City of Abbotsford hiring in-house lawyer

Move, which city manager says will save money, comes as legal bills topped $1 million in 2015.

Abbotsford City Hall

Abbotsford City Hall

After racking up more than $1 million in legal bills with a Vancouver law firm in 2015, the City of Abbotsford is moving to bring some of those services in-house.

The city has launched a search for a new “senior legal counsel” position to “provide legal advice and assistance to staff conducting daily business and long-term planning,” according to a new job posting.

The new lawyer will oversee real estate transactions, contracts, risk mitigation issues and any external counsel hired.

The city has enlisted Boyden Global Executive Search, a Vancouver headhunting company, to find the right candidate.

“Abbotsford is now of a size and complexity to join larger cities like Burnaby, Victoria, Richmond and Surrey by adding in-house legal expertise,” city manager George Murray said in an emailed statement. Murray said the new lawyer “will allow us to better meet the growing needs of our community.” He said external legal counsel will still be needed at times, but the new hire will save money when dealing with general legal matters.

The position – officially “director, property, risk management and legal services” – is new. It comes after the city saw its legal bills rise sharply in 2015.

Abbotsford paid its main law firm, Murdy & McAllister, $883,488 and another firm, David G. Butcher Law Corporation, $230,084 in 2015, according to the city’s last Statement of Financial Information. The combined bill of $1.1 million was up from $734,001 in 2014. Part of that was likely due to a six-week trial over the constitutionality of city bylaws prohibiting homeless men and women from camping in parks. But when asked about a dramatically higher Murdy & McAllister bill in the spring, a city spokesperson said no one factor explained the entire increase.

This year has seen the city become involved in eight different lawsuits, five of which are related to motor vehicle accidents.

Last year, by comparison, 23 different court cases began involving the city in some capacity, according to a provincial database. Twelve of those were related to motor vehicle accidents. Many remain ongoing, as do some initiated in previous years.

Most prominently, the city is now contesting legal costs associated with last year’s homeless trial.

Previous years saw between 14 and 20 new cases involving the city launched each year.