Estates & Wills & Trusts

Client-first approach bolsters Black’s reputation

By Staff

Whether he’s acting as counsel or mediator, Toronto wills and estates lawyer and mediator Howard Black has the same aim in mind.

“I try to adopt a strategy that leads to a beneficial resolution of the dispute in as time-efficient and cost-effective a manner as possible,” Black, a partner with Minden Gross LLP, and chair of the firm’s wills and estates group.

He tells his conciliatory style may have cost him a few clients in his time, but warns it should not be mistaken for weakness.

“I’ll fight as hard as the next person if I feel there’s some positive outcome at the end of it, but I’m not interested in fighting for the sake of fighting,” Black says. “Clients sometimes want an overly aggressive lawyer who will promise them the sun and the moon.”

By contrast, legal assessments and advice must be firmly rooted in reality, says Black, who credits his client-first approach to values instilled in him from an early age by his parents.

“They taught me that whatever you’re doing in life, the one thing you have going for you is your reputation as someone honest, ethical and moral,” he says. “That’s very important to me, and it guides me as a lawyer.

“At the end of the day, I hope people think of me as a hard-working, conscientious lawyer who has my clients’ best interests at the very front of my objectives.”

Black says he was drawn to the law from an early age, partly as a result of parental influence, which he jokes began at birth with subliminal messaging in the crib.

But aside from his parents’ encouragement, Black also has strong family ties to the legal profession, including a few relatives who blazed the trail for him.

During studies at Osgoode Hall Law School, he kept his options open in terms of practice area, before articling in the mid-1980s with a firm renowned for its tax law department. This gave Black a strong basis for his developing estate-planning practice, which he broadened to include estate litigation after joining Minden Gross in 1991.

In the mid-2000s, Black branched out again, seizing on the boom in estates mediation after Ontario began experimenting with mandatory mediation before trial in some areas of the province. Black bolstered his credentials as a mediator by enrolling in a course run by Harvard’s law school, before returning to Osgoode to complete a master of laws in alternative dispute resolution.

“It was great to solidify my knowledge and understanding of mediation,” says Black, who confines his practice to estates matters.

He now chairs the firm’s Wills and Estates Group, with a practice focused on estate litigation and mediation of estates disputes covering all aspects of its planning and administration. Black also provides estate planning advice and advises on wills and powers of attorney to middle and high net-worth individuals.

Outside of the office, he has spent more than 25 years as an adjunct professor in wills and estates at Osgoode, where he has picked up a number of teaching awards, and served a term as chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s Trusts and Estates Section.

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