law Society be able to seek assistance from OLAP case workers who know the unique pressures of the legal profession and the sensitivities of members in trouble. And what of the peer volunteers? The psychic and emotional benefits to a distressed lawyer being able to be counselled and mentored through the process of recovery by a fellow lawyer who has “been there” cannot be overstated. 
An informal survey conducted amongst OLAP’s volunteer base recently indicated that many of the existing volunteers are not interested in giving of their time to benefit the bottom line of Homewood. It is likely many of them will drop out and be difficult to replace, given that the volunteer relationship is directly with the EAP and no longer with a safe not-for-profit intermediary like OLAP.

The expectations of our peers, our families, our clients, and society at large serve to put additional unnecessary pressures upon lawyers that can lead to financial difficulties. The situation is even more acute for those lawyers practising outside the confines of large Bay Street firms, particularly sole practitioners, whose presence as defendants at LSUC discipline hearings is over-represented, perhaps due to their vulnerability to the pressures of the profession.

Also, no significant transitional period has been arranged to move the existing hundreds of clients from OLAP- Shepell to Homewood. What is the emotional and health related costs to those individuals? OLAP has provided services on a continuous basis for over 35 years and it is important that these services remain in place. The integrity of our profession demands it.                                                                                                      

      I know of what I speak. After fifteen years of professional and financial success, I ended up in a three year spiral of addiction and depression which cost me my health, my savings, much of my professional reputation, and scared (and scarred) my children. I shudder to think of where the bottom would have been had I kept falling down into the abyss. OLAP was the life raft that saved me when I was near drowning. From my first meeting with an OLAP case worker who made me feel safe, secure, let me know I wasn’t alone, that lots of members of our profession go through this, to the contact with volunteer lawyer peer counselors, to the excellent services provided through Shepell, I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in several years. An action plan was developed with the OLAP case worker which involved divesting myself of my practice and taking concerted steps daily to ensure I would recover and get back to the person and professional I had always been.

Today, I am happier and healthier than at any time in my 45 years. My children are happier as I am a more attentive parent. My professional reputation is restored; my law practice is busier and more lucrative than ever. I am a better father, son, friend, and boss than I ever was, and the next woman to marry me will get a version of me that neither of my ex-wives would believe possible. I owe it all to the initial visit with OLAP one winter day in 2009. My story is not unique.

In the last year, I personally know of two lawyers who attempted suicide, several with degenerative genetic illnesses that have hindered their ability to properly service their clients, many who have gone through divorce, a scarily large number who show the signs of depression, and many more who used to be able to pay their bills but cannot seem to find their footing in this new economic reality. There are tens of thousands of lawyers in Ontario. That means thousands in need of OLAP’s services.

LSUC’s decision to essentially abolish OLAP is myopic. It is not just lawyers in distress who will suffer, but the very public LSUC claims to protect, and the very image of the profession it governs. Perhaps the Attorney General as the guardian of the public interest should look into LSUC’s decision.