Love Hurts: Family Lawyers in B.C.

Meet the Rodney Dangerfields of the legal profession – the smart, tough practitioners of family law just looking for a little respect.

Meet the Rodney Dangerfields of the legal profession – the smart, tough practitioners of family law just looking for a little respect.

Every practitioner knows the refrain: no one likes lawyers, but everyone loves their lawyer. As a young litigator I learned this first-hand every Christmastime as I would receive a steady stream of snowy cottage cards from the coterie of insurance adjusters, in-house counsel and construction and oil executives. It always made me feel good – until I noticed the bounty that was being delivered daily to my family-law colleague down the hall. Crates of wine, works of art, Cirque du Soleil tickets and gift baskets overflowing with tins of salmon terrine seemed to be on a conveyor belt to her office. The truth is, everyone loves his or her family lawyer the best.

It’s hard to begrudge them for, in a lot of ways, family lawyers are the unsung heroes of the profession. They have to navigate the myriad rules of civil procedure on the fly, such as when a custody dispute erupts at 4:15 p.m. on the Thursday before Easter. They have to deal with clients who are actual people facing, in divorce, often the worst financial and emotional crisis of their lives. “For the vast majority of families, a divorce means a significant and immediate drop in the entire family’s standard of living,” notes Dinyar Marzban, a family lawyer with Vancouver-based Jenkins, Marzban & Logan LLP. Just take the example of Ian MacDonald, a vice-president of RBC Dominion Securities living in North Vancouver who was initially ordered by the court to pay $59,500 a month in child support. Luckily his clever lawyer had it reduced to $20,000 a month, saving MacDonald $474,000 a year.

And even at the top tier, family practitioners are often charging significantly less than their corporate colleagues, who are sticking BC Hydro or Goldcorp or any number of deep-pocketed corporations with six-figure legal bills (don’t pass the hat yet; all the practitioners here charge north, some way north, of $350 per hour). And not only do family lawyers have to know the rules of court; they also have to have both the Divorce Act and the Family Relations Act memorized and understand trust law, tax law and how to read an expert valuation like an accountant. Yes, it would be a charmed life if you never needed their services – but if, God forbid, you do, here are five of B.C.’s best.

The Carriage Trade Lawyer



Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP

Years  practicing: 28

Hourly rate: Declined to answer

Accolades: Appointed Queen’s Counsel, 2004. Martindale-Hubbell rating: AV

Kay is one of the rare top practitioners who practices in a large firm – in this case, Farris, the lawyers to Vancouver’s establishment for the last century. His clients come from the top tiers of industry or are married to them, and the last thing they need is to have their pals down at the Vancouver Club or the tennis club reading about their dirty laundry in the paper. Plus, this sort of publicity can be bad for the stock price, so Kay keeps it tough but always discreet. He is one of the few family lawyers who comfortably cross into the commercial litigation realm, most notably representing tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and JTI-MacDonald Corp. in their death match with the province dealing with the ability to claim recovery for health-care costs – a massive case that will have huge repercussions throughout Canada. Hire him if: Your family owns a large forestry company and your youngest daughter is hell-bent on marrying an 18-year-old anarchist bass player and some marriage agreements are in order to ensure that family stock doesn’t fall into “questionable” hands. Latest book read: The Given Day by Dennis Lehane Song that best describes his approach to family law: “Help” by the Beatles.



The Boy Wonder



Aaron, Gordon & Daykin LLP

Years practicing: 23

Hourly rate:$400

Accolades: Appointed Queen’s Counsel, 2008. Martindale-Hubbell rating: AV

Only in law would someone who has toiled for 23 years still be referred to as an “up-and-comer.” In fact, by all accounts, Daykin, who practices in a boutique six-person firm, has arrived and is consistently regarded by his peers as one of the most able and cordial practitioners in the field. He is also known for being uniquely attuned to his clients’ needs – steering them through the painful process of divorce and custody with their dignity and privacy intact. “I try to encourage my clients to keep things in perspective, to focus on what’s really important and to ignore the small stuff,” he says. Hire him if: You have significant assets, several vacation properties in foreign locales and you want this awful mess to go away smoothly – but want to be prepared if it doesn’t. Latest book read: Q & A by Vikas Swarup (adapted for the film Slumdog Millionaire) Song that best describes his approach to family law: “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers

The Outsider



Basham, Thompson & Lui, LLP

Years practicing: 31

Hourly rate: $475

Accolades: Appointed Queen’s Counsel, 1989. Martindale-Hubbell rating: BV

Like fellow commercial litigation hotshots Irwin Nathanson of Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson LLP and Howard Shapray of Shapray Cramer LLP, Basham will occasionally don her silk robes and go to court on a family matter if the stakes are high and the issues complex. And when she does, watch out; she is routinely described as tenacious, determined and preternaturally focused by the worn-out counsel sitting opposite her. As she bluntly puts it, “I am not a bleeding-heart matrimonial lawyer.” Like many of the top practitioners in her field, she has her own boutique firm, which means she calls the shots on which cases she takes. Hire her if: Your spouse has been caught cheating with the nanny, has secret assets from Iran to Singapore and heretofore is used to pushing people around. Latest book read and descriptive song: Basham declined to answer, but we’d suggest The Art of War by Sun Tzu and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest.



The Gentleman



Jenkins, Marzban & Logan, LLP

Years practicing: 26

Hourly rate: Declined to answer

Accolades: Appointed Queen’s Counsel, 2004. Martindale-Hubbell rating: AV. Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers

The public perception of tough litigators is that they long to be in the courtroom, but the truth is that many of the very best courtroom lawyers – of which Marzban is one – know it’s often not in the clients’ interest to litigate their disputes. Fellow practitioners know that Marzban is one of the more pleasant top practitioners to deal with because he manages clients’ expectations expertly and avoids unfounded, unnecessary and expensive court applications. If settlement is the best option, it will be pursued – but for those matters that must go to court, Marzban’s patrician exterior cloaks a supremely able litigator, one whose reasoned approach resonates with the bench. Hire him if: You have finally accepted that this is going to hurt and want a perfectly drafted financial settlement to end this mess, once and for all. Latest book read: Phantom Limb by Theresa Kishkan Song that best describes his approach to family law: “Tomorrow” from Annie

The Trailblazer



Karen F Nordlinger & Associates

Years practicing: 33

Hourly rate: Declined to answer

Accolades: Appointed Queen’s Counsel, 1985. Martindale-Hubbell rating: AV. Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers

Family law is often seen as a practice area that attracts a larger number of female practitioners, but the dirty little secret is that when it comes to those who stick with it and rise to the top of the profession, the majority of names are male. When Karen Nordlinger started practicing in the mid-’70s, the legal profession in Vancouver still had the cigar-room whiff of an Old Boys club. But Nordlinger made a solid reputation for herself by spending more time prepping cases than quaffing Scotches at the Wedgewood, and her work ethic made her one of the city’s go-to practitioners. Her tough-but-reasonable approach to practice has ensured that she has kept that reputation for the last quarter century. Hire her if: Your first lawyer botched the trial and you need someone to fix it at the Court of Appeal. Latest book read: High Conflict People in Legal Disputes by Bill Eddy


Postscript: As a former lawyer I know first-hand the difficulty of amassing any list that attempts to capture the “best” in any practice area when there are no quantifiable hallmarks with which to make an objective decision. The five lawyers profiled above were the ones routinely identified by a collection of family and non-family practitioners as the best at their vocation, but many other names, such as Jeff Rose, Barbara Nelson, Ean Maxwell, Ed Mortimer and Paul Albi, were passionately put forward by their peers.