Peter Smith, Associate

Peter earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from St. Michael’s College and then, being unable to answer to his father’s question “who is going to hire a philosopher?”, went to the University of Toronto law school where he earned a law degree in 1990.  Peter was called to the bar of Ontario in February 1992.

The New York bar allows lawyers from any common law jurisdiction to sit its bar exam.  The market for young lawyers in Toronto was not too strong in the early 1990s so Peter took the precaution of taking the New York bar exam.  He passed and was admitted to practice in New York State in June 1992.

Peter was hired back by the small downtown Toronto law firm where he had started his career in civil litigation.  A couple of years later, Peter went out on his own to open a sole practice in Canadian immigration law.  After he had lost enough money to extinguish any of the excitement that comes from running one’s own business, Peter remembered his call to the New York bar and branched out into U.S. immigration law.  He got his training from former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who worked as paralegals at the first firm where he worked.  It gave him an invaluable insight into how to see a case from the decision-makers point of view.  He has tried to carry that insight with him throughout his career.  For the next eight years or so, Peter mostly worked on helping Canadians and others obtain authorization to work in the United States and other U.S. immigration benefits.

Then Peter decided on a career change:  he went to the York University Faculty of Education in 2003-04 and earned an education degree.  Teaching runs in the blood in Peter’s family.  Both his parents, his sister, no fewer than seven aunts and uncles, and three of his cousins were or are teachers.  But teaching is harder than it looks and Peter decided to come back to the practice of law.  Who needs the summers off anyhow?

Peter returned to immigration law but he still wasn’t overjoyed by filling out all those forms, assembling visa application packages and sending them off to places like St. Albans, Vermont and Vegreville, Alberta to be adjudicated by faceless officers whose names he would never even know.  In the fall of 2010, Peter decided on another career switch:  from immigration law to family law.  Now that he does family law, Peter enjoys going to court to present his clients’ cases and hearing straight from the judge, sometimes just by body language, what parts of his argument were convincing and what parts need a little more work.

There were some rocky moments.  At Peter’s very first family law motion, the judge ordered something that neither side had requested:  a trial to start in five weeks.  So with family law experience amounting to exactly one motion, Peter conducted a four-day trial.  He won, the other side appealed to the Divisional Court and he won there too.

It hasn’t been an entirely direct path – from the fall of 2012 until the spring of 2014 Peter did one more stint in immigration law practice, and thoroughly convinced himself that it’s not for him – before joining Shawyer Family Law in June 2014.  He has been very happy with the move.

Peter values the privilege clients give him of sharing some of the most intensely personal and difficult moments of their lives.  As much as he can, he tries to place himself in their shoes and ask “what would be the best way out of this if it were me?” and then give clients advice and together shape a strategy to bring their case to an end on fair and reasonable terms.

Peter continues to be shocked at the speed with which money burns up in the family law process – all too often without much to show for it.  He has talked confidentially with other lawyers who tell him that they would be ruined financially if they had to pay what their clients pay to resolve a long, drawn-out family law case.  Clients sometimes think that lawyers drag cases out to earn more fees but Peter and most other lawyers have enough other cases to keep them busy (and billing).  So he focuses on ways to the “cut to the chase”, “bite the bullet” and “get this over with.”  To help clients with ordinary middle class incomes cope with high legal bills, Peter participates in the Justice Net program of reduced legal fees:  $100 per hour for clients earning less than $60,000 per year.

Peter is always willing to provide a free consultation, by phone or in person.  He invites you to call him at:  (416) 919-4252.