Following 43 years of corporate practice with a clientele that included large Canadian and U.S. businesses and non-profit organizations, Bob Milnes, Law’69, has been spending his second career as a volunteer Review Counsel with the Queen’s Business Law Clinic (QBLC). 

“The most rewarding aspect of my role has been working with students on files and watching them develop basic practice skills such as legal analysis and drafting; and in respect to the occasional file with a difficult client, client relations and management,” he says. 

Milnes, who had led Gowlings’ business law group in Toronto and then nationally in the 2000s and retired in 2012, expressed his interest in the QBLC at an alumni event in Toronto that spring. His former junior associate from Gowlings (then Smith Lyons), Professor Peter Kissick, Law’88, LLM’98, told the crowd about the then-three-year-old clinic he was directing. Milnes already knew what the position of Review Counsel entailed as he had already been approached by a former legal acquaintance about a similar position on the West Coast, where he had intended to retire. 

“When I heard Peter’s presentation, I jumped at the opportunity,” Milnes recalls. “There was the added attraction of working with Peter, whom I had known, liked and respected from his junior lawyer days.”

Kissick shared his memories of that fateful meeting during QBLC’s last virtual class this year. He was one of several special guests brought in by current QBLC Director Tomi Adebiyi to join her and her students in paying tribute to Milnes upon his retirement from the clinic.   

“At the alumni event, Bob came up and said he was interested in volunteering,” Kissick said. “This was the man who took me under his wing, showed me how to structure businesses, how to draft shareholder agreements, and what proper corporate governance was about. He was a wonderful teacher, has brought tremendous expertise, and exudes professionalism.”

Christian Hurley QBLC Director from 2014 until 2017, when he became the Director of Admissions and Education with The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said: “Bob brought the same level of care and attention to the work of the clinic that he would bring to any file in private practice. By conducting himself in that fashion, he set an example for all the students to emulate as they began their careers.”

Noting that what set Milnes apart was his “passion for mentorship,” Hurley said, “Bob found a way to connect with every student. He travelled from Toronto to Kingston on his own dime to meet them in person…and paid law society fees out of his own pocket so he could volunteer as a Review Counsel.” 

Morgan Jarvis, Law’10, a former QBLC student who served as Director from 2017 to 2019, agreed with his predecessors, adding, “Bob mentored, advised, and supported us directors just as much as the students.” Now Senior Legal Counsel with Simplex Legal, Jarvis talked about the close bonds formed by those at the clinic. “QBLC is like a family,” he said, “and it was a huge part of my education.” 

Dean Mark Walters thanked Milnes, saying, “We’re so grateful for the generous, time, energy, and effort you’ve poured into the clinic. It’s a marvellous indication of your support for our students and experiential learning.” 

Sarah Ferguson, Law’18, a former student caseworker and now an associate with McCarthy Tétrault, has remained in touch with Milnes, meeting him for breakfasts in Toronto. “Bob gave me some of the most practical and meaningful advice, not just in reviewing my contracts, but also in file management and client skills.” 

Oliver Flis, Law’22, spoke on behalf of the current QBLC cohort of students. “We’re incredibly grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know you and to work with you,” he said to Milnes. “Your continual guidance, mentorship, and kindness have meant the world to us both in our work at the clinic and also as future lawyers.” 

Karla McGrath, LLM’13, Executive Director of the Queen’s Law Clinics, showed a plaque that would be permanently installed in the clinic reception area in appreciation of Milnes’ eight years of service “providing invaluable supervision and mentorship to students” and in recognition of his “dedication and commitment to the provision of pro bono legal services to small businesses and charities in the Kingston area.” 

Milnes humbly replied, “I’m the one who should be thanking all of you. It has been an absolutely, wonderful experience. I’ve loved it since day one. The students have been great, the work has been interesting, and I couldn’t think of a better job for a retired corporate lawyer.”

When he was a law student, Milnes had his own hands-on learning in a clinic set up by Law’69 classmate Don Kuyek. Students went to a downtown Kingston office at nights to answer the phone, mainly helping Kingston residents with their problems with the welfare department. “That was the first time I dealt with clients and I learned then how important experiential learning is for students,” he said. “You students will see the real value when you’re out there in the real world meeting your paying clients.”

Following the tribute, Milnes gave students a presentation on practice management, covering dealing with clients, building a practice, and controlling one’s professional life. 

Milnes also has a message for his fellow grads about volunteering with their alma mater: “I would encourage alumni to get involved not only for the opportunity of working with students, but also because the Queen’s Law Clinics help address the problem of access to legal services; in respect to the Business Law Clinic, offering pro bono services to small local businesses and charities, and start-ups, which cannot afford regular services. It provides a great opportunity to give back to the profession.”

By Lisa Graham