Meet the Largest Ukrainian-Owned Law Firm Outside of Ukraine

New Pathway.

If you step out of the Royal York subway station in Etobicoke and explore the intersection of Bloor Street West and Royal York Road, you would notice a neat 2-storey building at 3029 Bloor Street West with a large MBZ sign on it. If you come closer, you will find that MBZ stands for Mitchell, Bardyn and Zalucky LLP, a law firm. When we decided to find out more about Mitchell, Bardyn and Zalucky LLP, the first thing that struck us was that it is the largest law firm managed by lawyers of Ukrainian background outside of Ukraine, according to the MBZ’s founding partner Eugene Zalucky. To find out even more about MBZ, we spoke with Mr. Zalucky.

Interestingly, Mr. Zalucky started his career in science – a field far removed from law and the humanities. The reason for this initial professional choice is directly related to his experience of being a son of new immigrants. His father, Titum Zalucky, received a doctor in law degree from Vienna University in 1926 and practiced as a judge in Ukraine (while it was under Polish rule.) However, when Titum Zalucky arrived in Canada after WW2, his legal experience and education could not be transferred to the new country and he was forced to work in a factory. At the same time, Titum’s brother was a pharmacist when he came to the United States after the war. He received a qualification as a professor of pharmacy in the United States and did quite well, recalls Mr. Zalucky.

These two quite divergent professional experiences led Eugene Zalucky to believe that his chances for success were higher in the sciences and as a result, he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1967 with a degree in chemistry. However, after working as a chemist for Coca-Cola, he realized, like his father, that law was his true passion and returned to the University of Toronto to become a lawyer.

In 1973, after graduating from Law School and completing his bar admission course, he and Ihor Bardyn (his friend from Plast) started a law firm. Today, this firm has grown to 30 people; 13 lawyers and 17 support staff. In its 44th year of existence, MBZ is a second-generation law firm and has substantial experience. Of the 13 lawyers, 9 have over 30 years of experience and two lawyers have more than 40 years of experience (Ihor Bardyn, 47 years, and Eugene Zalucky, 43 years).

The firm consists of barristers, who are experienced in court work, and solicitors. Eugene Zalucky has practiced as counsel and has worked in various legal fields, including criminal, civil, family law and estate litigation. The firm has some substantive areas of practice, for example, it represents insurance companies and financial institutions.

The firm’s substantial experience and high profile bring a lot of work. MBZ attracts most of its business through its clientele. Mr. Zalucky says that it takes a long time to build up a reputation, and that is why it is difficult for young lawyers to open up their own practice given the costs of having an office, professional staff and equipment.

Eugene Zalucky recalls that, from the very outset, he and Ihor Bardyn wanted to build a practice based on lawyers of Ukrainian background. The firm sought out Ukrainian Canadian lawyers and advertised open positions among the bar admission course graduates indicating that Ukrainian language would be considered an asset. When the firm was founded in 1973, it was difficult for a lawyer with an ethnic minority background to build a practice. Many lawyers would change their names, for example one of the MBZ’s founding members, Ray Mitchell, now retired, is actually Roman Myhaylovskyy who changed his name in the 1950s to enable him to develop his law practice.

This focus on the Ukrainian lawyers has been aimed at supporting our community rather than gaining business from the community. Eugene Zalucky says that Ukrainian clients have amounted to less than 10% of the total number of the firm’s clients at the beginning. Currently, this share is slightly larger, particularly because of some recent immigrants who are seeking Ukrainian-speaking lawyers.

One Ukraine-related area, which MBZ has been actively involved in, is estate work in Ukraine and Canada. Mr. Zalucky says that there is a constant flow of claims for interest in estates in Canada which has been going for the last 40 years even when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. MBZ deals with law firms in Ukraine that represent beneficiaries of estates in Canada: Ukrainian law firms represent beneficiaries in Ukraine and MBZ represents the estates in Canada.

We asked Mr. Zalucky whether there is interest on the part of Ukrainian Canadians in the estates that were unlawfully taken from their ancestors in Ukraine by the Soviet regime, as the similar issue has received some traction in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. Eugene Zalucky said that MBZ has had inquiries from clients in Canada who tried to recover the property that they believed has been lost because of the Soviet regime in Ukraine. However, said Mr. Zalucky, “We can’t really help them because their claims are to be made in Ukraine. I have been able to help our family to recover property in Ukraine with some difficulty and I would not ordinarily get involved in that”. We asked Eugene Zalucky if he thought the issue of returning the unlawfully seized assets would ever be raised in Ukraine on the legislative level. He said that he wouldn’t expect it to be raised in the near term, given all the problems that Ukraine is facing.

