Even as it’s announcing new locations across Ontario, Diamond and Diamond Personal Injury Lawyers says it has been “extremely” difficult to shake off an image as a firm that does referrals only.
Diamond and Diamond managing partner Sandra Zisckind says she’s excited about the firm’s new locations in places ranging from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., but she wearily notes she has been writing legal letters to people who claim it only funnels legal work to other firms.
Under the old ownership when the uncles of Zisckind’s husband, Jeremy Diamond, ran the firm, Diamond and Diamond was “primarily referral,” Zisckind admits. But she says things are different now and calls any suggestion otherwise “nonsense.”
“The minute we took over, that was changed. We keep as much as we can in-house. Unfortunately, that’s what people seem to focus on and I don’t understand it. It’s been over two years. We’ve completely revamped everything under our new leadership,” she says. “What can I do? I can only send out one legal letter at a time,” she adds with a laugh.
Things are slowly improving, she says, as defence counsel and insurance companies deal with the firm’s lawyers. Still, Zisckind says Diamond and Diamond now refers matters to other firms only when they’re not within the expertise of its own lawyers. She’s not able to say, however, what percentage of cases it refers out to other firms. “Even with eight lawyers, we don’t have the capacity for every file that walks in the door and we don’t have, quite frankly, the expertise for every file. It would be irresponsible to keep every file,” says Zisckind.
“I think people get confused with the old regime and the new regime and they try to muddle it up.”
Referring matters to other firms “is not unheard of,” says Zisckind.
“If you look at firms in Toronto that don’t advertise or don’t do anything, their bread and butter is from referrals,” she says. “This is not a new system. This is how people get their business.”
Since she and her husband took over as owners of Diamond and Diamond, Zisckind says the firm has opened up 11 locations for a total of 12 offices across Ontario.
While people in Toronto have access to many personal injury law firms, those in other regions are out of luck if the few lawyers available won’t take their cases, says Zisckind. “Our mandate has always been to serve the public and our mandate has been to serve the public in the best possible way and we’re consistently looking at better ways to do it,” she adds.
“By having those locations in the areas we have them, we’re making it easier and more accessible for people. It’s all about the people and being accessible to them.”
But with eight lawyers (a number that will grow to 10 by the end of May), how is the firm able to staff 12 offices?
Diamond and Diamond lawyers work out of all 12 offices, according to Zisckind, who notes the firm hires licensed paralegals at some of its locations.
“We use the offices when we need the offices; it’s as simple as that. We’re a paperless firm, so we can work from anywhere. So the lawyers can work from Sault Ste. Marie, they can work from Thunder Bay, they can work from Sudbury,” she says.
It’s not uncommon to have several offices for a firm of Diamond and Diamond’s size, Zisckind notes. “I think every personal injury law firm in Toronto does [have other offices] and all my competition has other offices as well,” she says.
“I think people single us out because we’re the most visible, but certainly all of my competitors and all the competition have different office locations and different offices they work out of.”
In December, the firm opened offices in Sault Ste. Marie and Mississauga, Ont. “Our expansion is a reflection of the increased demand for proper compensation among personal injury victims,” said Jeremy Diamond in an announcement.
And again last month when the firm opened new offices in Peterborough and Kitchener, Ont., Diamond said it was responding to demand. “Victims across the province have been reaching out to our team and we’ve expanded to answer their calls for proper compensation,” he said.
But others in the personal injury bar are more reluctant to call Diamond and Diamond’s new offices an actual expansion.
“A lot of personal injury firms, and some of the people we think highly of, have opened up satellite offices,” says Toronto personal injury lawyer Darcy Merkur of Thomson Rogers. But he won’t call all of it an expansion.
“Many personal injury law firms like mine will go anywhere in Ontario to meet claimants. So whether you have a satellite office or not is kind of irrelevant to that consideration unless you’re really stationed and operating out of a specific city, which is generally not the case with a lot of these law firms that say they have offices in 12 different cities,” he says.
“Having access to office space in different areas does not in my mind result in expansion other than as a marketing play,” he adds.
“They’ve expanded their marketing initiatives to areas outside of Toronto, but at the end of the day, people should be looking for the lawyer that has the credentials to assist them throughout their trial and their case where warranted and you have to look at proven track records based on objective, verifiable information as opposed to marketing campaigns which boast or brag about credentials.”
For more, see "Dispute over personal injury referrals."