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Handlarski: a problem solver with a commitment to his clients

Toronto criminal lawyer Ryan Handlarski is a problem-solver who advocates for his clients to get the best outcome when they clash with the "state."

“People come to me with unique problems and it’s my job to try to solve them,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com

“Solutions vary, and how you define success in criminal law is part of the challenge. If you have a client who is charged with sexual assault and he pleads guilty to assault, have you solved the problem? There are all sorts of ways to reach a solution and it requires ingenuity and creativity on my part, which makes it interesting.”

Handlarski, principal of RH Criminal Defence, knew that criminal defence was the right path for him after his first interview with an accused person at a Toronto-area jail. The individual was charged with first-degree murder and the interview took four hours.

“I knew I made the right career choice because of the manner in which I was able to connect with the accused and how interesting I thought it was to talk with him," he says.

Handlarski enjoys interacting with his clients and finding ways to assist them through the legal process. 

“I relish my time in court and talking to people accused of crimes – I try to put myself in their shoes,” he says. 

Handlarski graduated from the University of Ottawa cum laude and won the John A. Kavanagh Memorial Prize for criminal law. After law school, Handlarski articled with a Bay Street firm, where he worked on the defence of individuals accused of market manipulation by the Ontario Securities Commission. He found the lawyers at the firm excellent, but from a young age he knew he wanted to work in criminal law. 

“When I was growing up, I loved reading contrarian authors like Christopher Hitchens and Peter Thiel," he says. "I found it exciting that on certain issues, an individual could be right while a large majority of people could be wrong. As I got older, I realized that a criminal defence lawyer is the ultimate contrarian, taking unpopular positions in the face of state power and can be proven right with an acquittal.”  

Soon after, he found himself working with criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan, who quickly became his mentor. Before he died in 2014, Handlarski says Greenspan taught him a great deal and helped him lay a solid foundation for his career. 

“The most important thing I learned from him is the importance of preparation,” he says. “He was always so absolutely determined to out-work the other side, no matter what the circumstances. Of all the gifts he had, he never took a shortcut and he never failed to prepare the best defence possible for his client – that’s one of the things that made him such an extraordinary individual." 

Handlarski works hard to bring those same principles to his practice. 

"You have to prepare for cross-examinations and you have to exhaust every potential avenue of investigation to try to exonerate your client," he says. "You have to bring every possible motion that has the potential to improve your client’s chances at trial. That’s what I learned from him, above everything else.”

As a sole practitioner, Handlarski enjoys the freedom of being on his own. He likes the challenge of going up against the system to point out a flaw in logic or weakness in the state’s case that will help his client.

“Everybody in the courtroom is an employee of the state, except the defence lawyer,” he says. 

Handlarski still remembers his first acquittal when he was an associate at Greenspan Partners – it continues to inspire him.

“I recall when the judge said to the accused, ‘You are free to go,’” he says. “It was such an incredible feeling looking at my client and knowing what it meant to him. That’s what I enjoy most about representing the individual against the state and to have the opportunity to persuade the court in my client’s favour. It is a thrill every time.”

Handlarski is also interested in issues surrounding the legal profession.

In August 2016, he penned an article in Law Timesin which he made a case for the abandonment of an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for law school and describes it as "a reasonable solution to the unemployment and underemployment crisis young lawyers face" by helping reduce their student debt and allowing them to enter the workforce at a younger age.

Though Handlarski was leaning toward working in law at age 19, he first completed a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2005. He noted in the article that a four-year degree did not prepare him for the practice of law and offered almost no practical benefit, other than being a prerequisite for law school. 

“The elimination of the undergraduate degree or its transformation away from the traditional four years of courses is, in my view, the best way to help prospective young lawyers,” he said in the article.

Handlarski says he is committed to his profession and believes in the importance of a defence for every person charged.

“Until you live it – you meet the person who is charged with a criminal offence, the person that has their reputation and liberty on the line – you don’t truly understand and appreciate the concepts of the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt," he told MyBusinessMagazine.ca in October 2016.

“I truly believe in the ideals of criminal defence and the importance of a defence for every person charged,” he told the magazine. “Without people who defend those liberties and those principles, the importance of the freedom of every individual in our society would be meaningless.” 

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