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Lawyer whose firm sued ex-clients for more than $1 million faces discipline

A high-profile Canadian employment lawyer is facing discipline over his hardball tactics against some of his firm's dissatisfied clients, after two of them posted critical reviews online and a third refused to pay her bill.

Lior Samfiru has acknowledged misconduct and apologized, records show

Headshot of employment lawyer Lior Samfiru of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP

A high-profile Canadian employment lawyer is to be disciplined this morning over his hardball tactics against some of his firm's dissatisfied clients, after two of them posted critical reviews online and a third refused to pay her bill.

The Law Society of Ontario alleges that Lior Samfiru was "abusive, offensive or otherwise inconsistent" with professional standards when he threatened to sue, or did sue, three former clients of his firm.

He's expected to be formally reprimanded and ordered to pay $5,000 in costs. Records filed ahead of the hearing show Samfiru acknowledges he committed professional misconduct and has apologized.

He did not reply to CBC News's request for comment sent Monday evening.

Samfiru is the face and voice of the Employment Law Show, which airs regularly on TV and radio in Alberta and southern Ontario, and a frequent commentator on employment issues in the media, including on CBC News. He's also the co-founder of Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, a national law firm known for a $400-million class action it filed with another firm on behalf of Ontario Uber drivers.

The firm bills itself as "the most positively reviewed in the country," with more than 1,500 five-star reviews on Google. But nearly 200 pages of documents filed as part of Wednesday's disciplinary hearing suggest that at least part of the reason for his firm's 4.9-star rating is that its co-managing partner vigilantly policed some of the negative reviews that cropped up.

The records — including emails between Samfiru and three former clients, lawsuits his firm filed against two of them, and an agreed statement of facts — show the $600-an-hour solicitor didn't shy from using the threat of expensive litigation. What follows is based on those documents.

'Please sue this lady'

A client identified in the records as IK, for confidentiality reasons, posted a negative review on Google after she didn't like her consultation with one of the firm's junior lawyers in 2021. She called the lawyer "very rude" and said he "insisted on an hourly rate despite the website clearly advertising 'you don't pay until we win.'"

That lawyer initially offered to refund the $339 she had been billed, but Samfiru later made it conditional on her taking down her review. When she refused, he replied: "I will make it very simple for you. Unless this review is deleted by 5pm today, we will be suing you for defamation."

And then in a followup message: "5pm. Not a minute later."

At 12:24 p.m., four and a half hours before the deadline he had set, Samfiru sent another email to IK, this time cc-ing a lawyer at his own firm. "Please sue this lady for defamation for $500,000 and arrange service ASAP."

Samfiru later told a Law Society investigator that Google is one of the firm's "biggest sources of referrals" and he felt IK's review was defamatory in part because it suggested his firm was falsely advertising about clients not having to pay until the firm won their case.

"We do not advertise that," he said to the investigator, according to a transcript.

(CBC News found some variation of the slogan "You don't pay unless we win" in about two dozen spots on the firm's website, with the proviso that this arrangement is offered "where appropriate.")

'An abuse of power'

In another law-society complaint, a client identified as JD hired Samfiru Tumarkin LLP to negotiate her severance with her ex-employer. But she refused to pay her $1,500 bill after she said the lawyer representing her mistakenly advised her she was entitled by law to more money in vacation pay on top of her negotiated settlement, according to her emails with the firm. (CBC News confirmed with two other employment lawyers that JD's lawyer did indeed err in his interpretation.)

Samfiru had his firm sue JD for the $1,500 plus $15,000 for "negligent misrepresentation" and $50,000 in punitive damages. He acknowledged to her new lawyers that a claim for misrepresentation against an ex-client was "novel" but said the case merited it because she had "sought to fabricate allegations against our firm" to avoid having to pay her bill.

"If we lose at trial, we will appeal. If that appeal is unsuccessful, we will seek further leave to appeal," Samfiru wrote.

"She will incur tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees."

JD wrote in a victim impact statement that she felt bullied, adding that the amount Samfiru's firm sued her for "was outrageous, and I was scared… it felt like an abuse of power."

Samfiru apologized to her in April in a letter, stating, "I am both embarrassed and disappointed in the way I have conducted myself…. It is completely inappropriate for me to treat others in a disrespectful and intimidating manner."

Sued ex-client for $1.25M

In a third case, a man known as BE who felt he'd been wrongly forced from his job engaged a Samfiru Tumarkin LLP lawyer. The lawyer wasn't able to get a settlement, however, and the firm wasn't willing to sue the ex-employer on a contingency-fee basis.

BE left a negative Google review under a pseudonym, then took it down when Samfiru offered free legal advice, only to post another negative review months later.

Samfiru told him to remove the review or be sued.

"You will have to hire a lawyer and go through thousands of dollars in fees," he wrote, again instructing a cc'ed colleague to sue for " $250K in damages plus $100K in punitives, if his review is still online at noon today."

Samfiru Tumarkin LLP later sued BE for $1.25 million.

In his statement of defence, BE said: "The firm knows this lawsuit is just a heavy-handed threat to try and intimidate me as a former client from speaking out about my honest experiences."

Separately, CBC News has found two other lawsuits in the last three years launched by Samfiru Tumarkin LLP against former clients — one over fees and another over a negative Facebook review, with claims of damages, including punitive damages, of $70,000 and $350,000 respectively.

Samfiru is facing another disciplinary hearing at the Law Society of Alberta in July. It's alleged, among other things, that he "attempted to influence" a former client of his firm to withdraw a law society complaint.


Zach Dubinsky

Senior Writer, CBC Investigations Unit

Zach Dubinsky is an investigative journalist. His reporting on offshore tax havens (including the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers), political corruption and organized crime has won multiple national and international awards. Phone: 416-205-7553. Twitter: @DubinskyZach Email zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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