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Age no barrier to the legal profession

|Written By Helen Burnett

While the vast majority of his contemporaries are enjoying retirement, one of the newest calls to the bar is set to embark on the next phase of his legal career.

At 82, Gerald Van Buskirk decided he’d like to try his hand at practising law in Ontario. He was called to the bar June 19.

At 82 years old, Gerald J. Van Buskirk is likely the oldest person ever called to the Ontario bar. The law society says they know of a three lawyers called in their 70s but don’t recall anyone in Van Buskirk’s league.

Lawyering is a profession the octogenarian decided to enter into in his later years, after a long and successful career in Canada and the U.S. in accounting and finance.

Van Buskirk entered law school as a retiree, earning his JD and masters’ degrees from Atlanta’s Woodrow Wilson College of Law before being called to the bars of Georgia in 1987 and New York in 1999. He has already practised law for 20 years, mostly representing corporate clients in Georgia, and also in the areas of family and criminal law as well as civil litigation. He was called to the Ontario bar in Toronto on June 19.

Born in Moncton, N.B., Van Buskirk attended college to become a certified professional accountant after being medically discharged from the military after the Second World War.

Although he worked as a public accountant in the past and has been a member of the Certified General Accountant Association for 50 years, before becoming a lawyer, Van Buskirk ran U.S. subsidiaries in Canada and is the former president of electronics company Commodore and controller of bowling company Brunswick Corp.

“While I was with Commodore, both in Canada and the U.S., that’s when I got interested in getting into the legal field,” says Van Buskirk.

He adds it is this combination of accounting, finance, and the law that gives him the tendency to lean toward commercial law.

While he says that the United States is a wonderful place, the desire to be back in his home country and be able to earn a living as well as being nearer to his family - including a brother in Bobcaygeon, Ont., and a son in Montreal - are what Van Buskirk is most looking forward to about practising in Ontario.

However, in spite of the advantages, the process to qualify here has been many years in the making, involving 11 exams over a three-year period and completion of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s licensing process.

“Its been a long time since I studied constitutional law, as far as Canadian constitutional law is concerned, so that is a little more difficult, and then the administrative law is quite different,” he says.

While he has not joined up with a firm in Ontario, Van Buskirk says he is hoping to work with a small law firm in commercial litigation, or as a sole practitioner in criminal law, with some pro bono work on the side.

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