Top Community Lawyers
Get the inside story on the people behind the legalese.
I have been providing legal services in the North Okanagan for 20 years since I moved from Vancouver in April of 1992 with my wife Anita. I had been practicing in a large downtown firm where I gained experience in complex commercial litigation and corporate finance, but I wanted a change.
Anita and I were originally attracted to the area because of the blend of rural and urban influences—and Silver Star. What kept us here is the remarkable group of people we’ve come to know and appreciate. The Vernon area attracts people from all over the world and many of these people work hard to contribute to the overall economy and community. Their influence blends with families who trace their heritage back for generations.
Right from the beginning, Anita and I have been involved in our community. I am serving my second term as a city councilor for the District of Coldstream. I have been a director of the Vernon Winter Carnival, the North Okanagan Community Foundation, the Vernon Alpine Ski Club and a member of the Silver Star Rotary Club. I am also currently a director for the Vernon and District Association for Community Living.
Anita has been involved in providing local quality food to the community. In 2007 we purchased an apple orchard and began the transition process to fully certified organic. Coldstream Creek Road Orchard is the first certified organic orchard in the history of Coldstream, which has been an apple-growing area since 1892. We produce three varieties including Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and Royal Gala. Last year Anita was one of the founding organizers of the Coldstream Winter Market.
I founded Compass Law Corporation in 2000 and continue to operate from our Main Street location in downtown Vernon. Practicing in my own firm has given me the opportunity to choose the type of work that I do and to work with clients who have interesting backgrounds and projects. Consequently, I have been part of a number of start-up operations requiring venture capital financing.
At Compass we seek to provide reasonably priced personalized service on a wide range of matters, but my preferred areas of practice relate to the everyday concerns of people, such as real estate (conveyancing, mortgages and development matters); business law regarding incorporations and contracts; and all estate matters including estate planning, probate, committeeships, powers of attorney and representation agreements.
Working directly with clients is especially enjoyable for me. I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping estate clients and discussing farm matters with agricultural clients. I want to express my profound appreciation to all the clients who have worked with me since I moved to this beautiful area.
In my opinion, family law is one of the most interesting areas of the law. As I tell my clients, marriage is basically a contract between two people to join together for a common goal, while divorce is really the termination of that contract. However, this particular contract is the most emotional one any of us will enter into. It’s the culmination of our hopes, goals and dreams, and the breakdown of this contract triggers emotional and social reactions like no other.
There is a delicate balance of legal issues, resulting from a marriage breakdown, versus the feelings that parties experience as they go through what is one of the most difficult periods of their lives. It is the role of family lawyers to take our clients through this process as kindly and compassionately as possible. Yet we can’t be everything to everyone. I always tell my clients that this process requires a network of support including counselors, friends and family. There is as much “heart stuff” as there is “legal stuff” surrounding a divorce.
Dealing with fear about how to co-parent and concern over the effects of divorce on the children is just as important as property division and support payments. Unfortunately our current law does not consider heart stuff as much as it provides a framework for dealing with the legal matters. However, this focus is changing.
We are currently in one of the most dynamic times for family law in recent years as a new Family Law Act (the “Act”) became law in November 2011. Most of the Act will not come into effect for the next year to year-and-a-half, but there are many eagerly awaited changes. For example, the Act imposes a new and radically different legislative scheme on matters such as child care. It contemplates how to regulate topics that are new to provincial law, such as assisted reproduction and parenting coordination, and has increased focus on out of court resolution of disputes, particularly in the area of children.
While family lawyers will always be the legal stuff types, it is hopeful that these new changes introduce a bit of heart stuff to our legal processes. Follow us on Twitter or friend us on Facebook to see what happens next.
Call 250.762.6747 or visit www.tessmerlaw.com.
Gerry M. Laarakker Law
You should make a will when you marry or start a family, advises Vernon lawyer, Gerry Laarakker. The protection of your children should be a priority. “Would you prefer to appoint a guardian for your minor children,” he asks, “or leave it to the government?” Gerry says that you also require an advance health care directive and a power of attorney in case something happens to you.
“Many people advertise that they do wills and estate planning. For us, it is a specialty,” says Gerry, who has given many presentations on these subjects to community groups and has taught the material in the Bar admission course all new BC lawyers must take.
Laarakker Law takes pride in its expertise with wills and estate planning and in providing affordable, personal service.
Call 250.260.4273 or visit www.laarakkerlaw.com.
Nadine Casey French Law
Nadine Casey French is dedicated to her profession and to her West Kelowna community. Providing exceptional legal services to individuals and businesses, NCF Law handles corporate, real estate and estate planning issues in a timely and cost-effective manner with an emphasis on personal attention.
Nadine will go to hospitals and clients’ homes to help those who can’t get to her office and she regularly provides pro bono services to the elderly as well as community organizations such as the Food Bank. She has been a tireless worker for Westside Daze and is the organizer of the Westside Women’s Group, the only organization that supports women entrepreneurs on the Westside.
Call 250.707.0771 or visit www.ncflaw.ca.
Robert O. Levin Law Office
Robert Levin has been practicing civil litigation, specializing in commercial disputes and personal injury claims, since arriving in Kelowna in July 1980. After initial training in his hometown of Winnipeg, he discovered the Okanagan and never looked back. Bob has a beautiful wife of 30 years, four loving children, all born and raised in Kelowna, and three wonderful grandchildren.
Active in the community, Bob is a past president and board member (for almost 30 years) of The Bridge, a leading social service agency that assists children and families throughout the Central Okanagan. “I’ve stayed on that length of time,” he says, “because of the fabulous work the organization does and the respect I have for the people who work there.”
