Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers
For more than five decades Bernard Gluckstein has been one of the most prominent lawyers in all of Canada thanks in large part not only to the tremendous success of his law firm but his valued humanitarian efforts. He is well known for generously volunteering his time with personal injury victims as well as those who were born with disabilities. Now, with his son Charles Gluckstein following in his footsteps, it is the younger Gluckstein who guides the daily operations at Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers as the firm continues to expand upon its stellar reputation, always putting people first.
Bernard Gluckstein is a Lifetime Member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Civil Litigation. A staunch advocate for the disabled, Bernard donates a great deal of his time and expertise to numerous organizations such as Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (formerly Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario), Variety Village, Canadian Games for the Physically Disabled, the Paralympic Games, and many others. He is also one of the founding Directors of the Ontario Brain Injury Association, which was formed to enhance the lives of Ontarians living with the effects of acquired brain injury through education, awareness and support.
In addition to his work with Paralympians, and his support of many other athletes with disabilities, Bernard was part of the team that raised $1 million for the construction of the Sunshine Indoor Pool at Variety Village.
Bernard’s son Charles Gluckstein was called to the Ontario Bar in 1999, and specializes in insurance litigation, which encompasses personal injury, disability matters, occupier’s liability, product liability and medical malpractice. He has been President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association since May 2013 and previously served as an OTLA Director (Executive Committee and Chair of the Insurance Committee). He is a member of the Advocates’ Society, the American Association for Justice and the Medico-Legal Society of Toronto. After serving as Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in 1999 he became a Director of the Advisory Board, a position he continues to hold to this day. Charles also served as a Director of the Brain Injury Association of Toronto from 1998-2001 and provided counsel to the Active Living Alliance of Ontario, from 2002-2004.
The firm, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers (formerly Gluckstein & Associates LLP), assists victims of brain injury, automotive accidents, slip and fall injuries and medical malpractice. The company is a lead sponsor of many annual conferences, symposia and social events for associations and foundations connected with the medical and disability community. The firm has also built waiting rooms and lounges for patients, visitors, family and medical staff at seven major Ontario hospitals.
“We were the first personal-injury lawyers to put rooms in hospitals,” Bernard proudly says. “We started with St. Michael’s Hospital. The Foundation was looking to raise money and we were the first to come up with it.”
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre found itself in the same situation of looking to raise money and have rooms dedicated, and once again it was Bernard and Charles Gluckstein who stepped forward and became the first to put a dedicated room in Sunnybrook.
“As soon as we did that, every personal-injury lawyer wanted to get a room,” Bernard says. “We ended up raising close to $10 million for them.”
The Gluckstein law firm has donated multiple rooms in various hospitals with the latest being one at Hotel Dieu Shaver Health & Rehabilitation Centre in St. Catharines, Ont.
“We’re doing the reception area in their brain injury recovery unit,” Bernard mentions.
Reflecting upon growing up, Charles recalls that “My dad has always been involved regardless of his practice – he’s always given volunteer time to help individuals with disabilities. When Variety Village opened and my dad was counsel to them, he would do all sorts of pro bono work for them and even did their photography, and eventually got me involved as well. So even as a teenager I was coming out to all their sporting events and helping them raise their profile.”
The Early Years
It all started back in 1962 when Bernard joined Shuber, Basman, an all-purpose law firm, where he ran the litigation department. Early in his career, Bernard worked on many criminal and other types of cases and spent time serving as a Small Claims Court Judge. He got a taste of everything while still at a relatively young age. Shortly thereafter Bernard introduced the firm to a different area of law, insurance litigation.
“My dad was given opportunities through his father, who was a founder for a big taxi company called Metro Cabs,” Charles says. “Taxi drivers were always needing help, whether there were injuries or other personal injury matters that required legal expertise.”
Bernard managed to build up an impressive book of business with his insurance and plaintiff personal injury practice. At that time, the latter was still very much in its infancy with only a few firms taking on that work as part of their core business.
“When I started to practice in 1962 there were maybe 2,500 lawyers in all of Ontario – now there are 40,000,” Bernard states. “Back then there were only a handful of us who did personal injury work exclusively.”
“At one stage I developed a fairly substantial defense practice, which lasted until about 10 years ago,” Bernard tells us. “It was 50% defense work, 50% plaintiff work. I had a number of insurance company clients that hired me on their very large cases.”
