Ontario Lawyers Under Fire

Archie Bunker always wanted 7 Jewish lawyers to sue people......

He’s the face of personal injury law in Ontario. On television, radio, social media, billboards, buses and atop urinals at the Air Canada Centre, you will find the image and the message of lawyer Jeremy Diamond.

“Nothing is tougher than a diamond,” reads the signature advertisement. “Trust the name you know.”

People hurt in car or other accidents are left with the impression that the 43-year-old Diamond is a top litigator fighting for the little guy.

It turns out that Diamond — described as an “award-winning personal injury lawyer” — has never tried a case himself, according to his own evidence in a recent legal matter.

A Star investigation found that Diamond has for many years been attracting thousands of would-be clients and then referring cases out to other lawyers in return for sometimes hefty referral fees. Along the way the firm’s marketing campaign has raised the ire of the Law Society of Upper Canada, clients, and some lawyers.

“What they’ve done has absolutely changed our industry and it’s changed the way people find lawyers,” says Adam Wagman, president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which wants a crackdown on misleading advertising and a curbing of referral fees. Speaking generally, Wagman said “we agree referral fees are a problem and that’s why we’re working with the law society to make some recommendations that will, we hope, create a better environment for the public and the lawyers who serve the public.”

A snapshot of how fees can be apportioned comes from the case regarding the billing matter. There was a settlement from the insurance company of $100,000 and the firm that worked the case, Wolf Kimelman, provided a statement of account to the client: $31,208 to Wolf Kimelman; a “referral fee” of $10,040 to Jeremy Diamond; and $56,000 to the client who sued. The remaining money paid doctors and pharmacies involved in the case.

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Diamond & Diamond attempting to quash bill aimed at protecting accident victims

Personal injury law firm Diamond & Diamond has hired a lobbyist to persuade politicians to kill a private member's bill aimed at fixing a system critics call a "black hole" for accident victims.

The public affairs firm the CCS Group registered to lobby for Diamond & Diamond, known for its flashy, U.S.-style advertising, the day after Liberal MPP Mike Colle introduced the "personal injury and accident victims protection act."

"We are asking that members don't support the private bill," reads the CCS Group's filings on behalf of Diamond & Diamond.
The bill calls for major restructuring of Ontario's contingency fee system — "you don't pay unless we win" — including a dramatic curb on how much lawyers can charge for their services.

"Why are they so afraid of this bill?" Colle said. "Why not make the bill a vehicle to improve protection for accident victims? ... There are people who are victims of serious accidents who are trying to get justice and they are put through hell and we shouldn't be standing by and allowing it."

Critics say that hiring a lobbyist in an attempt to quash a private member's bill is an unusual move considering such proposed acts rarely become law.

Neither Diamond & Diamond nor the CCS Group has responded to the Toronto Star's requests for comment.

The Toronto-based lobby firm, which calls itself "one of Ontario's leading public affairs firms" on its website, also represents medical marijuana company MedReleaf Corp., an environmental waste company, road-builder the Miller Group, and several First Nations, according to the lobbyist registry.

The CCS Group's public filings with the provincial lobbyist registry show the firm is targeting numerous MPPs, including those in Barrie, London, Hamilton and Mississauga, where Diamond & Diamond has offices. Also targeted are the offices of Ontario's attorney general and minister of finance.

Colle's bill was inspired in part by an ongoing Star investigation into Ontario's contingency fee system, referral fees and the marketing practices of personal injury lawyers.

The bill's introduction came a month after Ontario's legal regulator decided to crack down on referral fees and advertising. On Feb. 23, the Law Society of Upper Canada voted to cap the fees lawyers take when they refer clients to other lawyers and decided the lawyers can no longer advertise for services they don't intend to provide.

Late last year, the Star looked at Diamond & Diamond and found that for many years it has been attracting thousands of would-be clients and then referring cases out to other lawyers in return for sometimes hefty referral fees. The Star found that the firm's marketing, which has included women in tight T-shirts and ads above the urinals at the Air Canada Centre, has raised the ire of some lawyers and the law society. Diamond & Diamond has told the Star it has a growing number of lawyers working cases at the firm, but would not say how many cases are referred out.

In another story, the Star found that for years many personal injury lawyers working on contingency for accident victims have been "double dipping" — taking more money from their clients than the law allows. As a result, many Ontario residents have been overcharged thousands of dollars and probably do not know it.

In simple terms, lawyers working on contingency cannot take a sum of money called "costs" in addition to a percentage of the settlement, according to the Solicitor's Act, legislation governing how lawyers behave.

Colle's proposed bill calls for contingency fees to be capped at 15 per cent of the settlements awarded to accident victims. The Star's investigation showed that lawyers often take 30 per cent or more of a victim's settlement. The bill also calls for a ban on lawyer referral fees and would require clients to give their express written consent for any referral.

As well, it would require all contingency fee agreements to state clearly how lawyers will get paid, make any advertising for legal services subject to approval by the law society, and grant clients who have signed up with a personal injury lawyer a 10-day cooling-off period in which to cancel their agreement.

Since Colle tabled Bill 103 on March 8, he told the Star he has heard from Diamond & Diamond and is willing to meet with them. He has also been contacted by Adam Wagman, president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA), which represents about 1,600 personal injury lawyers, clerks and staff, and plans to meet with him.

In a written statement to the Star, Wagman said the trial lawyers' association was looking forward to meeting with Colle. Calling a cap on contingency fees an "attack on access to justice and accident victims," Wagman said the bill as proposed "gives insurance companies and other huge corporations carte blanche to run roughshod over injured accident victims."

In a separate written statement to the Star, Paul Harte, a past president of OTLA, said it is "disappointing" that Diamond & Diamond would so quickly hire a lobbyist to quash an attempt to protect the public from misleading advertising and referral fees.

"Lawyers have a professional obligation to improve our legal system," he said. "They should avoid such obviously transparent attempts to protect their business interests at the expense of vulnerable consumers."

Colle told the Star that to counter the lobbying activities, he will do his best to give his side of the story, a story that "cries out for something to be done."

He said a range of players, including the legal community, the law society, the government and insurance industry, are to blame for the "totally inoperable" system that accident victims must go through — a system Colle calls a "black hole," which is "confusing, so expensive, so long.

"What's good about it?"

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