Bob has also served on the boards of Sunshine Theatre, School District #23, The Okanagan Jewish Community and was a founding director of the Southern Interior Karate Association. He is the Central Yale area representative to the Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch.
Karate is Bob’s main source of fitness. He teaches advanced children’s classes at Parkinson Rec Centre and holds a Sandan ranking (third degree black belt). Bob has won gold and silver at the BC provincial and national levels. His other sports include skiing, hockey (“I’m really not very good, but love the game and play with a great bunch of guys”), golf, hiking and tennis. Bob is fully committed to life in the Okanagan.
Call 250.868.2101 or visit www.rlevin.com.
Serving the Okanagan since 2007, Okimaw Law is committed to providing the highest quality service and advice. “We help clients protect their intellectual property, assets and legacies,” says Richard Okimaw.
A lawyer, engineer and patent agent, Richard practices exclusively in intellectual property and technology law. He is dedicated to delivering unparalleled IP. Rick’s clients consider him an indispensable strategic partner and integral to their success.
Kristen Okimaw, who was raised in Kelowna, handles wills and estates, family and corporate law. She and Rick are active in the autism community, busy chasing after their young children and enjoying the Okanagan lifestyle.
Una Gabie deals with real estate, corporate and estate planning. Una is involved in the Okanagan Mortgage Lenders Association, Community Futures, Okanagan Suicide Awareness Society and the United Way.
Call 250.469.9628 or visit www.okimawlaw.com.
Blakely & Company
In 1980 the University of Windsor Law School wanted me because of my LSAT marks and my experience as an infantry NCO and later as a captain in the Canadian Forces, where I won the Canadian Infantry Association Sword.
As a soldier I learned to take good care of the soldiers under my command. As a lawyer I apply that same principle to my clients and the community. Loyalty, integrity and dedication make a win-win. I have also served as a director of provincial and national organizations for nearly two decades.
My focus on seniors, farms, families and small business gives me a close connection with the community. Our approach is to work hard for our clients and treat their challenges as if they were our own.
I am a solicitor. Years ago I stopped doing all court work so I could focus exclusively on the paper side of the law. Now, my deeper knowledge and experience in these chosen areas means that I do more for my clients than is the usual standard of practice.
For example, my advanced approach to estate planning for blended families has proven effective. Assisting executors in the probate of estates, I can help families when they are under great emotional stress. One of my most satisfying activities is helping disabled persons and their families to establish effective structures for ownership and management of assets.
Over the years I have provided leadership on dozens of projects and committees. My most unusual project was as executive producer/fundraiser and scriptwriter for a 42-minute search and rescue training film for the Justice Institute of BC.
I have assisted hundreds of non-profit organizations and charities. I provide workshops on liability and governance and I am often consulted on the development and drafting of bylaws and constitutions.
My grandmother, now deceased, once told me that the true measure of a man’s worth is whether, upon his death, the world is better for his having been placed upon it. I have striven to ensure that this is the case in both my personal and professional lives. I think my grandmother is smiling right now!
Call 250-546-3188 or 1-888-838-9982 or visit www.blakelylaw.ca.
Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law
TRU Law recently celebrated the completion of its first year. The 75 inaugural law students, who started the program in September 2011, wrote their final first-year exam on April 20. Founding Dean of Law Chris Axworthy, QC, says that students will have a chance to recharge their batteries over the summer.
Robert Fischer-Summers, president of the Society of Law Students (SLS) says, “Many of us will be working over the summer and we have begun making ourselves known to law firms and supporters further afield now that exams are over. The SLS articling committee has also begun work in the search for articling positions next year.”
While the inaugural class has completed its first year, excitement abounds among the applicants who have just received word that they will be joining TRU Law this September.
“It has been a wonderful year with many milestones, including the opening of Canada’s newest Law Faculty in over 33 years, in September, and having the Chief Justice of Canada visit in February,” says Alan Shaver, president of Thompson Rivers University.
William “Bill” Clarke – Courtyard Law
Born in Alberta, Bill Clarke came to Kelowna with his mother at age nine. Bill graduated with the first class of the UBC Okanagan history department, attended the University of Alberta Law School and was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1996.
Bill tells his clients, “Where you have come from will often dictate where you are going.” This sense of community prompted him to purchase one of Kelowna’s oldest properties, former home of the BC political dynasty of W.A.C. Bennett and his son Bill. The Bernard Avenue restoration, now home to Courtyard Law Offices, was awarded the Central Okanagan Heritage Society Heritage Award 2012.
“I am so much happier working in the heritage house than in a traditional office space where you feel confined, cloistered or even trapped by the sterile walls that surround you,” says Bill, who maintains that this relaxed feeling extends to the people who come to him for legal advice in family law.
Joining him at Courtyard Law are family law practitioner Tracey Brice-Nicolson; Russell Tretiak, QC, with over 30 years of trial experience and an association with the Quay Law Centre LLP, the largest group of family lawyers in British Columbia; and most recently, Anukiran Klar, with wills and estate proficiency and fluency in the languages of Punjabi and Hindi.
Bill’s community involvement reads like a renaissance man with a sleep disorder, including CBC Radio/Television commentator, children’s charity fundraiser, musician, legal volunteer, rescue diver, curling skip and dragon boat captain. Among his honours are the Legal Services Society Award of Recognition for quality of legal service and the President’s Medal, Canadian Bar Association BC Branch.
Call 250-762-2252 or visit www.courtyardlaw.com.