by Jeff Frame
Burke Frame is a small, very small law firm located in the Village of Chase on the shores of Little Shuswap Lake. Although it is the only firm with a full-time presence in Chase, most of the locals will have never heard of it. An innocuous inscription of the firm’s name on a door is the only outward evidence of the firm’s location.
You see, Burke Frame is a boutique firm, specializing in land use and development litigation. A typical client is a land owner embroiled in disputes with one or more levels of government or some government agency. The clientele is scattered throughout the Lower Mainland and southern interior of the province. Some are the targets of expropriation. Some have run head-on into a bureaucratic brick wall in their efforts to develop real estate. Others have shown up on City Hall’s radar for an apparent violation of some local ordinance. Others still are fighting to establish/maintain access to their lands or riparian rights to the province’s innumerable lakes and rivers.
Although usually retained to defend the would-be developer, recently Burke Frame has seen a growth in community association-type clients looking to challenge a proposed development. It provides an interesting change of perspective to be placing rather than removing obstacles faced by a developer.
The files are often document heavy. A single municipal bylaw with amendments can fill a large binder. As litigators, the firm is only involved in problematic and controversial development proposals. The investigation into the pros and cons of such projects invariably generates a plethora of expert reports and reviews. Eventually, the dispute can become a battle of attrition. At some point, the holding costs attributable to delay coupled with the cost of fighting an uphill battle, will wash away any prospect of profit. Consequently, being “right” is often not enough. The developer client needs to know early how much time and money it will take to be “right.” Business reality is more likely to drive the result than the law.
Many of the firm’s clients have never been to the Chase office. Instead, meetings take place where the land is. This means a lot of travel; somewhere in the 3,000 km per month range. Air travel, generally, is not a viable option. Trips are too last-minute, the return times are too unknown, the areas are poorly served by the airlines (Kamloops to Creston by air is a two-day affair), and the documentation is difficult to transport. Documents checked as luggage don’t always make it to the destination on time; that is simply not an acceptable risk. Fortunately, British Columbia is a beautiful place to take a drive – winter roads aside….
All in all, the work is both enjoyable and rewarding. The clients are often fairly sophisticated. The issues are complex, but always capable of resolution. And, last but by no means least, the fairly limited group of legal counsel whom Burke Frame regularly face bring with them an admirably high standard of competence, professionalism and courtesy. As it ought to be, counsel on both sides of the table ensure that civil litigation is litigated civilly.
Jeff Frame, Burke Frame
This article was published in the February 2008 issue of BarTalk. © 2008 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.