If a local lawyer was facing trouble somewhere such as Sudbury, Windsor, Ottawa or elsewhere in Ontario, the company would fly Bernard in as their counsel and he would take over the case after being briefed by the lawyer the night before.
“Outside of Toronto I was known as a defense lawyer but in Toronto I was known as a plaintiff’s lawyer,” Bernard laughs.
Throughout the years, Bernard Gluckstein had several different business partners leading to the time when Charles began working alongside his father after graduating in 1996. It was around this time when the company became known as Gluckstein & Associates.
“We’ve gone through a few name changes but it’s always been the same structure and we’ve been at the same location ever since, which is almost 20 years now,” Charles says.
Now the firm is officially known as Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers Professional Corporation led by Charles with a staff of 30 including 11 lawyers.
“It really became difficult to practice a balanced portfolio,” Charles states. “When I came into practice in 1999, I also did 15-20% defense work and then over say the next five years I whittled that down quite quickly.”
It was largely the insurance industry itself that determined they would not use plaintiff lawyers to do any of their defense work moving forward.
“Two things were happening at that time,” Charles states. “Insurance work was getting harder to keep, it was less profitable, and for me less enjoyable. In the end, you want to be working for the innocent victim. When you work on the corporation side, it’s really just a business decision. When you work for the injured victims, it’s a matter of trying to restore balance by providing proper representation.”
“We’re confining our practice and really narrowing it down,” Bernard says. “Once we got rid of our defense practice we wanted to make sure that everybody knew we were strictly plaintiff oriented.”
Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers have taken on two highly-skilled, experienced malpractice lawyers, Joe Colangelo and David Lackman to further develop that practice for the firm along with Bernard and Charles.
Personal Injury Litigation
The Gluckstein firm is known for its neuro-trauma and personal injury litigation cases. If there’s a neurological disorder due to a spinal cord injury or the brain, these are the most vulnerable victims. Injuries from motor vehicles make up the lion’s share of the cases, but there are also many cases dealing with medical and other negligence as well.
“Medical malpractice cases are very tricky cases on how you proceed,” Charles admits. “Although we may not have them in numbers, they are very significant cases with difficult medical issues to understand and are challenging cases to undertake.”
Tort law, which essentially aims to right a wrong, is a common-law principle, which means coverage for victims’ rights is very much the same regardless of jurisdictions in Canada or the United States for that matter. Auto insurance in Canada is highly regulated at the provincial level and each province has different rules regarding a person’s rights to make a claim.
“We don’t practice injury cases outside of Ontario,” Charles confirms. “We may act for a victim from Ontario who was injured in another province or jurisdiction but the laws of Ontario is what has to be applied."
People Come First
It’s easy enough to mouth the words that people come first, but only the truly successful enterprises are able to effectively and continuously follow through on actually achieving it. Making individuals feel as if they matter is at the very core of success, yet it seems to elude a number of enterprises. The Gluckstein team is committed to this principle in both words and deeds.
“We come to this as a family,” he responds. “With my father and me, we try and treat every client as if they are part of our expanding family. We do the same with our staff. For example we treat them at least once a year to a retreat – usually in Niagara – where they enjoy spa treatments and a bit of entertainment. It’s not just a partners’ meeting, it’s all 30 of us who participate when we give thanks to them for all the great work that they’ve done.”
As for former clients, Charles says they always reach out to make them feel part of the Gluckstein family.
“We care about our clients and stay connected with them after their case is finished,” he says. The firm hired a specialist whose main focus is to help the client re-connect back into the community. There’s certainly no requirement that any law firm go to such lengths when the case has been settled, but Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers take it upon themselves to do the follow-up because they feel it’s the right thing to do.
“We run an event called Compassion Fatigue, which is geared towards trauma workers and family members and accident victims that are always taking care of their loved ones, so much so that they get exhausted and don’t give themselves any time – that’s called compassion fatigue. We bring in speakers from around North America and we’ve done this for nine years now. These are the kinds of things we do to give back and show we care – because we do care.”
The Compassion Fatigue event sells out every year with all funds being raised being donated to charity.
There is a friendly office environment at Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers, but as Charles notes, with the Internet and cloud-based technologies, there are times when employees will find it more advantageous to work from home for an assortment of reasons.
