Family law will never be the same

Family Practice

Noone working in the field of family law could fail to note with sadness therecent passing of Prof. James McLeod. It will be what lawyers and judges alltalk about to each other. Prof. McLeod, known to everyone as Jay, died tooearly at 57.

Jay McLeod was easily the most influential figure in family law in the past 25 years. He became editor of the Reports of Family Law in 1978, and soon afterward began writing his now famous annotations to selected cases. Nineteen seventy-eight was the year I was called to the bar; there has never been a time in my practice that Jay McLeod was not important.

His mark on family law is indelible, and almost incalculable. Family law is a culture that would not have existed without him. It is impossible to imagine family law in the last 25 years without him. Without Jay McLeod, family law was, and would have been, completely different.

Jay had a brilliant mind. He was analytical, clear, outspoken, and most important, he was unafraid. No court in Canada, high or low, was safe from his analysis and criticism, if it deserved it. Judges were more concerned about what Jay McLeod was going to say about a judgment than about whe-ther the judgment would be upheld on appeal.

He had more energy and more passion for his work (our work, family law) than anyone else. And he made family law his life's work.

He read more family law than anyone in Can-ada, and he wrote about family law more than anyone in Canada. He read cases, wrote annotations, papers, articles, a weekly newsletter, lectured at the law school, spoke at (and wrote papers for) continuing education programs for judges and lawyers. The quantity and the quality of his academic output is staggering. His work, his life's work, gives new meaning to prolific. At his funeral, one speaker said five people doing his work could not replace him. He was right.

As a speaker at countless continuing education programs, Jay McLeod was always fast, funny, full of valuable information, and extremely well prepared. The lawyers in the audience were left breathless by the volume of material he gave us and the speed of his presentation. He always wrote a long, detailed, and extremely thorough paper to go with the presentation. No speaker ever wanted to speak after him. He was an impossible act to follow.

Jay McLeod was controversial and iconoclastic. I worked as co-counsel with him on an appeal, and in other circumstances I criticized him publicly. In the early 1990s when he successfully espoused a particular set of principles regarding spousal support (a principle then known as causal connection), Carole and the Carriage Trade (a singing group I was in with Stephen Grant, Gerry Sadvari, and Evlyn McGivney) wrote a ribald and critical song about him. He took it good-naturedly (at least in public). It was a measure of his enormous influence that he merited a song. I hope he realized that, and was flattered.

And he was a character, larger than life. The bar has fewer characters than it once did. We cannot afford to lose any.

Four male law-yers spoke at his funeral, and all of them cried. I have never been to a funeral where so many grown men cried.

Is there some young pup teaching at a law school, somewhere in Canada, who will pick up this torch, take on this enormous task, to pick up the pieces of family law as an intellectual discipline?

He told his son that what scared him was failure. He was far, far from a failure. He was amazing. Jay McLeod, almost single-handedly, made family law important.

He taught at the University of Western Ontario's law school, but we were all his students. His mission was excellence. He pushed us, all of us (lawyers and judges) to be better. He pestered us into reading more cases, more law than we ever would have done if he had never existed. We are all better lawyers because of him. I am a better lawyer because of him.

With his death, the loss to our family law community is a staggering one. Family law turned a corner with the death of Jay McLeod. He is not replaceable. Family law will never be the same.

Carole Curtis is a family law lawyer in a three-lawyer firm in Toronto. She can be reached at [email protected]

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