MAIL BAG

‘THE TRUTH ABOUT LAWYERS’

August 13 2007
MAIL BAG

‘THE TRUTH ABOUT LAWYERS’

August 13 2007

‘THE TRUTH ABOUT LAWYERS’

MAIL BAG

‘Countless clients are grateful that a lawyer helped them through difficult times and complex situations’

IMAGINE, FOR A MOMENT, how you would react if a magazine ran a cover that read: “Firefighters are pigs,” or maybe, “Doctors are butchers” or “Soldiers are dogs.” And imagine that the sensationalist cover was based, not on any in-depth investigative report, but solely on the opinions of a disaffected member of one of those groups who was promoting a new book. Would you feel that Canada’s firefighters, soldiers or doctors had been blindsided and vilified?

Well, welcome to our world. The August 6 edition of Maclean’s magazine published a cover that said “Lawyers are rats” and accused our profession of cheating our clients and engaging in criminal behaviour—based on nothing more than a one-sided interview with the author of a book about isolated cases of lawyer misconduct.

As president of the Canadian Bar Association, and as a lawyer who has been practising in a Vancouver Island community for more than 30 years, I am absolutely outraged by this attack. My colleagues and I have conducted numerous interviews since then with media outlets across Canada to respond to this incident and to set the record straight.

But I’m even more upset by the unspoken assumption that lies behind the cover and article: that you can say anything you want about lawyers—no matter how unfair, cruel or false—and you’ll be rewarded. It’s an appalling irony that lawyers, who defend the right to free speech in a civilized society, are still routinely victimized by its abuse.

Lawyers are one of the last groups in this country that people feel they can publicly insult with impunity. It’s time for that to stop. The days when someone can print and speak hateful things about any group of Canadian citizens, without reprisal or condemnation, are over. The fact that lawyers are still the lingering exception to this rule puts the lie to Canadian values of tolerance and fair treatment for all.

The truth about lawyers is far more positive, and important, than Maclean’s or that book’s author would have you believe. It’s about the countless clients who are grateful that a lawyer helped them through difficult times and complex situations. It’s about the countless lawyers who give up their personal

and professional time to serve their communities, their profession and their country.

Lawyers are essential, not only to real access to justice and the protection of Canadians’ rights, but also to the social and business structures that underlie everyday life. We solve problems, resolve disputes and help our clients plan their futures. Lawyers stand up and advocate for Canadians, no matter how unpopular the cause, because doing so is fundamental to a democratic society.

Lawyers are subject to codes of conduct

set out by our provincial law societies, serve as officers of the court, and swear oaths affirming our honesty and integrity in dealing with the court and with our clients. A few lawyers have betrayed their clients’ trust and their professional oaths by engaging in illegal behaviour. But our law societies, mandated to protect the public interest, expel them from the profession. Lawyers who break the law deserve to be punished The legal profession, and the justice system itself, are always looking to improve, and the CBA is at the forefront of those efforts. Our association has been fighting for better legal aid funding for 20 years; we helped initiate the first nationwide reform of the civil litigation system; we support our independent and unbiased judiciary through our own independence; and we commit resources to improving laws in Canada and ensuring access to justice worldwide. We do

this because we care about making the law real and accessible for everyone.

Let me quote from a message that one of our members sent me after the article appeared: “I appear for women and children in family courts in Manitoba. I provide assistance to people who need someone to listen and guide them through a challenging time in their lives. The morals instilled in me by

my parents are never checked at the door____

My mother was shocked when I told her that the article suggested that no one ever wants their child to be a lawyer. She is very proud of me, as is my whole family.”

Is that someone who deserves to be called a rat?

There are tens of thousands of lawyers across Canada who share this lawyer’s humanity, decency, and commitment to clients, and who deserve an apology. The Canadian Bar Association is proud to represent them and to fight on their behalf for the respect and fair treatment that every other Canadian receives as a matter of course. And I am proud, and always will be, to be a lawyer.

J. Parker MacCarthy, Q.C., President, Canadian Bar Association, Ottawa

WHILE I HAVEN’T (and won’t) read Philip Slayton’s clearly whorish book, my perspective from practising civil litigation law for 20 years with a large law firm (Calgary’s Bennett Jones LLP) gives me an informed position from which to offer a few jaded comments. If Slayton thinks all lawyers are rats, I submit his carefully considered waffling answer to your interviewer’s question as to whether he ever padded a bill clearly suggests that he is not only a rat himself, but a spineless weasel as well. His conclusions that the entire legal profession is amoral and unprincipled demonstrates to me that Slayton does not appreciate the fundamentally important concepts of evidence or proof. Gratefully, he was not appointed to the bench where his sloppy, loosey-goosey thinking could result in substantial injustice to litigants deserving of a fair adjudication of their case on the facts.

As to Maclean’s picking on lawyers to sell magazines, I challenge you to take a socalled principled stand next time you get sued. If all lawyers are corrupt and unethical, face your lawsuit as an unrepresented litigant. I would wager my subscription fee

that Maclean’s would not have the corporate stones to go to court without a rat lawyer by its side.

