courts, divorce, family law, law, weddings, wills & estates

Til Death do us part

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 againswed3t 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 !

 

 

courts, divorce, family law, law, lawyers, Legal Aid, pro bono law

What’s in a name?

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!

 

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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 !

 

 

Big Law, courts, family law, law, lawyers, Legal Aid, pro bono law

Cage Fight!

Next weeks Law Society Annual General meeting is shaping up to be the sort of brawl usually reserved for MMA competitions.

In the first bout, the Benchers of the Society will square off against the family law bar, Continue reading “Cage Fight!”

courts, divorce, family law, law, lawyers, negotiation

Know when to hold em, know when to fold em- why lawyers hair turns grey

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”

courts, divorce, family law, law

Why lawyers hair turns gray -Part two 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,-

Quick

Cheap

Effective

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!)

divorce, family law, law, real estate

Why lawyers’ hair turns gray – Part one of a series

The search for ‘blog fodder’ – content to fill the pages of this blog – is relentless.

This week, while waiting for the Muse to slap me in the face with a brilliant blog topic, I had a thought: why not simply re-purpose some of the daily chatter that fills our lunchroom, Continue reading “Why lawyers’ hair turns gray – Part one of a series”