Amherstview family lawyer Barry Bien has been stripped of his licence to practice law after a hearing by the Tribunal Hearing Division of the Law Society of Ontario found he had engaged in professional misconduct. According to the tribunal’s ruling, Bien allegedly “engaged in professional misconduct, including failing to serve three clients in family law matters, misleading his client, [failing] to comply with two court orders, acting in a conflict of interest with his client, and practising law while suspended.”
Bien’s law offices have been closed since July 2018, when he was “administratively suspended” for not filing his annual Lawyer’s Report. He was further suspended by the Law Society on October 4, 2018, “for failing to pay his errors & omissions levy… and again on April 9, 2019, for his failure to complete his required [Continuing Professional Development] hours.” Despite the suspension, Bien continued to practice law.
The allegations of professional misconduct stemmed from Bien’s interactions with three separate clients, with the Law Society alleging that Bien failed to serve the clients in a manner consistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct which govern lawyers in Ontario. The clients, who were not named in the ruling, all hired Bien to represent them in family law proceedings. Each of the three individuals alleged that Bien had failed to keep them advised of the status of their cases and that he “failed to perform all functions in a conscientious, diligent and timely manner.”
The summary of facts for all three clients showed numerous instances of Bien cancelling meetings and other appointments with his clients while failing to keep them informed about their cases. For all three clients, the lawyer routinely failed to file and serve necessary court materials and other documents, despite telling them he had.
For Client A, Bien did not inform them about scheduled court dates, causing the client to miss a proceeding on November 15, 2017, at which the client’s spouse was granted full custody of their child.
With respect to Client B, Bien failed to inform them about scheduled court dates, including a missed hearing after which the client was fined $2,500 for failing to appear at a settlement conference, which Bien never told them about.
While Client C experienced the same failures as the other two individuals, the client also sued Bien for damages sustained as a result of the lawyer’s “alleged negligent representation” of them in family court. Due to Bien’s mishandling of the case, Client C’s former spouse was awarded full custody of their children, with Client C ordered to pay over $50,000 in retroactive child support — neither Bien nor Client C attended that court date, though Client C had attempted to contact Bein in the days prior to the court date, of which Client C was not informed. On October 8, 2019, Deputy Judge D. Crowe of the Small Claims Court issued a default judgment of $14,540.02 against Bien in relation to his handling of Client C’s case.
Bien’s hearings with the Law Society took place over a lengthy period of time, a process exacerbated by his many health challenges. During a hearing in October 2020, Bien claimed he had been experiencing “serious health problems for a significant period of time, and that he was currently quite ill.” As such, he claimed he “could not focus” on the allegations submitted by the Law Society. After numerous attempts to adjourn proceedings due to his medical issues, the Tribunal dismissed Bien’s requests, largely due to the fact he was unable to provide “fulsome medical evidence” to support his claims.
In its ruling, the Tribunal concluded, “the undisputed evidence establishes that the lawyer engaged in the misconduct as alleged.” The ruling noted that Bien acted in ways that “significantly damaged and prejudiced clients, including acting in a conflict of interest with a client, and serious failures to serve by missing deadlines and appointments.”
The ruling went on, “The Lawyer failed to prepare or provide documents required by clients and the courts. In addition, the Lawyer persisted in practising law while under suspension. We find the Lawyer’s misconduct to be so serious that it might well result in revocation [of his license].” Despite Bien’s claims that he suffered from undisclosed medical problems, the ruling noted that Bien had failed to provide “helpful medical evidence… which might explain his long-standing misconduct.”
While Bien did provide two brief notes from his family doctor, the tribunal stated that “a bare statement by a family doctor of a diagnosis… is of very little use.” Due to his lack of participation in the hearings, the ruling noted, Bien was unable to demonstrate “any evidence of good character, remorse, or recognition of the seriousness of his misconduct.” Instead, his lack of involvement showed a “lack of willingness to be governed by the Law Society.”
In its final order, the Law Society Tribunal immediately revoked Mr. Bien’s license to practice law and fined him $20,000, “which was less than half of the actual costs.”