I once employed a junior lawyer who had come the law late in life after a first career in academia. She viewed the practice of law through a somewhat different lens, as a result of her previous rich and varied life experience. Some of her observations were very shrewd. Continue reading “Know when to hold em, know when to fold em- why lawyers hair turns grey”
We are inaugurating with this post, an occasional series dedicated to honouring those members of the legal profession deserving of a special award for colossal stupidity in the commission of a career ending folly. The award is, of course, an offshoot of the better known Darwin Awards, which celebrate the perpetual cleansing of the human gene pool by the magnificently stupid, and are named after Sir Charles Darwin, who famously observed that smart species survive, and dumb ones don’t.
Today’s recipient is James Cooper Morton, aged 58, a senior and well known member of the Ontario Bar; former head of the Ontario Bar Association, an adjunct professor of law, and a sometimes Liberal candidate for parliament. Mr Morton. it seems became enamoured of his law clerk, to the point of proposing marriage. It happens- office romances can sometimes lead the unwary into matrimony.
There existed but a single impediment to the path of true love. Mr Morton was, unfortunately, already married. Nothing that an ugly and expensive divorce couldn’t cure- right?
Well, even lawyers begrudge paying divorce lawyers, it seems, almost as much as they hate handing over half their assets as the price of freedom, so Mr Morton took a wee short cut. He simply forged a divorce decree, complete with an official looking court stamp and fake judicial signatures. A seemingly simple and elegant solution to the otherwise messy business of divorce!
Alas, the scheme very quickly unravelled, and Mr Morton has now been charged with forgery and obstruction of Justice, and finds himself suspended by the Ontario Law Society. (and facing some actual divorce proceedings as well, no doubt!)
Lawyers wreck their careers in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, but Mr. Morton self -destructed with such panache that we simply had to award him with this blog’s first Legal Darwin Award .
Everybody loves to read a good rant on Facebook- its sorta like reality TV without the cable fees- everybody that is, except your lawyer, who would really, really prefer that you not slag your ex on Facebook, or post mean spirited tweets, or worse yet, drunk dial to leave a vicious voice message – all of which will inevitably end up appended to a court affidavit, and vastly complicate the task of convincing a court that you are a righteous, upstanding person, in who’s favour a ruling should be made.
In any court case there are actually two parallel disputes afoot. There is the formal, plodding court case itself, which meanders towards a court date and final resolution in accordance with a lengthy set of rules known only to the lawyers involved. That process is intentionally devoid of emotion. It is rules based, and evidence driven.
Then there is the visceral dispute that rages in the minds of the litigants. That’s the dispute where the rage, the betrayal, and the hurt bubble to the surface and keep you awake in the small hours of the morning. That is the dispute that craves retaliation and revenge and drives litigants, unwisely, to their keyboard to lash out at the source of their pain.
Lawyers (allegedly) are humans too, so we understand that there is another battle raging beyond the confines of the court case we are pursuing, that requires the emotional release of a client ‘getting their licks in’ and responding to the taunts of the
Apparently Buddha never actually said “to conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in a battle.”, but he damned well should have- and whispered it into many a clients’ ear before their drunken hands reached for that keyboard! Self discipline does indeed win lawsuits, and the lack of it in a client turns consistently turns lawyers hair grey!
It was Shakespeare who first opined “Attire oft proclaims the man”, and Mark Twain who refined it, quipping “Clothes make the man- naked people have little or no influence on society. Never mind society- Continue reading “Why Lawyers hair turns grey- Part 7 of a series”
Well the gang around the water cooler certainly has their fair share of pet peeves.
This week’s edition of “Why lawyers hair turns grey” comes from our up-and-coming family litigator Francis Lepp, whose comment was” I hate it when people keep asking how long will this take, and how much will it cost?
Every lawyer deals with these inquiries in their own fashion. Senior partner Rebecca keeps a crystal ball on her desk which she displays to the inquiring client along with suitable hand gestures, mysterious incantations, and an evil cackle.
For myself, I usually just burst into song in a rich baritone, belting out a few bars of that Irving Berlin classic “How deep is the ocean, how high as the sky ?” (I have been told more than once that Ella Fitzgerald did it better)
I have visited lawyers offices where a sign is displayed saying:
“We offer three types of service,-
PICK ANY TWO.”
The simple truth is that, unlike say, a garage mechanic who can consult a shop manual which will tell him that on average it should take 4.5 hours to change a head gasket, we have no corresponding playbook that we can use as a guide to how long it might take to obtain custody of children, or to wrestle an adequate financial settlement from a recalcitrant spouse, or generally to grind the forces of darkness into submission.
Most of the time in law we are engaged in a ‘zero-sum game’ , where our victory results in a corresponding loss to the other party, a loss which our opponent is driving mightily to prevent, and might even be prepared to play dirty to avoid. Since we cannot predict how viciously or effectively our objectives will be opposed, we cannot offer anything but a guess as to how long a resolution might take or how many hours of our time will be consumed in obtaining a result.
To a lawyer, time is money. I did some scribbling on the back of a bar napkin one time in an attempt to set a fair hourly rate for my services, and discovered to my horror that the small office I was then running was costing me $200 an hour just to maintain, after paying rent, staff wages insurance, computer costs and the like. So, trying to give an answer to the “how much will this cost” question without knowing how much time we will have to put into the file is very, very difficult.
As to the “how long” question, that really depends upon the willingness of both sides to meet, to negotiate in good faith, and to resolve matters. Typically, that willingness is totally absent, and the parties have to be dragged along kicking and screaming to a resolution. Our Rules of Court have some fairly generous waiting periods built into them (three weeks to respond to a claim and a further month to begin supplying documents, for example) Then we are at the mercy of the courts, where there are significant wait times involved to obtain a trial date, and the availability of all counsel parties and witnesses have to be factored in as well
In the result, the length of time taken to get to trial is measured in years.
So if you want to know how long your case is going to take and how much is going to cost, just sing along with me:
“How deep is the ocean -how high as the sky?” (or borrow Rebecca’s crystal ball!)