Trustee Services goes above and beyond

Posted: 02/05/2013

trustee services hoardingSuiting up properly in HAZMAT gear was not a skill Nadia Musclow expected to practise when she became a lawyer.

While Musclow, counsel for the Law Society’s Trustee Services department, had recovered documents from many compromised workspaces, nothing prepared her for what it would be like to sift through the office of a recently-deceased lawyer late last year.

“I thought I’d seen everything,” she said in a recent interview.

Soon after the lawyer passed away, an estate lawyer contacted the Law Society to report a volume of client documents at a home law office that was in a state of disarray.

Toronto Fire Services had requested the removal of excessive amounts of combustible materials and the estate lawyer had appointed a property manager.

HAZMAT gear, including gas masks, protected Law Society officials from exposure to toxins as they sorted through documents partially eaten and soiled by rodents and insects.

Papers, boxes and books — mixed up and piled from floor to ceiling — filled each room of the century-old home. The garage, porch and a rented storage container were so full that two cars were also used to store stuff.

While Law Society officials destroyed almost 300 boxes of legal documents that had been damaged, contaminated or were illegible, 20 boxes were salvaged and later cleaned by experts.

As a growing cohort of lawyers move toward retirement, the Law Society is being contacted more and more often to recover documents from law offices that have been managed without the benefits of a succession plan.

The increase highlights the need for lawyers to document how their practice will be managed in the event of a health challenge or sudden death.

In the weeks since the cleanup was complete, Musclow and her colleagues, Lina Caldaroni and Linh Hoang, are still struggling to absorb the immensity of the challenge they faced.

“It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Musclow said.

Caldaroni, Hoang and Musclow remain baffled by their experience at the home and are surprised. Other lawyers in the community could reasonably have been aware of a colleague working and living in very difficult circumstances, yet the Law Society received neither complaints nor notification of the situation.

“Everybody in the neighbourhood seemed to know. How come nobody did anything?” Caldaroni said.

Treasurer Conway shares his reaction in a blog post.