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One for the little guy

|Written By Robert Todd

Law Society Medal recipient Doug Grenkie says the decision to present him with the award proclaims the deep contribution of lawyers practising outside Ontario’s most populated city.

Doug Grenkie’s life work was influenced by TV lawyer Perry Mason.

“We all work hard, and we feel we do a good job for our clients and I think we all go the extra mile for our clients,” says the Morrisburg, Ont., lawyer. “It’s sort of a recognition that lawyers outside of Toronto do good works for people in this province. So it’s not only for me, it’s for the whole region here.”

Grenkie was called to the bar in 1970, and since then has become a force at the Ontario Bar Association. He became a member of the association’s council shortly after his call, and eventually served a term as president.

Grenkie has also helped shape Ontario’s court system as a member of the judicial appointments advisory committee.

On top of that, he continues to help the public through his diverse legal practice.

It all began for Grenkie in the small cottage-country community of Rosseau, Ont., about 200 kilometres north of Toronto, where he was raised.

“I wanted to be a lawyer for quite a while when I was watching TV in Rosseau,” says Grenkie, citing the Perry Mason television series as an influence.

He left the small town after high school to attend the University of Waterloo on a mathematics scholarship, before moving along to Osgoode Hall Law School, where he graduated in 1968.

He says the profession grabbed his attention “because you can help people,” adding, “That’s the thing I enjoy most - helping people and solving their problems.”

Grenkie recalls his efforts in the political sphere while in law school. He set up a campus club and became active in Toronto’s Rosedale riding, now called Torxonto Centre. He was campaign manager for federal Progressive Conservative candidate Bob Bradley in 1968.

“That was the year of [future prime minister Pierre] Trudeau,” he recalls with a chuckle. “We were a maybe winner, but everybody got walloped.”

After that election, he spent two months travelling in Europe, thanks to a stock-market windfall. A friend urged him to open his practice in Morrisburg, a rural community just west of Cornwall, when he returned.

It was a return to his small-town roots, but Grenkie was surprised by just how small his new town was.

“I thought he had said that Morrisburg was 20,000 people, but when I got here, it was 2,000 people,” he says. “Rosseau was 282 people when I left. So I fit right in. . . . I have been here ever since.”

Morrisburg offers a steady stream of work, he says.

“It really keeps you going, because you’re dealing with all areas of the law,” he says.

His days are packed with a variety of matters involving criminal law, family law, wills and estates, real estate law, Small Claims Court, and tribunals. He had to cut Superior Court civil litigation out of the picture about 10 years ago, as it took up too much of his time to keep abreast of new technical requirements, he says.

Grenkie has also devoted much of his time to the Ontario Bar Association. His work with the OBA began in 1978, when he was urged to join its council. He got involved with the real estate section before being named to the executive committee.

Grenkie has gone in to serve as the OBA’s membership chairman, vice president, and president in 1988 and 1999. He also has acted as the association’s foreign conference director for about 15 years, and served on the Canadian Bar Association council for one year in the early 1990s.

He currently acts as a trustee of the association’s charitable arm, the Advancement Of Legal Education And Research Trust, or ALERT.

“I’ve enjoyed it, because you meet people; you learn things,” he says. “When you attend council meetings and you do this committee work, you learn all the time. Even on the executive, you learn things, you keep up-to-date.”

Grenkie has an endless list of reasons why the OBA plays a key role within the profession. He notes that it acts as a voice for the profession in lobbying the government for changes to laws, as a hub for legal education, and as a forum to build relationships with colleagues.

“It’s there for everybody, and it’s expanded into every area of the law. There’s something there for everybody.”

Grenkie has also made a significant mark on the profession as a member of Ontario’s judicial appointments advisory committee from 1992 until earlier this year. Over 200 appointments were made during that time, he says. He served as chairman of the advisory committee from 1995 until 2001.

Grenkie describes his work picking the cream of the judicial-candidate crop as “my biggest love.”

“I certainly loved to work on that. It was a lot of hard work, it took a lot of time,” he says.

“But it was extremely worthwhile, because you knew that you were making a list for the attorney general to appoint from that gave the very best of the applicants to the province to be judges. It’s just a terrific system - I can’t speak highly enough of it.”

He says the committee was always on the lookout for “judgitis.” He describes that as, “not being nice to people. And that could be court staff, it could be the parties, the lawyers, it could be witnesses. Everybody in the courtroom is under enough stress, especially the parties, and witnesses too, and they don’t need things like that.”

He adds, “To be a judge, you have to be extremely patient, and courteous at all times, and they have to listen of course. But it’s your outward demeanour toward people in the courtroom that really counts, because it makes people feel more comfortable in court, and that way the truth, hopefully, will then come out.”

Grenkie changed the advisory committee’s decision-making policy from a majority vote when recommending candidates, to a unanimous vote.

That way, “it was really a group of 13 decision,” he says. “It just worked so well and I’m always so proud to tell people about the fact that there’s a majority of lay people, but there’s the legal people and judges there too - and good people come to the top.”

Grenkie says he looks forward to continuing to help the public and profession, and will keep his Law Society Medal close by.

“I’m very, very pleased to receive it, and I know it’ll be something I’ll always treasure,” he says.

This is the seventh in our series focusing on recipients of the LSUC awards honouring the best of the profession. 

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