Truth in Advertising

Lang Michener has set up a space on their web site called "Where the Future Comes to Grow" to allow articling students to speak to future articling students about their adventures at the big Bay Street firm. Some of the articling students who have worked on my file have posted rave reviews.

The context in which these submissions should be read is the virtually assured reality that the correspondents' most desperate aspiration as an articling student is to avoid the cull at the end of articles and to be asked to stay on as an associate. It is hard to imagine a context that could elicit more fulsome and fatuous praise. Although they are conceivably sincere, and I wish them well as the future grows, there is an aura in these paeans of muttered little nothings into the ear of the law firm one is trying to swiftly stimulate into the payload of a permanent position that evokes the joke that the only difference between lawyers and prostitutes is the clothes.

I have to say that I can empathize with the position, however. I know full well that law students graduate from my own law school, which charges $13,000 in tuition fees, with crippling debts that leaves many of them scrambling for years to just catch up to zero. We all know that a spin at a Bay Street law firm will get a graduate to zero faster (leaving very little of the graduating class's talent pool in a financial position to do legal aid, criminal defence work, public interest law, or any of the other law jobs more devoted to social justice.)

Let's imagine, for a moment, that the articling students featured on "Where the Future Comes to Grow" web site were able to speak honestly about what it's like to be an articling student at one of Canada's big Bay Street law firms:                     

Ernie: Hey Bert. What's up?

Bert: I just spent the last two and a half bloody hours sitting in the waiting room of small claims court to file those documents that I served on Drummond yesterday.

Ernie: Yeah, I had to do the same thing last Tuesday. You think you had it bad. Shane Hardy called me in on the long weekend because Joe D'Angelo dumped the Drummond file on him at the last minute and Hardy needed someone to help with research and drafting. I had been planning to head to my parents for New Years with my girlfriend but that got nixed. I was here all weekend. I can't complain, I guess. Shane Hardy had been planning to go on a skiing vacation to Banff with his wife for the last 6 months and he got a call from Miller at Rogers telling him that he had to call it off; the Drummond file had be served and filed on January 2 without exception. Miller had told Shane that there's no snow anyhow this year so it should be no big deal. His wife is fuming. She's been harassing him for the last two years that he told her he'd have more time for the family as soon as articles were done and he got a permanent position at Lang Michener. She just thinks it's a never-ending pile of bullshit after their holiday got canned. He's got it on the home front, and he's getting it from the partners on the work front.

Ernie: It's like this Drummond file is a Supreme Court case the way they're attacking it, eh? I just filed a massive response along with a whole accompanying volume of authorities.

Bert: Hey, I served Drummond with four volumes on Tuesday. I have to say, when she pointed out how obscene this is for a small claims court case, I had to chuckle. Let me tell you she also raised her eyebrows that Rogers was serving her with so much material 7 days before the trial. Too bad, so sad, I told her as I walked down off her porch; you know the law: the law doesn't care that we've had 4 months to serve, we're allowed to serve up to 7 days before the motion. I told her it was too late for her to send the stuff back to Lang Michener: she already had the stuff in her hands. Anyhow, you've got to admire Rogers' approach to litigation. I was talking to some of my buddies at Goodmans and let me tell you, Rogers has a reputation for never settling and for attacking every single law suit like a pit bull. And it works. How many times have you heard of Rogers losing?

Ernie: Anyhow, she's a bloody law professor. Like she doesn't know how the law works. We're not doing anything illegal at Lang Michener. We're complying with the strict terms of the law. Wasn't that what our law profs taught us to do?

Bert: You know it's such a successful strategy, coming on like a pit bull, that it almost makes me feel sorry for the losers who come up against us when we represent Rogers, especially the unrepresented parties. It sometimes feels like we're playing squash against a five year old.

Ernie: Yeah, well. You know all these consumers, they think that Rogers owes them something, as though Rogers is the government. Rogers makes the least little error on a billing or they have to wait two little minutes on hold and they're all screeching about how they're going to sue.

Bert: Anyhow, I find it kind of frustrating that we get stuck with all this small claims court nonsense. We never have a chance to really show what we learned in law school. I'm just dying to do an appeal. I don't remember having to study a single small claims court case in law school. Now I can see why: it's like swimming through a fog of petty trivia, like walking through a haze of gnats. If I get one more small claims court action dumped on me, I'm gonna be pretty pissed.

Ernie: Well at least it was Shane that asked you to help out. Have you ever done a rotation with Plumley in IP? He just rides every single articling students that come his way. He's a real hard ass. No wonder he's a partner at Lang Michener. He's prepared to screw anyone over who gets in his way. Do you know what Queen's Counsel means anyhow? I've never been able to understand what those letters signify.

