Lunch with Luis – First Guest: Juan Carranza

Luis Hernández

Being the first Lunch with Luis (“LWL”), I think it is important to express my goals for this column and to thank you for reading! Specifically, I endeavour to highlight exceptional Hispanic lawyers in Canada and to have candid discussions with them regarding their life journeys. For the inaugural LWL, I had the great pleasure of sitting down for lunch with personal injury lawyer Juan Carranza of Carranza LLP and I could not be happier to have had the opportunity to do so.

We sat down for lunch at Panchita’s Kitchen and Bakery to have some pupusas (traditional Salvadoran dish of a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling). From the get-go, the restaurant choice showed me the kind of person with whom I would be sitting down to chat. A small, humble restaurant across from Juan’s offices, the walls were decorated with traditional Salvadorian décor and the food was nothing short of exceptional. Juan began by telling me how often he would frequent Panchita’s and that he thought it a fitting restaurant to sit down with another lawyer from Central America.

Once we got through the initial pleasantries and ordered some food, Juan and I dove right in to his life. He spoke with a captivating warmth about his youth and his early immigration to Canada. Juan then regaled me with tales of him navigating through a B.A. at York University and then staying at York to study law at Osgoode Hall. Ultimately, he would end up becoming the first Central American lawyer to be called to the Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario) and paving the way for young Hispanic lawyers such as myself.

What was particularly striking to me about Juan was his fixation with using his knowledge and skills for the benefit of others. We talked of the common perception of personal injury lawyers as being “ambulance-chasers” and how he thought that this was a very cynical view of his area of practice. In fact, Juan spoke passionately about how, in his practice of over 20 years, he has helped people of all walks of life – no matter the culture, religion, wealth, gender, or language – to obtain justice. In this regard, he has seen all types of severe injuries that deeply affect the lives of his clients and the frustrations that they face when healing and adjusting to their injuries. Juan often underscored that his role was not only to be legal counsel, but to be an integral member of the client’s support group through what can only be described as difficult times. Juan then explained that he is able to accomplish this “by often going to clients’ homes to see how they are living and how their injuries have impacted their day-to-day life.” He ultimately emphasized that “you get to know people in the most intimate ways” when dealing with these files and that you have to respond to people appropriately, including “appreciating the cultural differences that inform a client’s experience.” As Juan put it, his ‘mission is his client.’

Naturally, our conversation then shifted to the importance of access to justice and, in particular, the barriers to accessing justice. We talked at length of what Juan described as the greatest barriers to justice in his view, namely: language, culture, and money. Juan pointed to the many people who suffer catastrophic injuries who are often also part of a more vulnerable sector of society. Because of this reality, Juan noted that his “original interest while in law school had to do with refugees from Latin American countries and the transition to personal injury was natural because it was also vulnerable people who needed help.”

Many clients struggle with English, let alone the legalese that lawyers like to use. On top of a language barrier, many clients come from different cultures with different standards, so they may not even recognize that they have certain rights! And of course, money is a tremendous barrier for the average person with modest means.

Throughout our chat it became clear that one of Juan’s top priorities is to provide accessible, empathetic, personal, and down-to-earth representation for his clients. He emphasized how important it is for all lawyers to be culturally aware/competent to provide the best service to clients when they are at their most vulnerable. In this regard, Juan spoke of the many practices that Carranza LLP has adopted, including, giving talks to other lawyers about the need of cultural competence, preparing all sorts of legal materials in plain language (and in as many languages as possible) to allow for greater accessibility to legal information. “We want to be, if not pioneers, promoters for the idea of cultural awareness”.

Finally, we capped off the lunch with a coffee in Juan’s office. This setting was also quite telling of the person with whom I had effortlessly spent two hours. All around his office there were plaques and pictures of kids’ sports leagues he had supported throughout the years, pictures of family, and little Hispanic knickknacks. Juan’s office revealed the essence of a man who has spent his life tirelessly working to contribute to his local community, to contribute to his profession, and to working with people in need of help; all while balancing the life of a family man.

Throughout this inaugural LWL, it became clear that Juan is tremendously passionate about lifting up those around him and that includes the young, up-and coming Hispanic lawyers. His contributions to the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association and to the Hispanic community as a whole cannot be understated. In speaking of the importance of the CHBA, he spoke with great pride about how the organization has developed into a substantial group of lawyers with ever-expanding resources and value to further the interests of the Hispanic community. In Juan’s view, organizations like the CHBA, and equity and diversity initiatives such as those put on by the Law Society are vital for the advancement of Hispanics in Canada.

I am grateful to have had an opportunity to sit down with Juan Carranza and simply digest the wisdom he was glad to impart on a young guy like myself. The ultimate takeaway was that it’s on every one of us to lend a helping hand where possible. The Hispanic community has grown significantly in Canada and the number of Hispanics in need of legal services has also grown tremendously. There have been trailblazers in the legal community, like Juan, who have laid a foundation for future generations of Hispanic lawyers. As such, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to do our part and continue to work for the collective good.

Luis A. Hernandez is a Canadian-Nicaraguan lawyer working at Horlick Levitt Di Lella LLP. He was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada in June 2017. Luis received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Windsor in 2016. Luis’s training has been primarily in condominium law and civil litigation.