law, lawyers, memoirs, real estate

Honest Officer, I can explain everything!

The  recent question “where is the craziest place you have ever done business” launched me on a stroll down memory lane as I tried to recall some of the wacky venues I’ve utilized for the practice of law. Mostly, of course, I am stuck behind a desk, squinting into a computer screen, with occasional cheery side trips to places such as hospital death beds, and jail cells, but every now and then—!

I acted for a time for a pair of Vancouver property speculators who were riding the local real estate boom in a series of complicated and intertwined property acquisitions. Each rung up the property ladder was secured by a series of mortgages over the properties already in their stable, and as the amounts involved grew ever larger, so too did the lenders demands for further and better security.

Both guys had understandings with their wives – They would supply an up-scale home in a tony neighbourhood, with a late-model Mercedes in the driveway, and a lot of pin-money, and their wives’ wouldn’t have to work, but only sign their names to whatever legal documents were required to keep the whole gravy train on the tracks.

One wintry day a very large such document package landed on my desk. It was for about $5 million in funding, and the lender’s lawyer had outdone himself in papering the deal. The stack was about 6 inches high, and the fuse had already been lit; papers had to be signed and returned by day’s end or the $5 million went away.

The client’s wife was a scatter-brained young woman, fully engrossed in the raising of her young child, and totally oblivious to anything else. Reached on her cell, she was totally unfazed by the urgency of the situation, and completely resistant to the idea of dropping by the office to put pen to paper and possibly save her husband’s business. Her six-year-old had figure skating lessons in an hour, and nothing else mattered!xp 1513

There was nothing for it. I coaxed the location of the rink from her, told her to stay put until I arrived, and set out with a bulging file bucket of loan documents under my arm.

The rink was in a training facility, with nothing beyond the rink boards but cold bare concrete- no bleachers- not even a bench to perch on to sign documents. I found my quarry gazing rapturously at the ice where her precious daughter pirouetted about. She wore that unfocused, faraway look unique to young mothers, and I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick sign up.

My feet, encased in leather dress shoes, had lost all feeling by the time Precious finally wobbled off the ice, and Young Mother turned her attention briefly to me. “Come on, we can sign in here” she said, gesturing towards the girl’s change room. A little alarm bell sounded somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, but, I rationalized, the deal must complete, so I ignored it, and followed them in. Thankfully the dressing room was otherwise empty, so I began spreading documents out on a bench for signing.

We powered through the mortgage documents and personal guarantees, with agonizing pauses which had me glancing anxiously at the door,  while Precious was changed and her skates removed.

About four inches through the stack of paper, the change room door suddenly banged open, and a young skater tottered in. I tried to look nonchalant, as if lurking in a girl’s change room was a completely normal and every day occurrence, while the tyke fixed me with her best ‘Stranger Danger’ stare, turned on her heel and fled the room.

The alarm bells started clanging again in my head. “Um, I think we had better hurry up and get these documents signed”  I urged – thrusting documents toward Young Mom at a brisker pace. The environmental indemnities and general security agreement documents flew through my fingers, and the bottom of the pile was in sight, when disaster struck.

Another young girl came clattering in, head down, walking awkwardly on her skate guards. Then she spotted me, and let out an ear-splitting shriek.

mommy, mommy there’s a bad man in the girls room !

I resisted the urge to clamp my hand over her mouth, and left her to continue to shriek at the top of her lungs, while I turned my attention to Young Mom, who seemed to have been jolted momentarily back to reality by the loud screams. ‘”Sorry” she said, “I guess I  wasn’t thinking” and began scribbling her signature furiously on the last of the documents. Behind me, I could hear the change room door bang shut, and the sounds of screaming receded down the corridor. The alarm bells were deafening in my skull.

As ink found the last of the corporate resolutions  I began furiously stuffing documents randomly back into the file bucket, and bolted for the door. The girl’s wailing seemed to have stopped, but had been replaced by the echo of heavy footfalls and the squawk of a walkie-talkie. I turned the other way down the corridor and broke into a run, not stopping until I reached a fire exit. I thought I heard a man shout as I barreled through the door, and so increased my pace, sprinting all out for the safety of my car.

I made good my escape from the rink, rattled and out of breath, and muttering under my breath “who ever thought conveyancing was boring!”

What’s the craziest place I’ve ever done business? – well, the local rink  certainly makes the short list.


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