Pulling a Charlie Sheen
What to do if the star of your law firm goes AWOL
Can you imagine if Charlie
Sheen was a partner at your
Having the out-of-control
actor-turned lawyer spout off
about “trolls” in the office, flaunt
his drug use, have a restraining
order imposed against him by his
ex while denying rumours of
physically abusing her would
amount to a public relations
nightmare of epic proportions.
But while the former star of
Two and a Half Men — oh yeah,
he was also fired by the television show he helped propel to
the top of the ratings—has
received a disproportionate
amount of attention because of
his celebrity status, these sorts of
issues can and do crop up with
law firms in Canada.
Lawyers are not immune to
substance abuse, serious illnesses
or personal crises such as divorce,
and may need to take some time
away from the firm to deal with
them. It’s one thing for a large
firm to be able to mitigate the
damage with its army of lawyers
but it’s quite another for small
and medium-sized operations
because a high-profile partner
could be the face, or one of a
small group of faces, of the firm.
Spreading out the work to
multiple lawyers is one of the
best ways to minimize the potential impact of a colleague in
crisis, says Shannon Metivier, a
Saskatoon-based partner at
McKercher LLP. She says having
more than one lawyer connected
to each client should be part of a
firm’s practice and succession
plans, particularly with significant clients.
“That’s risk management,”
she says. “When you have one
lawyer with a significant part of
the firm’s client base, your risk
is up because they could get
sick or die. You risk losing cli-
ents, revenue and possibly
reputation (with too many of
your eggs in one basket). A big
risk to any firm is sudden death.
We’re all human.”
“Lawyers are not
immune to substance
illnesses or personal
crises such as
divorce, and may need
to take some time
away from the firm
to deal with them.
CENTRAIL IMAGE AGENCY INC. / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Charlie Sheen in Toronto on stage for his Violent Torpedo of Truth in April.
Turn to outsourcing in time of crisis
Metivier recommends a proactive course of action to deal
with a high-profile lawyer’s personal issues, no matter how difficult it may seem. A lawyer’s
decline won’t happen overnight
so the firm’s brain trust should
have plenty of time to address
the situation and possible outcomes if the lawyer is forced to
take time off to battle some personal demons.
“It’s important to have that discussion early on rather than to
wait. It’s often difficult to confront
partners who may be having personal issues but you have to be
straightforward about it,” she says.
Dave Hill, managing partner
of Hill Sokalski Walsh Trippier
LLP in Winnipeg, agrees. He
says firms can protect themselves
by having senior lawyers work in
See Star Page 21
If you’ve got some high-profile
lawyers sitting on the sidelines while
they deal with personal issues, you
can tap Steve Taran on the shoulder
to ensure the work gets done.
The founder of London, Ont.-based
Taran Virtual Associates (TVA) runs a
legal outsourcing network for other
lawyers. Since its debut 14 years
ago, it has built up a stable of 75
lawyers, most of them in Ontario.
They’ll do legal research, drafting,
document review or go to court to
argue a motion, do a trial or launch
“In litigation, you have to
exchange documents for
disclosure rules. There is so much
electronic information that needs
to be exchanged. Going through
that is time consuming and costly.
We have a team of lawyers that
can go through that and figure out
what’s privileged and what’s
relevant,” he says.
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