This month’s spotlight is on longtime CLEBC contributor Art Vertlieb, QC of Vertlieb & Co.
Art is a trial lawyer who has appeared in criminal and civil matters in all levels of court, both provincial and federal, up to and including the Supreme Court of Canada.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
My involvement with CLEBC actually goes back to 1977. At the time, I had practised law for four years, but there weren’t many continuing legal education seminars around. I attended CLEBC’s seminar on the Family Relations Act and realized that seminars provide a big benefit to the legal community.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
I will be co-chairing CLEBC’s Cross-Examination 2018 course in the fall with Karey Brooks. The course came from a discussion I had with CLEBC Program Lawyer Raymond Lee, who I have a lot of regard for. I suggested to Raymond that CLEBC consider putting on a course dedicated to cross-examination, and he came back and said “Great idea. Let’s do it!” Over the years, I’ve been honoured many times by being asked to speak at CLEBC courses and I’ve enjoyed each opportunity immensely.
What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer?
Recently, I was with a group of people and we asked each other “If money and obligations were no object, and you had complete freedom of choice, what would you do?” Each of those people answered with a career different than their current one. When it came to me, I said “I’d be a lawyer.” It’s very simple to me. I love being a lawyer because I’ve had the ability to impact people’s lives and it’s been a great privilege to be able to do that. When people come and retain you as a lawyer, they are paying you an enormous compliment, because what they’re saying is “I think you’re really smart and have integrity, and I need you to help me.”
What advice would you give to young lawyers starting their careers?
Follow your passion. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. If you don’t like the type of law you are doing right now, make a change. Don’t worry about student debt and other obligations that you may have. Obligations make changing things tougher, but not impossible. There are so many different ways to feel satisfaction with your legal career, and so many different ways to contribute. Always remember that as a lawyer, you have the ability to set your own career path, and that applies to both young and older lawyers alike.
Tell us more about your involvement as Commission Counsel to the Braidwood Inquiry and the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. What were those experiences like?
When you represent people in litigation, you get to make a difference in the lives of individuals. With the work that I did as Commission Counsel, I had the opportunity to help cause systemic change. Both inquiries were public policy projects involving work where I could impact a wider section of the community. The Braidwood Inquiry changed the way that tasers are used in Canada and all over North America, and contributed to saving lives. With the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the Vancouver Police Department changed the way they deal with missing women and members of the Downtown East Side community. Our government also reevaluated the way it approached transportation safety along the Highway 16 corridor as a result. The work that I did with the inquiries was fascinating and I had the chance to work with great people, including two great Commissioners and also young lawyers that were able to see how they could make a difference.
Lawyer wellness has been gaining more attention in the legal industry. As a founding member of the Lawyers Assistance Program of British Columbia (LAPBC), what developments have you seen with regards to lawyer wellness since LAPBC’s founding in 1989?
In 1989, the Law Society of BC (LSBC) appointed me to an advisory committee on drugs and alcohol. There, I met Dr. Ray Baker who explained to me to that doctors had interventions to assist colleagues with drug and alcohol issues. I was fascinated, as the concept was new at the time, and thought interventions would be important for the legal profession as well. So, I approached LSBC with Dr. Baker and let them know that I would put together a board if LSBC could provide funding. Within one week, I received a cheque for my trust account from LSBC, and LAPBC was founded.
LAPBC has now become one of the top programs in North America, and is a tremendously important part of our profession. The organization has really changed the way people look at addictions. Years ago, if you were a lawyer with an addiction, it was a statement against your character. To think that we could change our profession to the point where someone suspended by LSBC for addiction issues could come back to work as a lawyer and get appointed to the bench, tells you what a dramatic change the profession has undergone. Addiction is not something hidden in the closet as it used to be. We now deal with it and in many cases have remarkable success. From being involved with LAPBC, I learned so much about human behaviour and developed an understanding that every one of us has things we deal with.
You have been a part of numerous organizations both in the legal community and in the greater BC community. What inspires you to share your time and expertise?
I continue to share my time and expertise because I truly believe that you get back more than you give. It is a privilege to be involved with groups where you can make a difference.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
My wife and my children.