Bert: It's just a pretentious piece of fluff. Ian Scott, when he was attorney general, got rid of the institution because everyone recognized that it was a massive patronage scam that the Tories were deeply into. You know it's not much better working for Shane, though. He's so nervous he's going to screw up the Drummond file he's driving me crazy. I had to nail down as many cases as I could on quashing summonses. And there's virtually nothing there. He kept sending me back to look for more. You know that Rogers is Lang Michener's biggest client, eh? Because Ted Rogers has been summonsed and Shane's the guy that's got to convince the motion judge next Tuesday to let Rogers out of appearing, Shane's just terrified Rogers is going to blow a gasket if Drummond wins. We've all kind of been informed that we may lose the Rogers file if we botch this whole thing any worse than we've already done. You know that Angus didn't even listen to that CD that Drummond put in her materials about Ted Rogers' cell phone being cloned by a group linked with Hezbollah?

Ernie: You're kidding!

Zack: I'm not kidding. She handed that recording over to us in October and Angus just sat on it for two months and then the shit hit the fan when the story broke in the Globe and Mail. Angus really took some heat. But you know, it's not entirely fair blaming the whole thing on Angus, because she gave a copy of the recording to Rogers' legal department in a copy of her legal materials at the same time. Nobody at Rogers listened to it either.

Bert: Holy shit. No wonder Rogers is treating this file like it's radioactive. Who knows what else is in this file ready to explode?

Ernie: Yeah, and then D'Angelo blew the summary judgment motion in October. Ted Rogers told him in no uncertain terms to make Drummond go away. He had steam coming out of his ears. He just can't believe how things have been screwed up on this at every turn. I mean, really, the very second they found out she was a law professor, they should have apologized profusely and given her a big credit on her account for the very suggestion that she might owe $14,000. I'd be pretty pissed if I was Ted too. Who's he got working for him at Rogers? A bunch of idiots? Anyhow, Ted Rogers is just beside himself with all the negative publicity. He basically ordered D'Angelo to get rid of the file. But D'Angelo convinced him we could do it by paying her half of the total claim. He convinced Rogers that the court would consider that cheque he sent Drummond as partial payment.

Bert: How did D'Angelo get that one so wrong?

Ernie: D'Angelo told me that the judge didn't even read his factum. D'Angelo put hours and hours into this stupendous factum, super drafted and argued. It cost us thousands and thousands because we told Rogers that we'd swallow all the legals on this file from now on seeing as we screwed up so badly on the first go around. So D'Angelo produces this legal masterpiece. And then when they got to court, the judge admitted that he hadn't even read the file.

Bert: Yeah, well, you know I heard that those small claims court judges get paid (you're never going to believe this): only $252 a day. A DAY! Can you imagine sitting there listening to all the shit that goes down in small claims court and only getting paid that little? No wonder they don't feel inclined to read volumes and volumes of pleadings.

Ernie: Oh god. Do you think it was smart, then, to file so many volumes on this motion?

Bert: I don't know. It's a total crap shoot in small claims court. It's like the worst place for Rogers to be. The judges see all these struggling unrepresented parties going up against hot shot lawyers and collection agencies. When they get an unrepresented party who actually knows the law, it's like pay back for all the times they've had to screw an unrepresented party because the the loser didn't have a clue about the law.

Ernie: Oh well, at least you can bill for sitting there at small claims court for an afternoon staring off into space. Don't you hate it that all the great unwashed at small claims court smell that we're lawyers and keep approaching us for free legal advice, like we're not so big in debt that we can just give it away for free?

Bert: Yeah. God spare me. And their legal problems are so mundane. Nothing with any interesting legal angles.

Ernie: Except this Drummond file.

Bert: Yeah. Boy, I never thought a small claims court file could turn so quickly into Nightmare on Elm Street for Rogers.

Ernie: Still, you know, we're the ones in the trenches with this case. We're the ones whose photos are going to go up on her web site. I don't think Lang Michener can pay us enough to take the heat for Rogers and Plumley and the other partners. Given our exposure, and with the number of hours that we put in a week (including the weekend), I kind of resent how much of my time is going in to pay for the partners and for all art work on the walls of Lang Michener. After all, we're being paid a salary, so when you factor in the fact that I've been spending virtually every weekend here till about 9 at night since I started articling, my hourly rate is pretty close to crap.

Bert: Suck it up buddy. That's the life.

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For a lethal follow up on how much grimmer Ernie and Bert's future as lawyers is likely to become, see Sathnam Sanghera's report in The Times about why lawyers are so miserable.