Taking it personally

Dale Orlando owes his passion for personal injury law to the mentors who encouraged him and the clients who inspire him.
Dale Orlando owes his passion for personal injury law to the mentors who encouraged him and the clients who inspire him.

As the lawyer representing the paralyzed 15-year-old Olympic hopeful Taylor Lindsay-Noel in her well-publicized case against her coaches, Sport Seneca, Seneca College, and the Toronto District School Board, Dale Orlando is proving that personal injury law is about more than just damages and liability.

Taylor’s dreams of Olympic gold ended in catastrophic mishap as she tried to execute a difficult dismount from a single high bar during training last summer. The maneuver that should have made her a shoo-in for the 2012 Summer Games instead left her a quadriplegic.

“You can never replace a person’s health,” Orlando says. “But you can do something to make their lives easier, and you can make people accountable for the harm they’ve caused.”

If he seems passionate about his work, it’s because Orlando believes in the value of helping those who may be unable to help themselves. The firm he founded with his friend and mentor John McLeish, McLeish Orlando LLP, is a boutique firm that deals exclusively with the most serious personal injury cases. Taylor’s is just one of a host of heartbreaking cases of human tragedy that his firm tackles with reputed tenacity. “In many cases, we are people’s last resort — hardworking people — whose injuries have placed them in a desperate situation,” he says. “At McLeish Orlando we’ve built a reputation for doggedly pursuing the interests of our clients.”

Orlando’s path to the bar wasn’t an obvious one. He didn’t grow up with boyish ambitions forged out of Perry Mason reruns and David E. Kelley productions. “I didn’t fall in love with notions of law as you see them on TV,” he says. “And, thank God, because that has nothing to do with what it is like.”

He discovered an interest in law at, of all places, a curling club in Sudbury. “I used to work there when I was 15 and this lawyer named Steve Vrbanek would come in with his girlfriend,” Orlando says. “He was Mr. Personality — just this great, outgoing guy. Everybody loved him. One day, he offered to let me shadow him at his offices. By the end of that day, I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to be a lawyer.”

But while Vrbanek might have shown him the way, Orlando’s real inspiration would appear years later, while he was articling at Loopstra, Nixon, & McLeish. “I did my first rotation in the personal injury department under John McLeish,” he says. “When I had to move on to other rotations within the firm, I’d use my spare time to help out with John’s cases. I had an affinity for it, but John showed me what it meant to be a good lawyer.”

In his first court case, Orlando made an important discovery: trials are hard on juries. “They come in expecting fireworks,” he says. “Actually it’s mostly very dry — long days of tedious evidence, medical experts with diametrically opposed testimony. It’s dull and confusing, and it can be quite rough. You have to bring the evidence to life, and tell your client’s story in a compelling and persuasive way.”

Orlando proved to be an adept storyteller. Before long, McLeish and his protegé started a new firm together. The rest is history.

In addition to managing a thriving law practice, Orlando serves as vice-president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, an organization that represents personal injury lawyers on issues of legislation, pools information and resources, and provides extended legal education programs for young lawyers interested in entering the field. “Insurance companies are well-funded, well-represented, and have huge resources,” he says. “They’re a powerful lobby. OTLA is our way of leveling the playing field. It’s just one more way for us to make ourselves more effective for our clients.”

The Lowdown

Name: Dale Orlando
Firm: McLeish Orlando LLP
Year of call: 1996
First job: Picked corn and tomatoes at a farmer’s market for $2.10 an hour in Pelham, Ontario
Proudest moment: Witnessing the birth of my first child, Madison
Worst subject at law school: Oddly enough, torts. (Which is what I now specialize in.)
Greatest frustration: Trying to find the balance between work and family life
Favourite law movie: My Cousin Vinny
Personal style: Sudbury chic

Photography by Liam Sharp