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No magic formula for success, say Greenspan brothers

|Written By Kirsten McMahon - Law Times

When it comes to learning the nuts and bolts ofcriminal defence, there are arguably no better mentors than the famousGreenspan brothers.

Edward Greenspan says you take what comes into your office and make the best of it.
Edward Greenspan says you take what comes into your office and make the best of it.
Edward and Brian Greenspan were on hand at a dinner on Sept. 8 at the Ontario Bar Association to discuss tricks of the trade and tips on how to run a successful criminal law shop.

Edward, who has been practising since 1970 and is a senior partner at Greenspan White, and Brian, who has been practising since 1974 and is a senior partner at Greenspan Humphrey Lavine, both say there's no substitute for dedication to the practice, a sense of commitment, lots of hard work, and a genuine love of what you do. Clients will see that, judges will see it, and juries will see it, Edward says.

"Somebody says, 'How did your practice unfold in the manner in which it did? How did you get to where you got?' There's no plan," says Edward. "There's no science. There's no sitting down and setting out, 'OK, by my third year I'll have 36 jury trials and win all of them.'

"You take what you can get, what comes into your office, and make the best of it Ö I wish I could give you some insight and say go out and you'll all do well. What it really takes, I think, is a dedication to the practice, a belief in what you're doing, working very hard. I'm a person who happens to enjoy being in the practice, and being in my office very late at night. I enjoy it very much," he says.

Brian agrees, but says it's not just hard work and dedication that will bring success. Building trust and relationships among other members of the criminal defence bar will ultimately help you develop your practice.

"I think one of the great mistakes that young lawyers make is sending your clients with a letter, not being in court and having your presence known, making sure that your client and your colleagues and the Crown know that you care and that you're there," he says.

Brian adds that while the criminal defence bar has always been collegial, it's getting harder now because it's a much larger and more diffuse bar, and there are more locations than 30 years ago.

"At the same time, criminal lawyers are dedicated, whether they're on the Crown side or the defence side, to the system of justice. When they see people who are equally dedicated they care about you, and they care about your wellbeing, they care about your future, they care about your involvement with the law," Brian says.

"They want to share their experiences with you and ultimately want to share clients with you and share co-accused with you if they know that you're there."

Once you have clients in place, another hurdle can be getting paid, which both Greenspans admit sometimes causes them trouble.

"We're both lousy at it and that's really been an issue," says Brian. "I'll tell you, the first 25 years of my practice if I could recover the accounts receivable that went to bad debts in my practice I might actually own my house by now."

He says in the past few years his partners have addressed the issue and disciplined Brian to try to make sure "that we did get paid for our time. All we have is our time. We might have 75 hours a week that we're working and if we're not getting paid for 50 or 60 of them then there's madness involved."

He says you have to make an assessment of the parameters of the case and how far into it

you get without the ability to withdraw. If you're going to accept a retainer — more specifically a clear, detailed, written retainer — you have to determine how much time you will spend from beginning to end.

Then it's key to monitor the account and become as aggressive about collections as you are in court. This is a skill lawyers, especially sole practitioners, have to master if they want to get paid.

"We do not have a system in our firm about 30 days or 60 days," says Edward. "We try to take a retainer and we try to take a sizable retainer because we have found over the years Ö the appreciation curve of the client tends to drop off a cliff as you get closer to the acquittal. Once they are acquitted, what did they need you for, they were innocent anyway and you charge too much. So you try to get as much as you can into your trust account. Ö"

"No matter what the client, who the client, it's never an easy task," Edward says. "I've never had a single client who gets a bill and then that afternoon sends a cheque. It just doesn't happen. Oftentimes it doesn't happen for months, let alone weeks."

Both the Greenspans are no strangers to the press and high-profile clients. With Edward currently defending Conrad Black over his financial dealings with now-defunct Hollinger Inter-national Inc. and Brian defending Andrew Ranking over allegations of market tipping, the pair know about working under the media microscope.

"When the media's involved there's a whole control issue," says Brian. "There's the whole, 'Do I talk to them and how do I deal with them, what do I say?' One thing that you do learn after some exposure to it, you have to give your statements and sentences in sound bites so they can't crucify you."

Edward says any client, whether high-profile or not, has a certain set of demands and your job is to help them deal with their problems.

"If we didn't have clients to worry about, this would be the single greatest profession on earth."

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