Public Good // Best Practices

For constitutional lawyer Dan Guttman, great advocacy is about developing your own personal style

By Momoko Price

On Thursday September 15th, 2011

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“I think the key to being a good litigator is being yourself.”

For Ontario public lawyer Dan Guttman, keeping things natural comes, well, naturally. His grave, gentle demeanour and low, radiocalibre voice convey the kind of patience and deliberation any judge would want in a public interest lawyer.

“My style is not super confrontational. Just being pleasant, answering the court’s questions. Being conversational, because that engages the court,” Guttman says over sushi near his downtown Toronto office at the Constitutional Law Branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario.

“When I started out, I would stick closer to my factum,” he says. “But I think the more you do it, the more confident you get. You’re always developing your own personal style.” Imagining Guttman as green and uncertain is near-impossible. Former Ontario assistant Crown attorney Andrew Faith describes Guttman’s style as downright grandfatherly — at only 38.

For Guttman, the most enjoyable aspect of working in constitutional law is the intellectual stimulation. For example, he and cocounsel Sophie Nunnelley argued Criminal Lawyers’ Association v. Ontario at the Supreme Court. The case involved the Ontario government’s refusal of a request by the CLA to release documents about the conduct of a police force and Crown attorneys in prosecuting a murder case.

Ontario successfully argued that the guarantee of freedom of expression in the Charter almost never includes the right to receive information from the government.

“Whereas the CLA was arguing that expression is meaningless unless you have information,” Guttman explains.

“They brought in cases from all around the world. We had to do international law research and had to be familiar with international law principles.”

CLA v. Ontario is just one highlight in Guttman’s relatively short career. In a little over a decade, he’s already appeared more than 30 times before the Ontario Court of Appeal and seven times before the Supreme Court of Canada. In fact, he’s done so well in public interest law, one can’t help but ask if he’s thought of trying something new.

“When the opportunity was there, I thought: ‘What a great job, and I should go try it,’” he says. “It’s been so great ever since; I haven’t really ever thought of moving.” Now, with a wife specializing in employment and human rights law and three kids under eight to entertain, his publicsector schedule is a big perk.

“One of the nice things about the Constitutional Law Branch is they understand that you have a life outside of work,” he says. “The job is demanding, but you’ve got to prioritize your kids.”

Guttman’s paternal reputation in court is fitting, because at heart, what he enjoys most is fatherhood: “Most of my free time is spent with my kids and my wife,” he says. “I just like hanging out with my family, taking them to soccer tournaments. Hanging out with my three-year-old, who’s just graduating from the really, really cute stage.”

Guttman is a man who knows how good he’s got it and appreciates every minute. “Hopefully I can enjoy these years without worrying too much about what happens when they’re teenagers,” he laughs, “because we all know what teenagers are like.”


The Lowdown: Dan Guttman

  • Year of Call: 2000
  • Current Job: Counsel, Constitutional Law Branch, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario
  • If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be a…world-class tennis player
  • Pet Peeve: Waiting in line
  • Most Treasured Possession: My violin
  • Favourite Legal Character: Ally McBeal. I love that show…Coed washrooms, what more could you ask for?

Photography by Markian Lozowchuk