Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Austin Cooper, Q.C.: A Great Mentor Whose Love of the Law and Mentorship Touched Me

   Those who know me well will attest to the fact that criminal law was never an area I dreamed of being involved in.  My involvement in criminal law came only as a direct result of the great need for able and effective criminal law counsel in the African-Canadian community which I observed first hand once I became a lawyer. Once I made the decision to open my own office it became clear to me that it was necessary to better equip myself for handling such cases.

     One day I called up the man that I had come to recognize as the best criminal defence counsel at the time - the late Mr. Austin Cooper, Q.C. in order to accompany him in court for a few weeks.  The response I got was great.  Mr. Cooper was not only willing to allow me to accompany him in court but he told me that this was among the best ways to learn criminal law and advocacy.  He told me that this is exactly what he did when he was a young lawyer.  Mr. Cooper then passed me to his secretary who he instructed to provide me with his itinerary for the next month or so.

     I then dutifully met Mr. Cooper and Mr. West at the Superior Court at 361 University Avenue in Toronto every morning to observe them defend three high profile cases of the day; one involved a senior Toronto Police Service officer accused of killing and dismembering his wife's body; a psychiatrist who was accused of causing serious bodily harm to his spouse and a Toronto Police Service officer who was charged with criminal negligence(for shooting a suspect in the back at close range while hand-cuffing him with his gun in his hand)

     While observing these proceedings I took notes of the proceedings and paid particular attention to Mr. Cooper's manner of questioning witnesses.  His questions were clear and measured - asked with a specific goal and purpose in mind.  His delivery was strong, clear and authoritative yet gentle and engaging all at the same time.  If he did not receive the answer he was looking for he had a quick follow-up - where he would listen to the response - recap the answer to the witness for clarification and confirmation followed by a customary - "very well then Ms/Mr. X."

     During the breaks and a portion of the lunch time Mr. Cooper and Mr. West took the time to not only answer my questions to them about the proceedings but they actually had their own questions and pointers for me.  Following my little criminal law "internship" with Mr. Cooper and Mr. West they both invited me to call them whenever I had any questions involving criminal law.  Often people will say something like this to be nice without any intent on following up on the invitation.  However, these two gentlemen turned out to be very serious.  I called Mr. Cooper any time I had a question of law or strategy on a criminal case.  If Mr. Cooper was not in - it would appear that he left express instructions that either Mr. West or Ms. Tuck-Jackson would attend to my questions.  Whenever I called Mr. Cooper's office I received excellent advice on my questions.

     I am truly indebted to the late Austin Cooper, Q.C. for taking the time to assist me in my development as an advocate and as a criminal defence lawyer.  Our profession seems to be losing great mentors rapidly.  Though he may be gone in body his teachings and love of the law remain in my consciousness as a guide as I continue my journey as an advocate and criminal defence lawyer.

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