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