When I got Sirius XM Radio in my ride I stopped listening to talk radio on my commute and switched to satellite radio’s Fabulous Fifties channel instead. Now I groove my way to the office awash in the smaltzy lyrics of a simpler age. Continue reading “Goin’ to the Chapel—”
As the days grow short, rain rattles against the window panes and Christmas carols take over the Muzak in the mall, normal people start their Christmas decorating and baking while we lawyers, ever marching to a different drummer, lumber into action in a mad dash to complete our mandatory annual CLE credits.
In order to maintain our ability to practice for the coming year we must do several things: refrain from getting caught committing any indictable offenses; pay the law society an inordinate sum for fees, and lastly, provide proof of attendance of at least 12 hours of “lawyers school.”
Not being one to leave things until the last minute I resolved this year to bag all my necessary educational credits well before the 30 November deadline-whole days before, so I signed up for a course about what’s new and exciting in the world of wills and estates.
To my surprise I found the course most instructive: indeed I learned a lot about marriage. Now having been a husband for almost 40 years now, I thought I knew a thing or two about the institution-I even consider myself partially house broken; but, it seems there is always more to learn.
When I began my own journey into wedded bliss, a formal walk down the isle was the sole precursor to asserting any claims at all against the property or income of a significant other, in the event that things didn’t work out, and marriage was defined as “the union of one man, and one woman, for life.” Pretty simple, straightforward stuff, that even a poor country lawyer could suss out.
Nowadays, as a result of the Family Law Act, the Wills Estates and Succession Act, the Charter, and a handful of other legislative changes, as interpreted by recent court decisions, its a whole new ball game. In modern times, one can, it seems, slide into matrimony without even knowing it!
Distinctions between “formal” and “common law ” marriages have long since been consigned to the dust bin, along with any notion that your spouse need be someone of the opposite gender. One can acquire significant support obligations in any relationship that endures for longer than two years, and a claim against some pension benefits can be advanced after only a year of togetherness.
The courts now instruct us that we need to run through a bit of a checklist of activities to determine if two people seen hanging out together may in fact be married in the eyes of the law. Are they doing things that suggest they are in a “marriage -like relationship”?
Do they live together, sleep together, pool their finances, vacation together, own things together, bicker, or complete each others sentences ? Now here’s where recent judicial pronouncement make it interesting. Courts have ruled that you no linger have to live together, or have sex, or pool your resources in order to be deemed to be married. You can inadvertently acquire a spouse if your relationship ticks a sufficient number of “marriage-like relationship” boxes.
This can be a big deal if you happen to die without a thoughtful estate plan in place, since your “spouse” steps to the head of the line to claim a big chunk of your estate, as well as life insurance, pension benefits, RRSP’s and the like. For most, their long term relationships are sufficiently “marriage -like” so the question doesn’t come up, but for many, it does. Consider seniors who acquire companions late in life, never thinking that their friend might displace their children for a share of their estate or those whose time together is punctuated by long periods of separation, or those who fall into long distance relationships.
We live in interesting times- it didn’t used to be so hard to tell if you were married !
So, the pointy heads at the law society have apparently decided to create a category of law society licensed individuals who would be allowed to do most, if not all of the things that lawyers can do, such as giving legal advice, drafting court documents and appearing in court, but all without the tedious and expensive requirement of a full law school education, or lengthy on-the-job training.
The Law Society’s working title for this new category of near-lawyers is “legal service provider”, and the rationale for introducing the category appears to be that it’s far too expensive for the public now to hire real lawyers, so partially qualified lawyers should be encouraged to practice, in the hope that they will work cheaper, and thus solve our access to justice problems.
As far as I know no one has ever actually asked the public whether they would buy into the concept of a multi-tiered, price differentiated market for legal services. Personally, I’m not so sure that they would opt for cheaper representation by lesser qualified individuals, when playing for all the marbles, but then I’m biased!
Of present concern however is, what on earth will we actually call them? Whenever something new, like a new vocation, is invented, it needs a colloquial name. Thus, our first dollar coin became a “loonie”, and spacecraft riders became “astronauts”. I can pretty much guarantee that “Legal Service Provider” isn’t going to stick- it sounds too much like something dreamed up a committee of bureaucrats. We need something better- a catchy name that captures the essence of these purveyors of cut-rate legal services will be all about.
Let’s be clear, they won’t be “lawyers”, and frankly, that term, or its derivatives, ought to be reserved for those of us who are fully credentialed. It would be misleading to describe them as some sort of hyphenated lawyer, such as as”mini lawyers”, “quasi lawyers” or “near lawyers”.
So, how to devise a name or acronym that doesn’t include the term “lawyer”? Well, consider that when Sir Robert Peel invented the metropolitan police, they quickly became known as “Peelers” or “Bobbies” after their creator. Perhaps then these new creatures of the Law Society ought to be dubbed “DABIs” ( short for Dumb Ass Bencher’s Idea)
Then again, since the intention is to create a less expensive class of legal professional, accuracy would seem to demand a reference to price in the chosen name, – like CRAP (for Cut Rate Alternate Provider) , or ECONO-PROs ( for Economy Providers), or CHEALTs (for cheaper alternative)
As an aside, just as lawyers can be expected to jealously guard our name, so too will we fight for our animals. We are, after all, the true legal beagles, and eagles, and the only legitimate sharks, so these new providers will have to content themselves with other mascots – (I think crows and dog-fish are still available)
So, the problem endures- a new class of legal service provider in need of a name- dear reader, we desperately need your help- are you the wit that will coin the perfect moniker for those half trained individuals providing legal services for reduced fees? Put you thinking cap on, let your imagination run wild, and give us your comments please !
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!
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!)