John L.Townley, Calgary

LAWYERS ARE NOT RATS. Lawyers are women and men who regularly provide leadership in communities across Canada, volunteer literally thousands of hours for kids and schools and hospitals and every good cause you can list. As a past winner of a national award for providing legal services for free to those who need it and cannot afford it, I am proud to say I am a lawyer.

Scott Stems, Merrick Jamieson Sterns Washington &Mahody, Halifax

READING YOUR interview, I was reminded of an incident when I hired a lawyer to handle the purchase of our house. After about three weeks, I accidentally met him in an elevator. I asked him how the house transaction was going and he answered, “Very well.” On my bill for services, I was charged for “client consultation.” This was the only time I saw him until the deal was finalized. Oh yes, I should mention, he is now a judge.

Darrell Carrigan, Bentley, Alta.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH is one thing. Yellow journalism is another. Shame on you for dignifying Slayton’s garbage. If there is a fraud currently extant it is your cover representation that Slayton is “a top legal scholar.” Morley L.Torgov, Barrister & Solicitor, Toronto

AS A BAY STREET lawyer who is leaving practice at the end of this month to begin an off-Bay Street job, I read with interest Kate Fillion’s Q & A with Philip Slayton. For a

number of years I have followed Slayton’s writing regarding the many challenges facing the legal profession. I agree with a number of his observations. Many lawyers are miserable. Although the financial rewards of practising law are considerable, there is also considerable stress. Long hours, unreasonable client expectations and the inability to find a satisfactory work/life balance can make the practice of law a very difficult thing to enjoy. I do take issue with Slayton’s statement that padding bills is a common practice. In my experience, many lawyers regularly under-record their time. Clients are no longer hesitant to express to their lawyers how expensive legal services have become and lawyers want to keep clients happy. This often puts pressures on lawyers to dis-

count the time they record on a file, particularly in litigation matters. A client faced with large legal bills ought first to look into the mirror and assess whether they themselves are contributing to the problem.

Lee Shouldice, Partner, Blake, Cassels & Graydon, Toronto

INDEED, LAWYERS are rats. Look what they did in the notorious case of O.J. Simpson. They successfully turned a murderer of a young mother of two children and her innocent friend into a free man who now spends his time playing golf.

Krishna Ballabh, Winnipeg

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that Philip Slayton has had a negative experience in the legal profes-

‘As Barbara Amiel remarked, the matter belonged in the boardroom, not the courtoom’

sion, an experience which I hope is not broadly representative. I appreciate he is calling attention to what he perceives to be flawed, however as is classically the case with those who lament and decry a particular state of affairs: on whom does the onus for change lie? With someone else.

Jacob Tummon, Articled Student, Badovinac, Scoffield, & Mosley, Port Alberni, B.C.

IT WOULD quite unfair to say that all editors would do almost anything to sell magazines, even though it is obvious that some editors will do almost anything to sell magazines. James Killam, Q.C., Killam Cordell Murray, Vancouver

BLACK DAY IN JULY

MY HEAD IS SPINNING: what were the jurors thinking (“Special report: the Black trial,” Justice, July 30)? As Conrad Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel, remarked, the matter belonged properly in the boardroom and not the courtroom. Instead, after more than three months of tedium, did this jury feel that they should have pinned something on him to justify the time and effort spent on the trial? Even before David Radler’s testimony, I was suspicious about how sound the case was. Toward the end, I lost faith in it completely and found myself rooting for the defendants on principle alone. I am a middle-class Canadian with a mortgage, kids, a cheap car and an incontinent dog; in sum, an average guy. I possess no overt affection for powerful figureheads and yet I am sympathetic to Black and his codefendants. It is clear that Black was guilty of not making as much money for some people as they preferred him to, hence the events that trickled, snowballed and finally avalanched to the verdict.

Peter Klambauer, Mississauga, Ont.

BORN INTO LUXURY, Conrad Black seems to have had an insatiable ego combined with hubris and a streak of knavery and perfidy that got him expelled from one elite school for stealing exam papers, and another school for arrogant and argumentative behaviour. The fact that he is convinced of his own infallibility, combined with his attitude of privilege and entitlement made it impossible for him to accept any criticism or admission of fault and caused his downfall. The man is so deluded that still, after all this, he cannot accept defeat.

Like his hero, Napoleon, he wants to escape Elba to fight yet another desperate battle. It saddens me that this otherwise outstanding man has been hoisted with his own petards. Sigmund Roseth, Mississauga, Ont.

THANK YOU for the special edition and the coverage of Conrad Black’s trial. Undoubtedly, many readers will complain about its length, but I found the issue a most interesting read. I guess the old cliché, character is fate, still applies to Black.

Hanka Martin, Calgary

CONGRATULATIONS are in order for Mark Steyn on his fine work covering the Conrad Black trial. Steyn’s balanced reporting was a breath of fresh air in today’s era of sensationalist, one-sided news. Whether it was his impromptu personal conversations with Lord Black during the trial, or just a regular cup of tea with Barbara Amiel, Steyn proved to be a down-to-earth voice that resonated with ordinary Canadians.

