One Toronto lawyer is sure to be enjoying the results of many months of pro bono efforts as one of soccer''s biggest events gets underway across Canada this week.
Bruce Thomas, a commercial insurance litigation lawyer with Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, is the chairman of the Toronto site organizing committee of this year's FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which began last weekend and is set to run until July 22.
Volunteering to help organize the event for the last two years while maintaining his commercial insurance practice, Thomas is adamant about the fact that his role is just one of a number of similar community-based pro bono activities that lawyers take on across Canada every year.
"There isn't a community in the city or in the province where the lawyers provide services for which they don't get paid, and this is just one example," he says.
However, admittedly, this event is likely one of the larger ones that will be seen in Canada until the next Olympics. The second largest soccer event in the world next to the FIFA World Cup, the "U-20" will host teams from 24 countries that will play 52 matches in six Canadian cities: Burnaby, Victoria, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. Upwards of 750 million people are expected to tune into the event on TV.
In Toronto, the teams will be playing in the brand-new BMO Field, now usually occupied by Toronto FC. Getting the stadium built in Toronto was the biggest problem, says Thomas, who says that without it, the city couldn't have had the tournament.
"Getting the stadium was a real coup and we've had support on that from David Miller, who's a lawyer of course, we've had support from the provincial government, and the federal government who have put in substantial funding," he says.
Thomas became involved with soccer when he was the lawyer for Toronto's professional soccer team in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s, and provided a report to the minister of sport on the development of soccer in the same decade. He later became chairman of the local amateur soccer association in Toronto and continued on as a supporter of the sport until 2005, when he was asked by the Canadian Soccer Association to host the Toronto portion of the event.
During his time as chairman, Thomas has also become involved with the legal side of the event, with issues such as a scheduling conflict between the U-20 and Toronto's Grand Prix, scheduled to run in the same part of Toronto at the same time.
"The fact is we have tried our very best to work with all the interested parties to accentuate the positive, reduce the negatives, to try to come up with something that would be a positive experience for the city of Toronto, the province of Ontario, and the country as a whole," he says.
Thomas credits his law firm and the "brilliant young people" who work with him for helping him balance his practice and his soccer-organizing role, helping to carry his file load during the three weeks that the cup is being played.
His firm, Cassels Brock, has also allowed the organizing committee to use its offices for meetings. "I'm really grateful and I think the soccer community's grateful to the firm for everything it's done."
He also adds that his colleagues in the commercial insurance bar in general have been very accommodating.
"My colleagues who are involved in lawsuits with me, they have been very gracious to me as well in giving me a little bit of slack during the month of July, they know that I appreciate it and of course, I would make allowances for them as well. That's why I'm just so proud to be a lawyer."