During the interview, we also raised the issue of getting Canadian legal professionals to work in the Ukrainian legal system to reform it from within, as some are suggesting. From 1991 to 1993, Eugene Zalucky was national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Professional Business Federation. He calls it “some of the most satisfying work that I have been involved in.” In 1991, before Ukraine became independent, the Federation invited Verkhovna Rada’s Speaker Ivan Plushch to Canada to speak to the Federation’s convention. When Ukraine became independent, the Federation, together with Ukrainian-American Bar Association, organized Ukrainian-Canadian lawyers to travel to Ukraine. Consequently, the World Congress of Ukrainian Jurists was organized and Ukraine’s President Leonid Kravchuk opened its congress in 1992. The Congress brought together lawyers from Canada, USA, South America, Europe, Australia and Ukraine. However, the early experience in making recommendations on how to implement the rule of law in Ukraine was not very successful, says Mr. Zalucky.

Currently, there are new initiatives, supported by a number of western governments, including the Canadian government, to help Ukraine renew the judicial sector’s reform. Eugene Zalucky believes that the changes to Ukraine’s judicial system have to start from a fairly basic level, for example, from the way the judges are appointed. But is it possible for Canadian lawyers to work directly, for example, as judges in Ukraine to try and reform the system from within? Mr. Zalucky thinks that it would not work because the two systems are different: “You couldn’t take a lawyer from a common-law country like Canada, United States or Britain, and send them to Ukraine and expect them to apply the laws of Ukraine”.

We also asked Eugene Zalucky to tell us more about his involvement in the Ukrainian Canadian community. Before being elected president of the Ukrainian Canadian Professional Business Federation, Mr. Zalucky was president of the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Toronto, from 1985 to 1987. During his tenure as Federation President, the Federation obtained a $1 million grant from the federal government to send a dozen professional advisors to help the government of Ukraine in different ministries.

Eugene Zalucky also serves on the Board of directors of the Ukrainian Canadian Bar Association that was founded two years ago. Currently, 150 Ukrainian Canadian lawyers from the Toronto area and many more lawyers from across the country have become members of the Association: “That’s unheard of because when I started practicing 40 years ago there may have been 30-40 Ukrainian lawyers in Toronto. There are a lot of young lawyers coming out of law schools, who are joining the Association and looking to network with other Ukrainian Canadian lawyers. And the community keeps on growing in a way that’s wonderful. That’s why I tried to help coordinate this because 30-40 years ago it would have been impossible to get so many lawyers together.”

Eugene Zalucky has for a long time served on the Board of directors of the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation. In this capacity, about ten years ago, he travelled to Simferopil in Crimea to open the Ukrainian language competition. “The competition was held at the Ukrainian school. It was a very large, beautiful school, with impressive staff. That was an incredible experience on my part to be involved in, especially given what has happened to Crimea.”

Lawyers in Mitchell, Bardyn and Zalucky LLP have acted for many churches. In particular, Mr. Zalucky has helped the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate). When St. Michael’s Cathedral was being built in Kyiv, Eugene Zalucky acted for the Church with an estate matter that released considerable money for the Cathedral development. During one of his trips to Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret awarded Mr. Zalucky with Order of St. Michael (see the picture).
Eugene Zalucky also notes that all Ukrainian lawyers working for MBZ have been involved either as board members or had leading roles in various Ukrainian community organizations. Perhaps the best example is Ihor Bardyn who has served as President of the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada and founded the Canada Ukraine Parliamentary Programme (CUPP). CUPP has operated for 26 years and given an opportunity for at least 1,000 Ukrainian graduates to have internships in the Canadian Parliament. The Programme’s graduates now occupy many distinct positions in the Ukrainian government and in the variety of well-established Ukrainian and European institutions. Mr. Zalucky notes: “I think years from now we will be looking at CUPP as probably the most successful Canadian-Ukrainian programme.”

In conclusion, Eugene Zalucky says: “To build this firm as a founding member and managing partner would not have been possible without the support of the excellent partners, who undertake much of the organizational work today, our associates, and the experienced and dedicated staff. On a personal level, I feel very grateful that I’ve got the three daughters, all of them got Master’s degrees and are operating their own businesses or involved in their own organizations. It’s been amazing that I managed to have these three daughters that are doing well on their own. I have to give credit to my wife Vera for that. None of the daughters have followed me and my father in the legal profession. But they are entrepreneurs and they have followed me in this respect.”