Back to law school 2022: Kindergarten lawyer | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (September 9, 2022, 11:13 AM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Back to law school? So why did you choose to become a lawyer?

My own voyage goes back to an indelible kindergarten incident.

Yes, it did have something to do with justice. I witnessed some kids swarming a classmate and snatching away his lunchbox. Almost instinctively, I demanded that they return it to the crying victim. In effect, I sought intervenor status. After listening to my eloquent plea, the rogues grabbed my lunchbox too, knocking me to the ground. At least they granted me intervenor status

I thought to myself, “This is not right.” I wanted so much to right the wrongs. How? I cannot say that at age 5, I thought, “That does it; when I grow up, I’m becoming a lawyer.”

I did not even know what a lawyer was. Unlike doctors, most kids have little need for lawyers. I even had a toy doctor’s kit: stethoscope, popsicle sticks, etc. However, I have yet to see a toy lawyer’s kit. Unlikely a bestseller at Toys R Us.

My first meeting with a live lawyer was as a teenager, when I accompanied my mother to see a lawyer over a new fancy dress some dry cleaner had ruined. The lawyer told my mom we were going to “fix that cleaner.” He asked her to leave the dress with him (exhibit 1, no doubt).

I was impressed by his confidence and demeanor and wished he had been with me during that lunchbox heist. He sent a fiery letter to that cleaning outfit, demanding compensation or else. The result? They ignored the admonition, and the case dissipated.

The lawyer’s bill to my mother, incidentally, was $10. That looked like a princely sum to me, given that my allowance was a nickel a day.

However, the financial rewards of the law were not the prime ingredient in me pursuing a legal career. Ditto most lawyers. I never heard a colleague say, “Yep, the law is a gold mine.” We all have loftier reasons, no doubt.

I will add that my mother never paid the $10. She reasoned she never recovered damages, so why pay. I guess this was also my first exposure to a unilateral contingency arrangement.

So why law school?

I knew I wanted to provide a valuable service, fixing wrongs. It came down to law or medicine; until that fateful day at Montreal’s Expo 67.

I attended the health pavilion where visitors would watch medical procedures films. There were warnings posted that some of these scenes were not for the squeamish. They even actually employed students who hovered around catching and reviving overly daring guests.

I was quite fine, until the open-heart surgery clip. I recall a sudden odd sensation, like my ears being sucked into my head. As a student darted over to make the catch, I dropped, mumbling something eloquent like, “Ugggh.”

The path was now cleared for a career in law.

I did however rationalize. After all, the legal profession is humbler than the medical one.

Doctors call many diseases after the name of some pertinent physician. I am talking about conditions like Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s and even the undercooked chicken disease, salmonellosis. (Actually, the latter doctor was a vet, Dr. Daniel Elmer Salmon.)

Lawyers, by contrast, give the clients credit for the landmark cases, referring to their actual names, not the lawyer’s. These include the iconic cases like Donoghue v. Stevenson (negligence), or Hadley v. Baxendale (damages). I have yet to see something like “Clarence Darrow’s Case.” We lawyers don’t hog the limelight. (McAllister Or Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932] C.C.S. NO. 150; Hadley v. Baxendale and Others [1854] C.C.S. NO. 11

However, the real world of lawyering did not always correspond to my Perry Mason visions of practice. I spent much of my articling year at a commercial and real estate firm. Accompanying a senior lawyer to the registry office to watch him convey a house never made me jump and shout, “Justice has been done. Yippee!”

This gets us to prestige: A factor in choosing law? Doubt it. The public’s view of lawyers is often ambivalent.

I once represented a person whose lawyer defrauded many clients. At the creditor’s meeting with the lawyer’s trustee in bankruptcy, one creditor asked whether the trustee was a lawyer. The trustee responded, “No, I’m an accountant. “The creditor said, “Phew! That’s good.”

Accountants one; lawyers zero.

Let me share the case that validated my choice of law. During my freshman practice year, an elderly gentleman named Morris, whose wife of many years died, retained me. The matrimonial home was registered in her name during her previous marriage. Morris, throughout the solid marriage, paid most of the expenses, including liquidating the mortgage. He now had special needs and limited funds.

Unfortunately, the wife, by will signed shortly into the marriage, left everything to her son living in Connecticut. The stepson/executor demanded that Morris forthwith vacate the home. We referred to him as, “The Connecticut Yankee.”

I devoted most of my hours to this case, trying to make justice happen.

Ultimately the trial judge ordered the Connecticut Yankee to pay a substantial sum from the estate to my client.

The boost of morale was indescribable, and it rarely left me. The case was also my first reported case. Morris said to me, “Your greatness will start with this case.” I’d like to say this prognostication was validated. But I will say there were other cases throughout that gave me that a similar shot of satisfaction, leaving no doubt that I had chosen the right career.

What I took away from it all was that my presence on this planet counted.

And I really didn’t care that that case was not reported as “Strigberger’s Case.”

Good luck to all in law school.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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