Cayuga law office closes its doors after four decades as lawyer & Deputy Justice Brian Gallagher retires

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By Sheila Phibbs

The Haldimand Press

CAYUGA—The start of a new year has brought a ‘changing of the guard’ in Haldimand’s legal community as Brian Gallagher of Slimon Gallagher Law in Cayuga begins retirement after more than 40 years of practice.

Gallagher is originally from west Hamilton. When he was 17, he worked as a bus boy at a restaurant owned by Hugh Slimon. His mother worked there as a hostess. Slimon eventually sold the restaurant and went to law school.

After working at Dofasco for 10 years, Gallagher studied at McMaster University then attended Osgoode Hall Law School. When it came time to find an articling position, as required by all law students, Gallagher says, “My mother advised me to seek Hugh out.”

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Gallagher heeded his mother’s advice and, reflecting on his years with Hugh Slimon, says, “He was a great mentor…. There was hardly a time Hugh would let me stay back in the office. He wanted me with him to coach me on things.” 

He smiles as he recalls, “It could take nearly an hour to walk from the office to the post office with Slimon. Everyone wanted to talk to him.”

After coming to the practice, Gallagher realized that law school didn’t teach you about the law so much as how to think. Much of what he learned came from his mentor. He would accompany Slimon to other law offices and listen to examinations. 

Brian Gallagher

Gallagher admits he was in awe of the big law firms; at one time he noticed an older gentlemen present and learned he was there as counsel. He says, “Those old guys would come in and give you the benefit of their wisdom.” Gallagher speaks fondly of those trips with Slimon and says, “He would talk all the way back to the office.”

Along with the law practice, Gallagher served as a Deputy Justice in Cayuga for 30 years, beginning in 1988. Deputy Justices preside over small claims court for cases under $35,000. Gallagher observes, “People loved the fact that the system was so simple…. It’s not complicated with investigation…. It’s straight forward pre-trial and go to trial.”

Gallagher recalls valuable advice he received about making judgements from Justice David T. Marshall. He shares, “He told me the measure he would use; he would ask himself, ‘Is it fair?’… It’s hard to improve on that concept. Fairness is the ultimate measure.”

That mindset served Gallagher well and during his 30 years on the bench he was never appealed. He describes this achievement as “extremely gratifying” and one of his career highlights. He has the distinction of being one of the longest serving Deputy Justices in Ontario.

After a career of four decades, Gallagher knows the time is right to retire. But he admits that, after thriving on structure for so long, he feels some apprehension as well. He says, “I don’t know how I’m going to respond to not having to get up…. I’m curious how much I’ll miss it, but not sad. It’s time. My wife is very happy about it.”

While the couple doesn’t have specific plans, he mentions a bucket list and states, “I want to go to Egypt!” Maintaining good health is a priority and he holds the philosophy of, “When you’re tired, go to bed. When you eat enough, stop eating. Listen to your body; if you don’t it will stop working.”

With Gallagher’s retirement, the Slimon Gallagher Law firm has joined the firm of Benedict Ferguson and Marshall in Caledonia. T. David Marshall says, “Brian has been a staple of our community and has acted as a Deputy Justice of the Superior Court in Cayuga, at the same time as serving clients in family law, real estate, and estate planning law.” 

Marshall asserts that the small claims division was a great place for Gallagher to serve people in the community. He says, “It’s really about helping people fix their problems. He’s an expert at it.” 

It is Marshall’s hope that Benedict Ferguson and Marshall will benefit from that expertise and that Gallagher will “roam our halls and share his wisdom.” 

Fulfilling the role of counsel at a law firm would be “the icing on the cake” for Brian Gallagher. But the real highlight of his career was “my good fortune in having Hugh Slimon as my mentor…. So many young lawyers today are lost because they don’t have anyone to look up to.” 

In time and with good health, Gallagher may have the opportunity to share his knowledge and be that voice of wisdom. He understands what having a good mentor means to a young lawyer. Looking at his own career he says, “It worked out well for me.”