“All of our files are scanned and they’re paperless,” he reveals. “We’ll be launching a Web portal for our clients this year so they can stay more connected with us and provide them access to key documents, which are password protected.”
The firm has strongly embraced much of the new computerized technological gadgetry at our fingertips, with a strong presence on a number of various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which serve as excellent tools to expand the brand name. This is essential in today’s workplace and even more so with increased completion as each day passes.
“It’s more crowded every year with lots of competition coming in,” Charles relates. “If you look at the U.S. and the British and the Australian trends, there’s a trend to incorporate and have corporations and multi-disciplinary practices get into personal injury. The Law Society is considering these regulations to see if these alternative business structures would be allowed and that’s certainly going to change the climate here for us.”
Despite the intensified level of competition, both Bernard and Charles Gluckstein are confident they will remain successful. Truth be told, there are several firms who can all do a good job equally well. When you know what the level of coverage is and what you can do for someone and how you’ll build a case, it’s much the same. But Charles notes there are ways to separate oneself from the crowd.
“Where it changes is the relationships,” he says. “I always tell the client that you’ve got to feel like you can trust your lawyer; it’s a long-term relationship. We have that friendship and family feeling that develops over that period of time. Where we are also different is that we have a medical consultant involved. Dianne (Henderson), a RN by training, plays a very crucial role in some of these very serious injury cases. She puts together a treatment team for them once they are out of hospital and I would say our focus, which is unique, is on maximizing their rehabilitation. We don’t look at the money side of things, because that happens regardless. People want to get their life back.”
Henderson’s hiring was borne from Bernard’s belief that his firm needed in-house medical expertise to increase efficiency and save time when putting together cases. Dating back as far as the 1980s he always dealt closely with such professionals so it seemed like a natural fit to have someone on staff.
“It was about 16 years ago that I hired Dianne,” Bernard recalls. “She runs our catastrophic cases.”
Defending Victims’ Rights
This type of practice has seen many legal changes over time. In previous years before all the many restrictions in no-fault, the victim was compensated for any accident, but now it’s significantly limited.
Most of the complex cases take at least three years to reach a conclusion and at the outset you may be looking at five years in extreme circumstances. It’s certainly a long period of time in which to build a client-lawyer bond. The length of time is primarily due to the severity and complexity of many victims’ injuries, which could have them laid-up in hospital for several months.
“You (the lawyer) won’t be able to begin to understand the injuries or investigate for the first six months to a year,” Charles notes. “Then you begin the legal process and start to determine what is likely to be the maximum medical recovery for each particular individual. Even at the two-year anniversary of the accident – one year anniversary of the litigation – you are still really early on in understanding what the person’s future care needs will be.”
Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers don’t typically get involved in the smaller whiplash type cases, quite simply because the more complex, catastrophic cases take up the vast majority of the firm’s time and resources. It’s estimated there are between 500 and 1,000 serious injury cases in Ontario each year.
Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers recently opened a new office in the Niagara Region of southern Ontario, specifically in the city of Thorold, just west of Niagara Falls.
“Niagara has never had a huge representation of lawyers,” Charles continues. “We have a very prominent member of our firm in Dianne Henderson. She is a nurse by training and also has experience with brain injuries by being executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Niagara. She has worked with us for 15-plus years and she’d always been hinting that she wanted us to have an office more local for her because she’s from the Niagara area.”
Henderson staffs the Niagara office with two other people who serve a significant number of clients in that area.
King Clancy Award
On Feb. 8, 2014, Bernard Gluckstein was named the 2014 recipient of the prestigious King Clancy Award, which was established in 1986 by the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons to commemorate the contributions of King Clancy as an inspirational humanitarian. The Award is presented to Canadians who have made significant contributions in assisting disabled citizens to achieve a more rewarding lifestyle. Previous winners have included the likes of Rick Hansen, Walter Gretzky and Chantal Petitclerc. In winning the award, Bernard becomes the first personal-injury lawyer to be so honoured.
“I am very flattered and humbled to be chosen for this award. It is the highlight of my legal career,” says Bernard Gluckstein.
Both Bernard and Charles Gluckstein are looking forward to helping people who have been victimized by misfortune, for many years to come. Charles does have three children, but the oldest is just 12, so it will be a while yet before any of them look to join dad and granddad at the firm.