In 2012, make everything you do important, because it is.

January, 2012, in my tiny personal blogosphere, will see the launch of my first monthly column for a national legal e-zine. The piece, still in draft, is about procrastination, no less. Insha’Allah, I’ll meet my first deadline.

(le sommaire en français suit)

During the last days of 2011, it’s hard to put the law on pause. I’ve unplugged the telly from Cable, lost a motion in the Toronto Masters court, and thought out loud why the articling crisis is a made-in-Ontario problem. Writing a blog on mentorship naturally requires a modicum of navel-gazing. By definition, this requires an out-of-body experience. (The secret to being a mentor or a mentee?)

People Watching – Part of Learning to be a Lawyer

As I waited for my hearing before the Master, I have to admit a feeling of displacement anxiety. However, I quickly overcame it to observe a great interaction between the bench and bar. The vast majority of counsel appearing before Masters are students and new lawyers. There is a palpable tension and genuine mentor-mentee relationship, although there are limits on Masters’ ability to show it. From my informal discussions with Masters, I can attest to a true affection on their part for the young counsel appearing before them.

The lesson to be learnt has more immediate impact on litigation lawyers, of course. But translating the experience to solicitors’ practice does not require a big leap. I have seen this happen between senior and junior deal adversaries. The senior counsel knows getting a deal that makes good business sense to the client means educating her counterpart. This type of mentoring wins Bar awards. Doing the opposite makes for skewed deals and litigation and angry clients.

In litigation, Ontario lawyers two generations ago used to call Masters court “practice court,” as if it did not matter. After all, there was an automatic right of appeal, Masters were once non-lawyer registrars, and the High Court judges used to grant appeals faster than kids in Rosedale speed-dial Pizza Pizza. After Marleen Investments Ltd. v. McBride (1979), 23 O.R. (2d) 125, judges started to give the Masters the respect they deserve. In one motions day at the old 145 Queen St. West courthouse, I heard Master Sandler tell one of my fellow newbies, “Mr. X, we do have rules. This is a court of law.” Those were the days of tough love, and the phrase, “Master Sandler’s Rules,” reflected less the character of his court than the frequency with which many counsel were aware of the “New” Rules of Civil Procedure.

Master Sandler’s comment has stayed with me, two decades later. Indeed, in the last few years, I have appeared before important hearings not only before Masters but also registrars (to settle orders with pro se litigants), which I have treated as important as appeals in Courtroom 1 at Osgoode Hall. It’s all one court, under s. 96 of the Constitution. Indeed, the Masters court and the Court of Appeal are both statutory courts without inherent jurisdiction, and have that in common. Every hearing is important as a piece of the case you are working on, or working on as a part of a team.

Top Counsel in the Sandbox

If you doubt the importance of your work because you spend day in, day out, arguing practice motions before “lower courts,” as often described in Halsbury’s, look no further than a case on which I stumbled, also a couple of decades ago, styled Dowson v Chisholm (1985), 16 Admin. L.R. 169. The leading case on the bona fides exception to the former 6-month limitation period under the Public Authorities Protection Act, Dowson was a Small Claims Court decision which featured unlikely adversaries at the height of their powers as lawyers. Imagine Harry Kopyto in the same courtroom as Lorne Morphy, Q.C. and two Laskins, one of them now a Court of Appeal judge—here they were, in a court whose monetary jurisdiction had just been raised to $3,000 in Toronto ($1,000 in the rest of the province). Obviously, the argument raised by the firebrand lawyer was seen as enough of a threat for the institutional litigants to hire three leading members of Canada’s legal brain trust to pitch their case in the province’s “lowest” court. The case, of which I have thought from time to time over the years, has taught me two things. First, every matter is important to your client, so treat is as important to you. Second, if you treat every matter as important to you as to your client, every working day, whether at the office or in the courtroom, is exciting. And keep that procrastination at bay—at least till next year.

~   ~   ~

Puisque tout est important, votre travail doit aussi l’être.

Un jour, pendant que j’attendait mon audition devant le prothonotaire, je dois avouer un sentiment de déplacement. Cependant, je l’ai vite surmonté et observé une belle interaction entre le tribunal et ses avocats. La vaste majorité des avocats qui se présentent devant les Maîtres sont les étudiants et les nouveaux avocats. Il y a une véritable relation mentor-mentoré, mais il y a des limites sur la capacité du prothonotaire de la montrer.

Dans le contentieux, les avocats de l’Ontario il y a deux générations utilisée pour appeler maîtres tribunal « Cour de la pratique », comme si elle n’avait pas d’importance. Après tout, il y avait un droit automatique d’appel, les prothonotaires étaient autrefois des greffiers. Après l’arrêt Marleen Investments Ltée c. McBride (1979), 23 OR (2d) 125, les juges ont commencé à donner des prothonotaires le respect qu’ils méritent.  Après tout, le tribunal des prothonotaires fait partie du palais de justice, comme tout autre division.

Si vous doutez de l’importance de votre travail parce que vous dépensez jour après jour, arguant des requêtes avant les « tribunaux inférieurs », comme c’est souvent décrite, ne cherchez pas plus loin que d’un arrêt de la Cour des petites créances, que j’ai trouvé un jour, il y a quelques décennies, appelé Dowson v Chisholm (1985), 16 Admin. L.R.169.  Imaginez Harry Kopyto dans la salle même que Lorne Morphy, C.R. et deux Laskins, dans une cour dont la juridiction monétaire venait d’être porté à 3 000 $ à Toronto (1 000 $ dans le reste de la province). L’affaire, dont j’ai pensé de temps en temps au fil des années, m’a appris deux choses. Premièrement, chaque question est importante pour votre client, afin de traiter est aussi important pour vous. Deuxièmement, si vous traitez chaque question aussi importante pour vous comme pour votre client, chaque jour, soit au bureau ou dans la salle d’audience, est passionnant.

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