Greg Dunn is well aware of the role various law-focused TV shows, and blustering radio hosts and commentators in a law-and-order town like Calgary, have had in prejudicing the court of public opinion about how he makes a living.
Many see defence lawyers as nothing more than slick-haired, morally deprived hucksters whose Faustian pleas on behalf of slimeballs make the streets unsafe for the law-abiding citizenry.
“When you go to a cocktail party and you tell someone that you’re a defence lawyer, it comes with a stigma,” says Dunn. “It’s not much better than a used car salesman … People who don’t understand the justice system tend to make that comment more than people who have been accused or are informed about the system.”
Those who are informed, he continues, know defence lawyers are as important as prosecutors, judges and every other part of the justice system in ensuring both victims and the accused are treated fairly. Dunn, the son of a Mountie and a self-described “small-c conservative,” sees his own role as, in part, a fight against potential tyranny.
“The police department is a part of government, but people in Calgary just don’t seem to see that,” he says. “They don’t like tax collectors, they don’t like politicians, they don’t like guys who give out parking tickets, and yet they love the police and believe everything they say.”
Since becoming a partner at Dunn & McKay (formally Bascom Fagan) in 2003, his penchant for taking on prosecutors and police has helped raise the profile of the firm in the city. The firm has now grown to four lawyers focused on criminal law, mostly in the areas of impaired driving, drug offences and proceeds of crime.
Having studied at the University of Alberta, Dunn might have continued on to the more classically respectable field of corporate law. However, while articling at a Calgary firm, the minutia of mergers and takeovers caused him to rethink his options.
Building a criminal defence practice from Monday to Friday is hard work and you’d think Dunn might have used the weekends to relax and catch up on sleep. Instead, from 1998 to 2005, Dunn spent his weekends trying to hang on for eight seconds as a bull rider in local, national and international rodeos.
Rodeo has also given Dunn an outlet for at least one of his charitable efforts. Every year, he helps teach Native youth in Alberta and British Columbia how to ride steers and, more importantly, he passes on what he calls the importance of “having try,” or the grit and willingness to not give up.
Dunn retired from bull riding in 2005, but he still rides to raise money for STARS with the Calgary Police Rodeo, where he is something of a special guest.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Dunn says, “but I’m sure that when it’s announced that I’m a defence lawyer, some people are hoping I get stomped.”
Why he’s the top: He’s a maverick spirit who doesn’t shy away from rough rides, literal or figurative.
The key to his success: “I’m not afraid to stand alone,” Dunn says. “As a defence lawyer, you’re not going to win a lot of the time, but holding the system to account and preserving civil liberties is a goal.”