For centuries, English, American and even the occasional Canadian barrister has extolled the virtues of practicing law. You will hear some of the best quotes at any call to the bar ceremony. Anything from Fred Rodell would be gold as would any number of the ancient Latin maxims that have been handed down since biblical times.
I remember my call to the bar ceremony in British Columbia (as I also had the privilege of being called to the bar in Québec in 1985), by the now deceased Mr. Justice Owen-Flood of Victoria, with his delightful accent. He told us that if we were going to be real lawyers, we needed to focus and commit to the profession; that it was an old and honorable occupation but one that required the full focus of the practitioner.
I loved Justice Owen-Flood. We first met in Cambridge, England at the Cambridge lectures in 1992. I was then working in Ottawa as a lawyer and he of course was an active judge in Victoria, British Columbia. I remember he came up to me at the conference bar with a full pint of beer anxious to see just who this young minister's assistant was.
You could see the love of law in his eyes as I tried to simply follow the conversation. That kindness was something a young lawyer would never forget. It was by pure coincidence that he later presided over my call ceremony in British Colombia.
Today, at the age of 53, still trying to provide Affordable Justice® (my rates are now at $175), I have a small portfolio of clients. I could have 125 active and open cases and die young but with a good estate to leave to my children. But with the encouragement of my family, I'm able to have a small practice. I can do what I have always done which is to wear my client's case on my sleeve; to take each personally, contrary to all the advice I have ever read in the practice journals. Primarily, this is why I left the practice of law within a large firm.
On this day, as on almost any other day since I put my shingle out in 1998, I can truly say I adore my job.
A few days ago I was in Starbucks and a former client was sitting down with a young man. The client jumped up when I entered even as I was struggling to place him from my memory bank. He told me, and I hope he was joking, that he had been stalking my favourite Starbucks for a few days with his son, just to see me. A decade ago, that client and I had been through a very difficult (and expensive) trial on the custody of his son which we had won. We reflected how important for his son that legal decision had been while the son looked on with an embarrassed look. Anyway, the ex-client introduced me to his son and I probably did the stupidest thing ever but the client and spontaneously hugged each other. Nothing further needed to be said.
A few years ago, I received a Christmas card from a former client which included a picture of his niece, now all-grown-up. She was healthy and happy in her uncle's care, again as a result of a very difficult and long custody battle in the horrible aftermath of the natural mother's suicide - and also very expensive.
In the practice of law, the perfect path is not always obvious for young lawyers. For some, the smell of money sends them to commercial or insurance law where they may never see beyond the pupils of a client's eye; or the client is a soulless corporation.
These are good, solid lawyers but not on my side of the river of law, where the money isn't but the hearts are and where the sometimes painful, never boring and often delightful breeze of human feelings is constant.
At this time in my career, the vagaries of fate brings to me the interests not of children but of senior citizens who, like children, are vulnerable and not just from the claws of predator relatives but also sometimes from the state, quick to overreact and subject a single, aged, frail woman or man to the extremely loud and scary gears and mechanisms of law, to limit their legal rights; and all presumably whirring away in their best interests even though none of the operators have ever even had a conversation with the elder or looked them in the eye.
I love my job. I love that, through both a civil law degree and a common law equivalent, and twenty years at the bar of duhaime.org, I have accessed more knowledge and wisdom of the law than any sane lawyer would ever need or strive to obtain, and few if any judge could ever brag about from the bench - although many are not shy of doing so. I love that I can use this information artillery in the defense of an old lady who sits in my office with wet eyes and although I have to talk slowly, and she may not understand complex business transactions or be capable of completing a challenger level Sudoku puzzle, she understands what is going on and feels the unique grand-mother's pain of the invasion of her privacy and the personal violation inherent in the suggestion that she is mentally incapable. The humiliation and disrespect involuntary hospital or state intervention imposes upon the isolated senior, sometimes stoked by well-intentioned or predatory family members, is something that cannot be described.
Like mental illness or grief over the loss of a loved one, mere words are not always available in any combination, to describe some emotions. You have to walk in those shoes to understand the helplessness, and for his or her lawyer, the sacred call of duty.
I hope that when I close my eyes and embrace the finality of life on this earth, that I can softly smile at a legacy of a career as a positive and peaceful force at all times in advancing justice by worship at the altar of law. Many lawyers do leave us with this very contentment. I want to be like them, when I reach the eve of my legal career.
But blind worship of the law is for the parishioner and the paralegal. The lawyer's goal is to embrace the law but to then use it to root out injustice, to leave the soft or hard touch of justice - not bald law - behind in their track, and to have created no unnecessary harm.
Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum.
I'm no school teacher, fireman, engineer or physician.
But my phone rings, my email is humming and my office door is well-oiled to help others in their moments of crisis, with my fees paid by money that is often sparse and hard-earned.
In awe and wonderment of the challenge and the difference I can make in this big, complicated world, I hoping that feeling never fades, this lawyer loves the sacred "job".