‘You’re a lawyer. Lawyers scare me’ | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (January 6, 2023, 2:35 PM EST) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Shakespeare said, “First let’s kill all the lawyers.” This type of sentiment might make someone think twice before applying to write the LSATs. Now here’s the good news. I would say the public is actually afraid of lawyers. Nice!

Most of us have little or no contact with lawyers during our childhood.  

My first communication with a lawyer was as a teenager in Montreal after visiting a dentist. He fixed a filling and sent us a bill for $25. My father, a humble tailor, thought the bill was outrageous. We sent the dentist a cheque for $12.50. My dad reasoned going 50/50 was fair. 

This offering did not sit well with the good dentist. He telephoned us. A heated conversation ensued. I don’t recall it all but I do remember my dad telling the dentist he would not rip him off like this were he to alter his pants.

Shortly thereafter we received a letter from a Jacobsen, Samuels and Lafleur (or something looking like that) saying Dr. Silverman retained them to recover a debt of $12.50. In addition, they claimed $15 for the cost of the letter.

Uncertain what this all meant we took it to our rabbi who explained to us that this was a “lawyer’s letter.” He said they are demanding a total of $27.50 and if we don’t pay it they may take us to court.

My father was not shaken. He said, he would tell the judge he was a World War II veteran and a good Canadian citizen and that $12.50 was more than fair to fix one small tooth. It sounded like a good legal argument to me. My dad obviously had a natural sense of the concept of quantum meruit.

After further discussion with the rabbi about the potential hazards of litigation, my father reluctantly agreed to offer $5 additional. We had the rabbi relay the offer, and it was actually accepted. In retrospect, I wondered why they settled for $5 of a $27.50 claim. Maybe they were spiritual, afraid of the ramifications of rattling the rabbi. Who knows?

My father was impressed by the lawyers claiming $15 “just for writing a letter.” He said he hoped the extra $5 would go to the lawyers, not the dentist. He also told me to consider becoming a lawyer. He said these guys can squeeze you like a lemon. I took serious note of his wisdom. And here we are.

Actually lawyers do generally get treated with deference. I found whenever I used to call a doctor’s office on a case, dropping my professional standing often got me a quick response.

True we usually get a voicemail message saying something like “We’re busy right now. If this is a medical emergency call 911. Otherwise, please leave a message, you peasant.” (OK, but often judging by the gatekeeper’s smug tone, you can readily infer that part about the peasant.)

However, the response is different when I leave a message saying something like “I am the lawyer for George Bentley, malpractice matter” I get a speedy return. Their voice message may as well say, “And if you’re a lawyer calling, please press two. The doctor is in surgery. But then again the patient won’t mind; he’s asleep anyways.

I actually had a treating specialist physician who said to me, “You’re a lawyer. Lawyers scare me.”

I thought he was joking. Then one day I sent him a letter on my office letterhead with some questions about the treatment options he was suggesting. His reaction was to write to my family doctor noting he could no longer keep me as a patient as he felt threatened. I have no clue why. I didn’t even demand $15 for my letter.

It does help to let people know you’re a lawyer. Recently my good wife opened a can of sockeye salmon and noticed what looked like glass fragments. She did not eat any. She sent an email to customer service and the company replied that these glass looking pieces were actually “struvites,” namely transparent harmless chemical compounds common in canned fish. They trusted she would continue to enjoy their salmon. They offered no compensation. This did not sit well with me.

Though retired from practice, I brushed off my armour. I sent the company an email noting that most people never heard of struvites. The stuff looked like glass to us, and almost ingesting same is a good recipe for alarm, anxiety and mental shock. I added “I trust we need not escalate the matter. I signed it Marcel Strigberger, “barrister, solicitor and avocat.”

Within a day or two I received a reply from the company’s risk management office. They apologized for any inconvenience saying that though the struvites are safe to ingest, they were prepared to make amends by sending us a $100 voucher for a grocery store along with a case of sockeye salmon. They also trusted we will continue to enjoy their salmon.

This was not good enough. I wanted more. I expected them to say something like, “We do not take product complaints seriously. We usually brush off all complainants. However, if we hear from a lawyer, that’s different. We listen.”

My good wife suggested we don’t push it. We accepted their offer. But I know for sure the “barrister, solicitor, avocat “part propelled them into action.

Mark Twain said, “Always do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Maybe this is why the public might be apprehensive about lawyers. Because in this imperfect world, we aim to let right prevail. Who knows? 

Meanwhile, I am pleased to say we are indeed enjoying those complimentary cans of sockeye salmon.

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 www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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