Time to Stop Turning a Blind Eye to Poverty

I am writing this post from poolside at a five star resort in Mexico as my children frolic about in the pool. I have the good fortune to be able to take regular vacations of this nature with my children. Every time I do so I am reminded of how lucky my kids are to be raised in Canada, and by affluent parents at that. For children raised in such an environment, we cannot always blame them when they take their material comforts for granted. But far too many adults in our own country take such materialism for granted. We ought not to be so smug.

Those of us in our own country who are middle class or above must stop turning a blind eye to the daily poverty and hunger in our own cities. Yes, poverty exists in every country in the world, but when my son’s school raises money for African aid every year and refuses to sanction a clothing drive for the disadvantaged in their municipality, it is a stunning example of the blind eye of which I speak. I am not suggesting that aid to other countries is not important, but when schools in good neighbourhoods indoctrinate our children with the belief that poverty, disease, illness, drugs and crime are afflictions of faraway lands, it only ensures here at home the perpetuation of the cycle of apathy amongst the “haves” and poverty amongst the “have nots”

Much has been written in the Toronto media of late about guns, gangs and violence, but nobody in the mainstream daily media has mentioned the root cause of most of the problems. Poverty and hunger. And those who complacently think these problems don’t affect them couldn’t be more wrong. It affects all of us. Until we ensure no child goes to school hungry, that they have mentors and role models to show them the benefits of study and hard work,  that we pay those who want to work a living wage, and have an abundance of affordable housing, crime will continue to increase as economic prospects of the marginalized decrease. It is an affront to the dignity of our Canada. Admittedly, it is also much easier to write about than to actually effect large scale change.

But what can be changed by each and every one of us immediately is the way we view our place in society and the arrogance with which we behave when it comes to our everyday lives. Think about the daily minutiae of your life. Do you treat each and every person you deal with throughout the day with dignity and respect? I don’t just mean the people you are forced to such as your clients or your boss, or those you consider to be worthy of your respect, but also the person who serves you your morning coffee at Tim Horton’s, the gas station attendant, the restaurant server, your nanny (I know families who make the nanny cook and eat a separate meal from the family- imagine the contempt for human beings those kids will develop!)  Do you shell out hundreds of dollars a month for a car lease so you can drive a luxury automobile but balk when a colleague hits you up for a $20 charitable donation? Do you constantly get upset about things you have no control over- a delayed airline flight, a traffic jam on the highway? And has your frustration ever changed the situation? Remember that our children learn not by what we tell them, but by watching how we behave. Most of my teacher friends tell me they know long before the first parent-teacher conference of the year what each child’s parents will be like just from observing how a child treats those around her.

Until each of us adjusts our attitude in our daily lives and stops living with a sense of entitlement, the bigger issues our society faces cannot begin to be solved. And even if those larger issues will not be resolved in our lifetime, our own lives will be so much happier and more meaningful if we awake each day with a view to treat one another with dignity and respect. Until then, we risk our children growing up self-entitled and becoming the next generation that continues to look the other way at the less fortunate in our country.

Time for the Profession to Talk about Depression

In any given year, according to StatsCan, approximately 5% of the population will experience a major episode of depression. Almost 10% of us will suffer from such an illness at some point in our lives. Depression is the fastest rising medical diagnosis in Canada and accounts for over 11 million doctor visits a year. Add to this burden on our system the lost work productivity and it is clear depression is an issue that needs to be addressed as a society at the macro level. However, on a micro level, the legal profession is even worse off. It is estimated by some studies that lawyers will suffer depression at 3 times the rate of the population at large, yet are far less likely to seek treatment for it.

As lawyers, we are entrusted with our clients’ most significant assets, from their liberty, their access to their children, their finances, and their businesses. Their problems become our problems. There are the expectations (often of others in our lives) of a particular lifestyle, the very real pressures of billing, long hours away from family and friends, the increasing expectation with technological advances that we must always be available and that everything needs to be done yesterday. Not to mention for litigators an increasing lack of civility on more and more files. As such, the most surprising thing about the recent statistics is that the numbers are not higher.

