Sunday, August 23, 2009

It All Adds Up

I don’t know what it is, whether we’re just very good at what we do, or whether my capable Assistant, Miss N..., gives so much valuable and unaccustomed service, or whether after all these years I’ve finally learned how to run my office, or maybe a combination of all of the above, but whatever it is, things have gone along so swimmingly today, to the point where, after a mere five and a half hours of intensive labour, I told Miss N... that I was exhausted by it all, and that whatever we had to do could wait until tomorrow, though in fairness to my apparent laziness and avoidance, we together accomplished a good deal this morning and early afternoon, and in the process I even went so far as to tackle the essence of what awaits us on our agenda, which in itself is very relieving, an undertaking which clearly obviates the pain I might otherwise suffer in mere idle contemplation of our upcoming duties.

If the truth be known, the majority of my current Clients are dead, so the compelling feature of the retainer is somewhat lacking, if you see what I mean, though I naturally feel obliged to their associated estate trustees and residual beneficiaries. As for the more commercial matters, like real estate transactions, it must likewise be admitted that the earliest closing date is months in the offing, which, though I intend to prosecute the matter sooner, gives us ample time to address even the most moot points of law and refinements of tax liability, Goods & Services tax and what have you.

Meanwhile I enjoy the advantage of a respectable "book of business" (if I may be forgiven for employing the vulgar expression) arising from over thirty years of practice dedicated to the interests of local business proprietors, whose annual maintenance provides unexpected returns with seemingly little effort, although I recognize the cultivation of the clientele and the prolonged attentiveness to their collective affairs has not come without a cost (nor a price, if I may again lapse into the vernacular).

I was interested to read in an article recently published by the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (translation: the people who insure lawyers’ negligence) that the majority of errors and omissions are caused by lawyers who have practised law for less than five years and for more than thirty years. Well, there it is in black and white! I am now a statistical liability to my Clients! In my mind, however, I imagine that the old fogeys who constitute my colleagues at the upper end of the spectrum are most likely to have a very different environment in which to work than I do. Arrogant as this may sound, allow me to circumscribe that collection of nit-wits by recalling that the majority of lawyers in this Province are sole practitioners; that is, the number of old lawyers who practice law in large firms on Bay Street is very few, and indeed they may have the privilege (as I have heard many of them do) of ensuring that they do nothing difficult, and that they give all the complicated work to their juniors, which of course nicely deflects the possibility of liability suits, quite aside from eliminating stress. On the other hand, for the majority of those of us who are still on the front lines of Main Street, I suspect the terrain is considerably less smooth than that of the golf course where the other senior partners travel shortly after noon each day when the first martini is destined to arrive. Further, most aging practitioners may well have abandoned the contemplation of "continuing legal education" and "technological advances" as being either superfluous, tedious or an outright waste of time (not to mention the very real and pressing possibility that they’ll never amortize the cost of it). While I’ll admit there was a time when I considered that a computer wasn’t really a necessary element of my practice, that astounding bit of ignorance lasted no longer than a matter of a few months before I succumbed to my curiosity and purchased the first of many computers which I have subsequently acquired. Since then, computers and software have become like a drug for me, an insatiable fount of capabilities with unending possibilities. Almost as a game, I ensure that I accept the non-stop invitations of various software specialists to attend their in-house demonstrations and on-line web casts, once again to satisfy my curiosity. And let me be clear that not every proposal clinches my interest; I have also learned in the process that, as much as I enjoy driving a fine automobile, I don’t need a race car to get from here to there, at least in my small practice. Likewise, as a complement to the technology, the production of useful and complete documentation (which of course is among the foundations of any solicitor’s practice) demands an acquaintance with on-going developments in the law, a.k.a. "continuing learning". Nevertheless, as trite as these observations may sound, they, like any visceral project or intellectual prosecution, are driven by an appetite. Herein lies the demarcation between the uncaring and the everlasting, for without an appetite for law and all that that entails, including the business of running the practice, no man or woman can be expected to sustain an interest in these themes of knowledge and technology which are such common refrains from the Law Society of Upper Canada; you might as well try force feeding a dying animal.

The disadvantage (and there always is one) of unbounded dedication to one’s practice and its continued development, is the exceedingly palpable threat that one doesn’t otherwise have a life so to speak, though personally I sense the misgiving is more in the heart of the dilettante than the converted, which is as much to say the difference between form and substance. For those of us seasoned practitioners who continue to nurture the body and soul of our practice, there is little else that even begins to compete with the preoccupation. Like the extraction of an essence from fine herbs and flora, the daily improvement of one’s practice becomes a source of remarkable pleasure and enjoyment, imparting a delight not only to oneself but to others within the sphere. Certainly there will be those who have far different objectives for their years beyond sixty; who have little inclination to repeat what they have done for an entire career already; who fathom that they have accomplished all that there is to be done in that realm. But to the stodgy old lawyer who rejoices in the awakening to the new-found commitment to his clients, who relishes the conviction to tell his or her clients what is actually good for them (quite apart from what they want to hear), who sees the pay-off of time and energy is insight and wisdom, for those lawyers, there is still much to attract. This direction is not without its limitations, the refinement of one’s niches and interests, the happy recognition that one need no longer be all things to all people. The mathematics of the practice of law begins to kick in, the knowledge that numbers don’t lie, that 2 + 2 = 4 anyway you look at it. For some, it’s as simple as that. It all adds up.

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