On March 21, 2019, the Canadian legal profession lost a giant of the bar: David Scott passed away in Ottawa after a sudden hospitalization. I regret that I did not get a chance to see David in the hospital or tell him how much he meant to the University of Ottawa law school, to our profession and to me. I can only offer this tribute instead.
David Scott represented the very best of our profession. He was recognized for his accomplishments with the highest honours our profession provides. That he was the first Canadian ever to be elected President of the American College of Trial Lawyers shows the esteem with which our American colleagues held David.
As the media noted, David was perhaps most well-known as counsel to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. When Conrad Black sued Chrétien when the PM blocked his appointment to the House of Lords, the PM turned to David Scott, successfully. Scott also represented Chrétien in the Sponsorship Inquiry, leading the former PM through the most memorable encounter when one by one, Chrétien went through the golf balls he had received from world leaders.
Scott was an even more passionate defender of those without power or without means to retain his services or those of any members of the bar. He will perhaps best be remembered as one of the founders of organized pro bono in Canada. That is how David would have wanted it, as he said, “I don’t think I have done anything more rewarding in my professional life than being the President of Pro Bono Law Ontario.”
I was fortunate to have an institutional and personal connection to David. David was the original University of Ottawa Common Law alumnus, literally and figuratively. He entered the inaugural class of the U of O Common Law Section in 1957 and graduated three years later, becoming one of our first alumni. David’s career spanned the entire life of our law school. The law school grew as David’s career grew and David always maintained his connection to “his law school” as he liked to call us. He taught trial advocacy for almost 15 years in the 1970s and the 1980s. He received an honorary doctorate from the University in 2001 and when we created the Common Law Honour Society in 2003 to recognize our most distinguished graduates, David was made a founding member.
Of course he was. David personified the values of Common Law Honour Society: “The men and women selected by their peers for induction into the Common Law Honour Society have used their legal education as a foundation for the achievement of great success. They each exemplify the values of leadership, excellence and community that are the hallmarks of the Common Law Faculty.”
I was fortunate to have David as a colleague, mentor, friend and supporter for the entirety of my legal career in Canada. In 2000, I was a young man clerking at the Supreme Court of Canada. I was applying for jobs in Toronto and had interviewed at BLG. The phone rang at my desk and the unforgettable voice on the other line said, “Hi Adam. It’s David Scott. I’d like to take you for lunch at the Rideau Club.” He said it like it was the most natural thing in the world. I don’t remember what we spoke about over lunch, but I do remember that David put me at ease as he did most people. He was interested in me and treated me as a colleague, even though I had done nothing to earn such respect.
Law is hierarchical and large firms are extremely so, but David Scott was not like that. From time to time during my sojourn at BLG, David would call me up from Ottawa and ask me – a lowly associate in Toronto – to work on a file. Other people would have delegated such work but David didn’t work that way.
In 2008, when I joined the Faculty of Law at uOttawa, David welcomed me back to Ottawa and was ecstatic that I had decided to join “his” law school. In the decade since, I often spoke with David about his passions: access to justice, pro bono, training future advocates, and, of course, the Ian Scott Courtroom. David was incredibly proud of his older brother, former Attorney General of Ontario Ian Gilmour Scott. David somehow succeeded many of Ian’s friends and former colleagues in Toronto to contribute towards the construction of the Ian Scott Courtroom at the “his” Faculty of Law, i.e. Ottawa. David was a visionary. His vision was to put an operating courtroom – not a moot court – in the law school so that students could watch and interact with judges and lawyers arguing real cases. Today we call that experiential learning (for the students) but David also saw great benefit for the judges and for lawyers. He had a vision of access to justice and the public interest that was as strong as it was unwavering.
David was so thankful and so proud of his alma mater but I know that he gave much more back to us and to the students that whatever he received from us.
David helped launch my career and he supported me at every step of the way. I will never be able to express to him how much his support has meant to me. To honour David, all I can do is try to live up to his values as a member of the legal profession and as the leader of “his” law school.
Thank you, David.