Michael Ford
Family

No law for aftermath of client tragedy

There is no law that can prepare a lawyer for the feelings that follow after learning of a tragedy involving a client and his family, Toronto lawyer Michael Cochrane writes in Just. Magazine.

The article, Hearts Broken All Around, chronicles Cochrane’s grief and the legal questions that followed when faced with the news that a client going through a “routine divorce” had killed his wife, and then been killed by the police.

“My stomach coiled into a knot. Impossible. Theirs was what family law lawyers commonly refer to as a ‘routine divorce’ – separation after several years, three kids, custody and residential schedule issues, child and spousal support and property division – yet another Canadian family dividing itself and starting over in two new homes,” writes Cochrane, partner with Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP.

“There was a court date coming up. There had been four-way meetings and case conferences at which they were more than civil to each other. They were nice people. Her father even came to court with her for moral support. One day we were emailing each other about travel consents for the three children to go on a ski trip (put it in the kids’ knapsack). Two days later, they were both dead. No clues. No hints.”

Faced with the inevitable practical questions, such as, will the police arrive at my office? Is there solicitor-client privilege in these circumstances? Can they take my client’s file? Cochrane says he looked at the Law Society of Upper Canada's website.

“There are no FAQs for murder and police shootings. I left what must have sounded like a haunted message and went for a walk around the financial district in downtown Toronto. When I returned I emailed a senior family law lawyer for advice about solicitor-client privilege. Although on vacation, he responded within minutes with a specific reference to a case, and my already high regard for him soared. I pulled the case and read. It’s funny how a bit of tangible black and white law can settle you down.

“That is until my client’s mother called me. My stomach coiled again. I could hear that her heart was broken. We shared our thoughts about her son and her grandchildren. As she spoke in a shaken, hollow voice about the son she adored, I thought my heart would break too; there is no law that anchors you for that.”

Cochrane’s article was nominated for a Kenneth R. Wilson Award, recognizing the outstanding efforts of Canadian business-to-business magazines.

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