Kevin Quinlan, Vancouver

AS EDDIE GREENSPAN’S former law partner and being personally familiar with his work ethic, I feel compelled to respond to at least some of the many unfounded comments in Mark Steyn’s article. Steyn’s claim that Conrad Black didn’t testify because the defence was just too lazy to prepare him is nothing

short of laughable. Leaving aside the fact that Eddie’s unrelenting obsessiveness about work is widely known, the obvious facts speak loud and clear. Last time anyone checked, Eddie Greenspan had left his practice, his home and his family to spend months in Chicago defending his client. All the time in the world was spent on Black and his defence. As is wellknown, in the end, the decision to testify is solely the choice of the client, not the lawyer. A person not given to intimidation or backing down, Black obviously chose not to testify. My experience with Eddie is that he is completely and utterly devoted to his clients. Black likes the best that money can buy. His defence was no different. He got the best in Eddie Greenspan.

Marie Henein, Henein & Associates,

Toronto

CALLING BLACK as a witness would have been malpractice.

Leon S. Colwin, Colwin Gill, Barristers & Solicitors, Toronto

MARK STEYN’S commentary on the Conrad Black verdict used the term “miscarriage of justice,” which implies that there is at least a vestige of justice remaining within the American legal system. However, this vestige is quickly becoming nothing more than a lie. Where is justice in the Patriot Act? Where is justice in the extrajudicial detention ofprison-

ers at Guantánamo Bay? Where is justice in Black facing the possibility of serving a longer jail sentence than convicted rapists and murderers within Canada? Sadly, this mockery of justice has already wrongfully destroyed Black’s life. Most disturbing is the fact that he was not the first, nor will he be the last, to suffer from injustice, the “wedge designed to attack our civilization,” in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As a 14-year-old, I worry that my generation will come to accept the malfeasances we are surrounded by as the justice they impersonate, and allow this wedge to destroy us. Conrad Black’s trial serves as a warning of events to come, and I hope we heed it.

Thomas Slabon, Kitchener, Ont.

IT IS AMAZING how the Canadian establishment still defends this convicted felon. And especially so when Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in order to become part of Britain’s silly upper class. Good on the prosecution. I hope he serves at least 10 years. Peter Kagis, Victoria

WHY DO SOME Canadians delight in the downfall of one of our own? No one should take pleasure in another person’s misery. That is Basic Humanity 101.

Michael Dumbrell, Ottawa

IT’S PARTICULARLY disappointing to note that with so much space devoted to Black’s overblown case, the death of a philanthropic Canadian businessman, Ed Mirvish, merited only one brief paragraph in the magazine (In Passing, July 30). Mirvish was beloved by his employees and customers, and revitalized our biggest city’s entertainment district. Why not devote half an issue to him? Do us a favour; run one paragraph on Black

when he is sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Dave Ruch, Oshawa, Ont.

THIRTY PAGES on Conrad Black? Can we have a newsmagazine back now please? Patrick O’Brien, Surrey, B.C.

A HEAVY BURDEN

OKAY, SO ALBERTA and Ontario have got it half right: pay doctors more for operating on fat people (“The perks of treating the fat of the land,” National, July 23). But it’s coming at all taxpayers’ expense. Those who choose irresponsible eating habits and don’t exercise should not be subsidized by those who take responsibility for their bodies. They should bear all the costs.

David Moffat, Ottawa

ON THE FRONT LINES

AS A SOLDIER who returned from the front lines in Afghanistan this past March, it was nice to finally see some positive reporting on what is being done there (“Winning in Afghanistan,” National, July 23). Many of the small success stories that Sean M. Maloney writes about I witnessed on a daily basis, but when I watch the news on TV, it seems all they report on are fire fights and flag-draped coffins. And every time we have more casualties, the public and the politicians revisit the issue of why we have Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and want the troops pulled out. I can tell you there wasn’t one soldier I served with in Afghanistan who didn’t want to be there. Maybe it’s because like me, our soldiers witnessed good things happening every day and the turnaround they are making for that devastated country. The public needs more articles like this that more accurately portray

what the Canadian military is accomplishing. Keep up the great work.

Cpl. Rodney Grubb, Kitchener, Ont.

AN IGNOMINIOUS END

I LOVE THE END and I always read it first, but I think there are enough Canadians dying every day that there must be someone from our own country I can read about. So why did you do an American sword-swallower with throat cancer (The End, July 23)? What did he do that was so spectacular except abuse his body in sideshow spectacles that eventually led to his death? I have to say that in the past few weeks, the details about some of the people you have featured have made me laugh and other stories have made me cry, but this one I just didn’t understand. JenniferEnns, Sarnia, Ont.

IN PASSING

Ingmar Bergman, 89, filmmaker. Hailed as one of the 20th century’s greatest artists, his 54 films ranged from genial comedy (Smiles of a Summer Night) to profound examination of death (The Seventh Seal) and the experimental (Persona). He was also a theatre director, novelist and television writer.

Mohammad Zahir Shah, 92, king of Afghanistan. During his four-decade reign, Zahir Shah solicited economic development aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States, but his attempts to modernize Afghanistan failed politically and he was dethroned in 1973 by an ambitious cousin whom Zahir Shah had fired as prime minister a decade earlier.