David Scott was making phone calls in support of Law Help Ontario Centres, which provides pro bono services to those in need, as recently as last week. On Thursday, March 21, Mr. Scott, a renowned trial and appellate lawyer and a champion of access to justice, passed away in his hometown of Ottawa, where he had practised law since 1962; he was 83 years old.
“As a lawyer, he was a completely unique talent,” says Larry Elliot, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Ottawa, who worked with Scott, who was national co-chairman and senior counsel of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, since the 1990s.
Elliott never saw anyone who had the skills as an oral advocate that Scott did, he says, adding “he had a fearlessness, a passion, an energy, an enthusiasm. If you were ever in trouble and needed a lawyer, he was exactly who you would want.”
Aside from his remarkable skills as an advocate, though, “to me what made him truly unique was the passion he had for helping the less fortunate,” says Eliot. “He had an incredible sense of public duty and community service. He was just tireless.”
He gave of his time to organizations including the National Action Committee on Access to Justice and Concordia University, and held seats on several boards of directors, including the Ottawa Heart Institute and the Canadian Stroke Network and Operation Come Home, and, in the past, the United Way, the John Howard Society, CARE Canada and the Ottawa General Hospital.
He was a chairman of Pro Bono Ontario and, most recently, had fought vigorously for sustainable funding for PBO’s Law Help Centres. In recognition of his contribution to the cause of advancing pro bono legal services, Scott received the Lexpert Lifetime Achievement Award in Pro Bono in 2010. The Ontario Bar Association’s annual award for outstanding contributions to the cause of pro bono legal services is named in his honour.
Called to the bar of Ontario in 1962, Scott joined his father, Cuthbert Scott, and John Aylen at their Ottawa firm Scott & Aylen (which would merge with Toronto firm Borden & Elliot in 1999; three other firms would be welcomed into the fold to form Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in 2000).
David Scott enjoyed a thriving general practice that included intellectual property, criminal, commercial litigation and public law and commissions of inquiry. This included counsel to the Commission of into Inquiry the Facts of Allegations of Conflict of Interest Concerning the Honourable Sinclair M. Stevens in 1987, and chairman of the 1995 Commission on Judges' Salaries and Benefits.
In 1984, Scott was elected a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and served as its first Canadian president in 2003–04. This opened the door for many other Canadian lawyers to get involved in the ACTL, Elliot says, including several top litigators. Jeffrey Leon of Bennett Jones LLP is the ACTL’s second Canadian (and current) president.
Scott’s career included, in 1988, holding the Milvain Chair in Advocacy at the University of Calgary Law School and, in 2010, the first Silas Halyk Chair in Advocacy at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. A past president of the County of Carleton Law Association, he sat as a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario) for eight years.
He received The Advocates' Society Medal in 1999, honorary degrees from the Law Society of Upper Canada and the University of Ottawa and the OBA Award for Excellence in civil litigation. Appointed a Q.C. in 1976, 14 years after his call to the bar, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2011.
Scott argued his last case, a commercial dispute, in Toronto in June 2012, before Justice David Brown of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, who took the opportunity to make some flattering comments about Scott’s reputation, says Elliot.
Scott leaves behind “a broad legacy,” Elliot adds, noting his “huge interest” in and mentorship of students at the firm — “he got to know them all” — in addition to his commitment to access to justice. “For a guy of his stature, to devote his energy to students and those less fortunate, you just don’t see that a lot.”
“David was an invaluable member of our firm and to the legal community at large. This is a staggering loss,” John G. Murphy, BLG’s national managing partner and CEO, said in a statement. “His unwavering energy and dedication to advocacy, the profession, community and access to justice was, and will remain, nothing less than legendary.”
Scott is survived by his wife, Alison, and their children Blair, Sheila, Tony and Sandy, as well as four grandchildren and four siblings. He was predeceased by his parents and his older brother Ian Scott, a former attorney general of Ontario.