This month’s spotlight is on longtime CLEBC volunteer Jan A. Fishman of Fishman Lawyers, editorial board member of CLEBC’s Civil Jury Instructions publication.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I first began attending CLEBC programs as an articling student, and continue to do so 25 years later. Over the years, I have benefitted immeasurably from CLEBC’s high quality programs and materials, as well as from having the opportunity to write and teach in the areas of insurance and personal injury law.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
Currently, I am privileged to sit on the editorial board of Civil Jury Instructions, which is an absolutely first rate resource for civil litigators in BC and across Canada. In the recent past, I contributed and delivered a paper at CLEBC’s Personal Injury Conference and previously sat on a panel of in-house counsel at CLEBC’s Insurance Law Conference.
You have been very active in the legal community including involvement with CLEBC, the CBA, Law Courts Inn, and UBC Law School. What motivates you to contribute your time?
The legal profession has been very good to me. When I was first starting out, I often called on senior lawyers if I needed advice, and found many kind and generous people to help me develop my skills and judgment. As the years went by, I noticed that I received more of those calls than I made, and discovered there is a great satisfaction in giving back. In fact, I believe that I get back as much as I give. I still experience a feeling of excitement when I am asked to judge a moot or mock trial or deliver a paper, and I am still warmed by the flush of responsibility at being elected or appointed to a leadership post.
What inspired you to move from defending insurance companies to representing disabled and injured plaintiffs who have been wrongfully denied insurance or accident benefits?
As 2012 approached, I was facing three significant anniversaries: 20 years as a lawyer, 10 years as Manulife’s in-house counsel, and 50 years on Earth. On a trip to the Middle East, I took a long walk in the desert to take stock of my life and realized I was increasingly dissatisfied with my work. I asked myself what it was that I wanted from my career.
I have always wanted to be a lawyer. Even though I didn’t know any lawyers growing up, when I was eight years old, I remember I was somehow attracted to the idea of pleading another human being’s cause. So I began to read all the books by and about lawyers that I could lay my hands on. One of the earliest pieces I read was written by the great American lawyer Louis Nizer who once wrote “A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” I remembered that the idea of changing people’s lives, of making a real difference in the world had been profoundly compelling to me. So I decided to go back to the thing that first motivated me to become a lawyer, and create a practice where I could work with my heart as well as my hands and brain.
What were the rewards and challenges of representing insurance companies?
There were many rewards in being defence counsel, particularly as in-house counsel. Most significantly, I was able to set aside a block of time every day to simply read the law, particularly as it relates to life and disability insurance. I went to numerous professional and industry conferences, and had the opportunity to mingle with and learn from some really great minds in the field. Near the end of my defence practice, I sat on a national litigation working group with representatives from most of the major insurers–that was an interesting experience!
The challenges I faced were often the flip side of the rewards. One major challenge was how to encourage my clients (the insurers) to “do the right thing”, and settle fairly those cases which should be settled.
What are the rewards and challenges of representing clients suing insurance companies?
Rewards of representing human beings? Where do I begin? If not daily, certainly weekly, a client tells me that I made a difference in his or her life. I see the relief in my clients’ eyes when I accept the retainer and tell them that they are no longer alone in their fight, that they can focus on their health and let me worry about the insurance company. I have the privilege of encouraging an insurance company to treat their insureds better, or answer for their conduct in open court if they don’t.
One of the greatest challenges I face is that many of my clients have been so beaten down by repeated denials that they lose heart, and are on the brink of surrender. My clients are frequently fragile, vulnerable people who need enormous emotional support to stand up for their rights.
What is one of your most memorable disability law cases?
One of my most memorable disability law cases occurred in 2016. It involved an insurance company attempting to terminate long-term disability benefits to my client with cancer who developed a number of mental illnesses and was completely disabled from working. I write about the experience dealing with the insurance company and successfully settling the case for my client on my website: http://fishmanlawyers.ca/my-most-memorable-case-of-2016/.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
Spending time with my family, travelling, reading good fiction, singing, cooking, and participating in my spiritual community.