The New Year started with a sea change in the Cowichan Valley’s legal profession.
With Duncan law firms closing and lawyers leaving, more than 200 years of legal experience evaporated.
The transformation on the local law scene is due to, quite simply, old age. Or to be kinder, retirement — a well-deserved time to travel, golf, garden and smell the roses after decades in the legal trenches.
The oldest war horse happily heading out to pasture is Don Orchard. He’s leaving after 55-years of practice and closing his firm, Orchard and Company.
“I’ve had an absolutely wonderful career in law, but it’s time to go,” explained Orchard who started his law career in Thompson, Manitoba.
He had a branch office in The Pas and used to fly his own plane to visit clients there once a week. But for the past 30 years Duncan has been home.
Another legal stalwart leaving the field after 37 years in law is Brian McCutcheon.
Law was actually McCutcheon’s second career. He earned a PhD in history and spent 10 years as an academic before turning to law. He was legal counsel to a prominent Valley businessman, the late Herb Doman, for almost a decade.
“I loved Herb. He had an incredible memory and was a superb businessman.”
One of the Valley’s more colourful characters, Dick Nesbitt, is retiring after 43 years. Nesbitt often sported a buckskin jacket with fringes and bright Indigenous beading, an integral part of his wardrobe that stems back to his time as senior counsel to the Métis Senate.
Nesbitt loved law but said frustrations with courts and expenses were mounting. You used to be able to get a case to trial in under a year, he said, with disbursement costs for copying documents, transcripts and other materials around $3,000. But now it can take four years to get to trial with disbursements reaching $20,000.
Another Duncan law firm closing its doors is McDaniel & Company. However, the sole partner, Brian McDaniel, emphasizes he is not leaving his clients, nor law.
After 42-years in law, McDaniel says he was finding too many frustrations managing his own firm. Like Nesbitt, he found the expense and time of running a law firm onerous.
Space for McDaniel at Ridgway and Company is being made now that Glen Ridgway is winding down after 45 years as a lawyer in Duncan. A former president of the Law Society of BC and former councillor for the Municipality of North Cowichan, Ridgway says he will be spending the next few months handing his clients off to other lawyers but basically, he’s done and McDaniel will move into his office.
With all the retirements and office closures it could be difficult for some clients to obtain timely legal advice. But it could also open the doors for new legal talent looking for an opportunity to practise in a very desirable community.
McCutcheon says it has been his privilege to represent four generations of several families. He has passed his clients on to other lawyers and says they will be well looked after but he says there is a distinct shortage of lawyers in the Cowichan Valley.
He believes lawyers from Victoria would be fools not to come up to Duncan. But McCutcheon warns they can’t be suitcase lawyers.
“They have to move and be based here — not just be drop-ins.”
McDaniel agrees there is huge opportunity for young lawyers to practice in the Cowichan Valley. He echoes McCutcheon that they will have to move here and have their kids in soccer here, becoming part of the community.