Stephen Kelly Retires After 40 Year Career

I have come to the office each day knowing that I will share
my day with people who are not only excellent at what they do, but also incredibly
caring. I want you to know how truly fortunate I feel to have been a part of the
Kelly Santini family.” – Stephen Kelly

On the 31st of December, 2023, Stephen Kelly retired after a remarkable 40-year career during which he gave so much to his clients, colleagues, the profession, and the firm.

How It All Began

After graduating from law school, Steve joined Kelly, Doering & Morrow, a firm started by his brother, Larry. The firm consisted of five lawyers including Steve. Everyone’s door was open. The other lawyers willingly answered the many questions Steve asked, but the days of organized mentoring programs were still a ways away. “I had to jump in the water and start swimming” recalls Steve.

In the first few years, Steve’s practice featured a considerable amount of time in court. Steve’s files dealt with a blend of criminal, family, personal injury and commercial law.

In just Steve’s second year of practice, Larry merged with a Toronto firm and Steve found himself partnering in a two-person firm with recent graduate and former RCMP officer, Vince Westwick. Shortly thereafter the brothers were re-united in an expanded firm of five lawyers. When Pat Santini came on board shortly after, the building blocks for today’s Kelly Santini were in place. Steve was always a firm builder, and points to identifying Pat as a potential partner with the young firm and the recruiting of current partners Mitch Kitagawa and Kelly Sample as articling students, as being among his most significant contributions to the firm.

I am lucky that I have not practiced law for one single day to this point without having
my articling principal by my side. As an associate and in more recentyears as a partner,
Steve has always been there for me.” – Kelly Sample, Managing Partner

A highlight for Steve was being appointed as counsel on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. “It was challenging and rewarding work” recalls Steve.

Early in his career, Steve represented a young mother who had a history of pre-and postpartum depression. She placed her daughter for adoption but then changed her mind. Steve brought an application to stay the adoption. The mother was granted interim access. In light of this, the adopting couple withdrew, which Steve describes as “a heartbreaking and courageous decision on their part”. His client was overjoyed and forever grateful. In the years that followed, Steve remained in contact with the family, helping them overcome other serious challenges. While it’s been a rocky road, they were generally happy. The daughter completed college and found a good full-time job.

The insurance defence practice that would be at the centre of Steve’s practice for the next 30 years also began to take off shortly after Steve started practicing. Along with others in the firm, Steve brought in insurance companies, large retailers and municipalities. Many of these clients remain with the firm to this day; a tribute to the quality service provided by Steve and the many other lawyers and support staff who worked with the clients. Steve was also president of Risk Management Counsel of Canada, a national association of independent insurance defence law firms.

I’ve spent more than half my life with this wonderful ‘family’. Wouldn’t trade it –
especially, wouldn’t trade my friendship with you, Steve. Your humility, your compassion,
your kindness, your generosity, and your humour.” – Karen Latimer, Legal Assistant

Having the opportunity to conduct jury trials with Sylvia Corthorn and Mitch Kitagawa and an arbitration with Shawn O’Connor were among the most enjoyable experiences in Steve’s. career. “Teamwork made for a better experience all around.”

At The Forefront

While his insurance practice was growing, an opportunity to participate in a mediation in 1990 led Steve to train as a mediator and arbitrator and launch his practice in the nascent days of Alternative Dispute Resolution.

When mediation became mandatory in Ottawa in 1997, Steve was one of the original approved mediators. “I could have done ADR work full time, but I wanted to keep building the insurance defence practice. The diversity kept things interesting.” Other highlights from the ADR side of his career include being appointed a Vice-Chair (arbitrator) with the Commercial Registration Appeal Tribunal and the License Appeal Tribunal, and panel arbitrator for the Builders’ Arbitration Forum.

Contributions Outside of Work

Over the years, Steve has been involved with the community. His contributions include being a member of the boards of directors of The Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre Foundation for six years and a member of the board of directors of Serenity House Inc., a residential substance abuse treatment program for men, for 18 years. Steve was also involved in one or more youth sports teams for over thirty years.

Steve will modestly say “my legal career didn’t have a big impact on the law.” Even if that were true, he did have a big impact on the profession. In 2014, Steve spoke to his peers at the County of Carleton Law Association civil litigation conference about the positive reaction he received when he disclosed that he had been dealing with depression. “I believe it was the first time anyone in the Eastern Ontario legal community talked openly about experiencing mental health problems. The presentation seemed to kick-start the conversation” says Steve.

The reaction to the talk was overwhelmingly positive and brought those in attendance to their feet. A video of his original presentation was played at other conferences. Steve subsequently spoke on the topic on several occasions including at the University of Ottawa law school. Steve helped establish, and co-chaired for a number of years, the annual Legal Profession and Mental Health Conference.

Forty years on, Kelly Santini is one of the largest regional firms in Ottawa. For Steve, that was never part of some big plan. “When the opportunity to add strong lawyers who would be a good fit to the firm presented itself, we did it.” While the firm has grown, the culture that made it gain traction in the early days remains in place. “I chose to work at this firm for 40 years. Why? Because of the people. I have had the pleasure of working daily with people who were kind and interesting. We looked out for one another.

Enjoy your well-earned retirement, Steve. You will be missed.