The potential to cause costly and often irreparable harm when our own mental health issues prevent us from dealing with our clients’ matters and our law practices timely and appropriately cannot be overstated. Yet the fear of “coming out” as someone suffering from depression is terrifying to most lawyers. I remember thinking when I was suffering some years ago, “These people are trusting me to solve their problems and I can’t even handle my own life. What will everyone think of me? My clients, my colleagues, my sources of referral. Will they all turn against me, blacklist me, be afraid to deal with me? Will the Law Society get involved?” This is what is going through the minds of hundreds of lawyers at this very moment.

As a profession we need to recognize this problem and deal with it in terms of education, understanding and a change in mindset about how we view ourselves as lawyers. This has to start with the law schools, the Law Society, the large firms, and the most senior and successful members of the Bar. We need to pay more than lip service to the concept of work/life balance, accept new economic realities, and learn to see our jobs as an integral part of our lives, but not our defining trait.  Most importantly, the stigma of depression needs to be lifted. It is time for all those of us who have suffered, overcome our difficulties, and thrived,  to come out for the benefit of those still suffering in silence. It needs to be seen as strength of character to say “I need help” as opposed to weakness of will.

Oh Where Have All the Good Mentors Gone?

In the legal profession, as in many other professions, the art of mentoring is being slowly replaced by practicums, co-op placements, and a form of articling where the focus is on billing as opposed to learning. I know of very few firms anymore that will pay a decent salary to allow a student-at-law, in return for for shlepping volumes of materials, the privilege of sitting and observing a day or two of a serious trial or complicated motion. And I do mean observe. Not take notes or chase down some last minute research, but just sit and take it all in. I dare say I learned more in 2 days in the gallery of a courtroom at the old 145 Queen Street West family court observing an acrimonious divorce trial (are there any other kind?), where the wealthy but estranged spouses were represented on one side by my mentor, the late (all too soon, sadly) H. Douglas Stewart, Q.C.  and the esteemed Malcolm Kronby, than I did in 3 years of law school. I was afforded the opportunity to witness: the style and substance of oral advocacy at its finest; the art of simple but effective cross-examination; the obvious and not so obvious benefits of knowing your case inside-out and backward; as well as a perfect interplay of fearless advocacy and courtroom decorum; not to mention the civility with which the each litigator treated his adversary and his adversary’s client.If what I see of young lawyers in court and at discoveries lately is any indication, I can infer that all too often this sort of mentoring is not part of most firms’ articling programmes. True, being an effective mentor comes at a short term financial cost. It takes you away from otherwise billable hours. It means there are times where you could have your student, junior, law clerk or paralegal at their desk producing but instead you take them to court with you. However, in the long run this will pay high dividenends to your firm, your clients, and you personally, not to mention the profession at large. And we all owe that to each other and the public who place their trust in our hands. After all, good mentoring, not unlike good parenting, is more about leading by example rather than by lecture.


Interesting debate over LSUC paralegal regulation in Law Times this week: http://www.lawtimesnews.com/201207169220/Headline-News/LSUC-touts-success-of-paralegal-regulation .

The concern seems to be that the LSUC is allowing too many schools the accreditation to graduate paralegals without regard for the realities of the economy. It is not just paralegals who should have this concern. With the lack of availability of good articling positions, many young lawyers are about to find that they are in the same situation as those of the paralegals.


Welcome to my blog,

While I don’t expect to ever dispense the type of wisdom on this blog that you will find on the blogs of my professional colleagues Ernest Guiste  http://ejguisteonlawandjustice.blogspot.ca/ or James Morton http://jmortonmusings.blogspot.ca/.

I do  intend from time to time to blog on current legal, political, and life issues. I will also use this blog to post links to noteworthy articles from other sites. I hope in the fullness of time to create something that will make visiting this blog worth your while.