John Adair has made a miscalculation. His desk doesn’t comfortably fit in his office at Adair Barristers LLP, the boutique litigation firm he launched with his father, Geoff Adair, just under a year ago.
But rearranging office furniture in his new Commerce Court North space is a snap compared to last year’s mission: splitting from partners — and old friends — at Adair Morse LLP, a firm co-founded by his father, to start a new firm with his old man.
John is a self-described “law nerd” who grew up immersed in the profession. His mother, Gloria Epstein, is a judge at the Ontario Court of Appeal.
John studied political science at Queen’s University and then law at the University of Toronto. At the time, he didn’t know what else to do. “Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.” He summered at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP and clerked at the Ontario Court of Appeal before going back to Davies as an associate (the firm still refers him work). But in less than a year, John decided his entrepreneurial spirit didn’t jive with the big-firm environment. So, in 2007, he moved to Pape Barristers. A natural self-starter, John wanted to work at a firm where he had the extra responsibility of developing his own client list.
Two years later, John made another move, this time to join his father at Adair Morse. “I really think he’s the best lawyer in the world. He does everything at the highest level of excellence.”
John made partner in 2012 and by early 2013, the pair found their vision didn’t align with where the firm was going. Adair Morse had begun to focus on personal injury law, whereas John and his father wanted to be broad civil litigators. “For us, it was important to maintain a significant amount of diversity and the personal injury practice was growing so much that it made it harder to do that.” John and his father found it difficult to market themselves to prospective clients.
Over beers one night, the two agreed something needed to change: they wanted to go it alone and set up a civil litigation practice that would offer quality service with reasonable fees. They announced their plans in January 2013, and recruited associates Jennifer King, Khalid Janmohamed and Gord McGuire, plus three assistants, and opened that August. The old firm — down to seven lawyers — was renamed Morse Shannon LLP. (There’s no animosity, but there were some issues that needed to be resolved.)
Now, John keeps busy with diverse, interesting litigation cases that revolve around business lawsuits, plus he gets to leave for home at five every day. He has three kids under seven and considers the evening sacred family time (to make it work, he starts his day at 5 a.m., and the laptop comes out after the kids go to bed). Since his dad lives close by in Yonge Lawrence Village, they sometimes commute together. Some things have to give: John rarely uses his Leafs’ season tickets, but plays hockey once a week with friends.
Geoff, meanwhile, says he’s having the best time of his professional life. “I love practising with my son. He’s got a great ability to get to the heart of the issue and put forward his position in the courtroom.” Looking ahead, John expects his dad will eventually scale back his time. Full retirement: not likely. “If he still wants to do this when he’s 100, I’d be the happiest person in town.”
Year of call: 2006
Current position: Partner, Adair Barristers LLP
Person I admire most: Abraham Lincoln
Most treasured possession: Espresso machine
If I weren’t a lawyer, I’d be: Teaching law
Best career advice: Bet on yourself
Biggest extravagance: Leaving work early to have dinner with my kids
Photography by Nathan Cyprys