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Guy Pratte at OBA awards sm

OBA Award of Excellence winner Pratte stresses importance of mentorship, pro bono

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 @ 9:57 AM | By Amanda Jerome

Guy Pratte, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG), felt “complete shock and surprise” at having been awarded the Ontario Bar Association’s (OBA) Award of Excellence in Civil Litigation. The well-respected litigator said he was “quite humbled” when he looked at the list of previous recipients, and that receiving such an accolade was “generous and heartwarming.”

OBA president Colin Stevenson spoke about Pratte’s achievements at a reception in Toronto on Nov. 21. He noted that Pratte is in “the very top echelon of civil litigators in Canada.”

Stevenson also highlighted Pratte’s “meticulous approach to trial preparation,” his role as chair of Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) and his work as a mentor.

“The legal profession has benefited immeasurably from his willingness to share his uncommon wisdom, experience and insights, not to mention his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion — a commitment shared by his fellow members of the OBA,” said Stevenson.

“He is, as this award recognizes, an excellent civil litigator — one of this country’s best — but he is also an extraordinary example of the enormous and enduring impact lawyers can have on their communities,” he added.

Guy Pratte, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

Pratte told The Lawyer’s Daily that his family has been practising law for over five generations, but it wasn’t until he was doing his articling that he was drawn to civil litigation.

“I went to the Federal Court, accompanying the senior lawyer that I was working for, and saw an argument in the courtroom,” he said, explaining that the case “involved many of the great luminaries of the time.”

While watching and listening to the proceeding, Pratte thought “well, maybe that is something I could do, that I would enjoy” and the idea to get involved in civil litigation crystalized at that moment.

“Since then, there’s been lots of ups and downs and self-doubts, but that was the event that planted the seed,” he explained.

Pratte, who has his LLB from the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in both Ontario and Quebec, said he’s had the “extraordinary good fortune of being involved in a lot of high profile, very interesting litigation” throughout his career.

“I do many appeals at the Supreme Court of Canada and I’ve done commissions of inquiry. I’ve acted for a man who’d been wrongfully convicted. I’ve acted for a woman who had been abused, procedurally I mean, and the Quebec bar had done nothing. I’ve acted for Prime Minister Mulroney,” he listed, noting that whatever he’s working on is a challenge and “immensely rewarding.”

Along with being the leader of BLG’s appellate advocacy group, Pratte is also the chair of Pro Bono Ontario. He said his involvement in PBO was inspired by the organization’s founder, David W. Scott, whom he worked with in the late ’80s at the firm Scott & Aylen in Ottawa.

Pratte explained that one of Scott’s core values was pro bono work and his dedication was “contagious.” Being inspired by his senior partner at the time, Pratte got involved in assisting access to justice and eventually was instrumental in starting Pro Bono Quebec. He became the chair of PBO five years ago, continuing the legacy left by Scott.

“If you’re working with the kinds of people I was fortunate to work with, you can’t but see the growing needs for improving access to justice,” he said, noting that pro bono work is “one way you can discharge that obligation.”

Pratte will become the president of The Advocates’ Society in June and said he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to remain chair of Pro Bono Ontario after that time. However, he’s sure to stay involved in pro bono work in “one way or another.”

As for his role as a mentor, the award winner said he benefited immensely from mentorship and it was a natural evolution to then mentor others.

He said one of the biggest pleasures in his life is working with people who “have the same drive, the same commitment, the same passion, the same disappointments when things don’t work out and the same joys when they do” and mentorship is sharing the work with others.

“I care about mentorship because it cared about me; others cared about me,” he stressed.

When mentoring, he doesn’t purport to have a “bag full of secret recipes to win every case,” but he tries to impart his obsession with preparation, writing facta that are clear and logical and “anticipating every possible question the bench could ask” in oral argument.

“I think if there’s one thing that I try to impart to others is just an obsession for excellence,” he said, and that wanting to do things well brings “an innate sense of satisfaction.”

Along with trial preparation, Pratte cares about oral advocacy, which he mentioned in his acceptance speech. He noted that the “increased emphasis on written advocacy and time limits — however well-intended and justified — can, on occasion, come close to threatening the relevance of oral advocacy.”

He reminded those in attendance to “not forget that most clients believe — literally — that they have a right to be heard, not just read. And that they have a right to see justice being done.”

“I hope that each of you attending this evening believes that the art of meaningful oral advocacy is worth saving from extinction or banalization or irrelevance: it all amounts to the same thing. We must do this, not for our own sake, but for the sake of maintaining a legal system genuinely and firmly rooted in access to justice,” he added.

According to BLG’s website, Pratte is also a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and received a Law Society of Ontario Medal in 2019 for “exceptional career achievement and contribution to his community.” He has also been named advocatus emeritus by the Quebec bar for “outstanding contributions to the legal profession.”

Photo of Guy Pratte by Shawn McPherson.

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