By Donalee Moulton
For Matt Napier, the practice of law is not logical, it is intuitive. Indeed, that’s how the Halifax resident decided on a legal career in the first place.
Napier was travelling through Europe en route to determining what it was he wanted to so with his life when he touched down in London. A visit to the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in Britain, included listening in on a trial that was under way. It was followed up by an exploration of the local neighbourhood.
“I suspected, and sure enough there was, the local restaurant where the Bar went for breakfast,” remembered Napier. “I went there. I liked the ambiance and camaraderie. That sealed it for me.”
After completing his law degree at Dalhousie University, Napier was essentially an open book. “I left law school with very much an open mind,” he said.
He joined Boyne Clarke, in Dartmouth, N.S., as the newly merged firm’s first clerk, and once more listened to his gut. “This is a group of lawyers that were young, aggressive. I liked the feel of it,” Napier recalled.
Clerking at Boyne Clarke meant doing a little bit of everything while trying to identify the one thing Napier wanted to do more permanently. “The firm was small enough that you were at the beck and call of all lawyers,” he noted. “Near the end of articling, one lawyer mentioned he had a half dozen personal injury claims and little interest in taking them on. He said I could take them on as job security.”
And thus was launched what today has become the largest personal injury legal team in Atlantic Canada. “Back then,” noted Napier, “personal injury law was not as prominent. There were no ads in the Yellow Pages.”
Napier quickly discovered that he enjoyed personal injury law, but the learning curve was steep. Luckily, he had a helping hand — from opposing counsel. “I had the great fortune to come up against senior counsel in Halifax… To be in discovery with these gentlemen you had to be a real quick study,” he said.
And Napier wanted to learn. When many of these leading lawyers retired, he “hunted them down and took them out to lunch.” “I still do that to this day,” Napier said. “It’s the best education.”
Today Napier oversees a team of 14, including himself, that handles “hundreds and hundreds” of files at any one time. “Over the years, I’ve felt if we could hire the best people available, we could aspire to practice the best law possible,” he said.
That practice of law is infused by what Napier calls the “Maritime approach,” and it harkens back to the camaraderie the Montreal native first felt in London. “When I started, there was an unwritten expectation that if a junior lawyer called a senior lawyer the wheels stopped and the desk was cleared,” he said.
It is that sense of obligation to giving back and willingness to help that Napier believes is the foundation to his team’s success. “We’re known as being fair and firm and willing to get the job done — but it’s a more laid-back approach.”
There is also a good deal of business savvy. In the wake of Nova Scotia introducing an injury cap, Napier and his team did the unthinkable: they ramped up to bring more business in the door. “We figured most firms would retreat,” said Napier. “We went the other way. We immediately started hiring. We also started offering our expertise to clients and smaller firms.”
In part, that expertise is available for the world to see on http://www.lawyerfortheinjured.ca, the stand-alone site that introduces visitors to the “Matt Napier Legal Team” and provides insight into personal injury law in Nova Scotia, and beyond. Here clients and potential clients can find out more about car accident claims, class actions, fees, and injury caps (which in Nova Scotia, Napier says, is a “muddled mess”).
Clients and others can also read the inaugural edition of The Quill, the Boyne Clarke personal injury newsletter. Issue one examines the risks of driving while using cell phones, offers up a motor vehicle collision checklist, and shares a fictional case study that demonstrates how failure to be properly informed leaves a single mother high and dry.
It’s all part of the Maritime approach to staying in touch with the community. “We are almost daily involved in keeping our relationship with clients fresh or meeting new clients,” said Napier. With feeling.
“This article originally appeared in the May 2nd, 2008, issue of The Lawyers Weekly published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.”