How I learned to stop worrying and love my first client — pt. 2

  • Subtitle: Trial by Fire
Written by  Posted Date: June 13, 2016
How I learned to stop worrying and love my first client — pt. 2“The handshake

 Seals the contract

 From the contract

 There’s no turning back”

With these Depeche Mode lyrics on informal oral contracts playing in my head, I enter my client’s office. The synthpop of the legendary English band has obviously aged better than the kitchy ’80s decor now surrounding me. My client is hunched in his maroon leatherette office chair, banging away furiously on the keyboard of his desktop, his nose almost touching the screen. My presence doesn’t seem to distract him, nor does the blank stare of the soapstone seal on his desk.

I clear my throat. Once, twice, three times. Finally he turns his gaze toward me. His eyes widen, evidently surprised at how young I look.

- Tea or coffee?
Uh, coff . . .

- How much is this going to cost me?
That depends on  . . .

- Are we going to win?
There’s a good . . .

- Am I going to lose my house?
No.

- How long will it take to get a decision from the judge?
Judges have all the . . .

- Can I get an injunction to stop my neighbour from mowing his lawn on Saturday morning?
Uh . . .

- Have you thought about the corporate veil problem? Do you have any ideas on that?

Finally, a question I was expecting! Of course I’d thought about that. I think about it all the time. I even think about it in bed. That’s when some of my best ideas come to me. My problem isn’t having no ideas, it’s having too many . . .
 
“I’m taking a ride
With my best friend
I hope he never lets me down again
He knows where he’s taking me
Taking me where I want to be”

Back in my office, I think about the devastating effect that losing this case would have on my client, which gives me a sudden attack of vertigo. This was the onset of the dire condition known as YOLO — Young Obsessive Lawyer Overreacting syndrome — which junior lawyers with their first file are prone to.

The symptoms of this dreaded disorder are:
•    fear of failing;
•    the sense of being master of someone else’s destiny but not your own;
•    morbid attachment to work;
•    total lack of sleep; and
•    in acute cases, Depeche Mode earworms.
•   
My earworm is interrupted by the ringing of my phone, and the screen shows the number of the lawyer for the other party.

I answer in an eerily calm tone.

After the usual courtesies are exchanged, I begin to sense that my counterpart, without saying so, is testing the waters for a negotiated settlement in order to avoid going to court.

An hour-long legal fencing match ensues, and just when I’m ready to shout “Touché!” I see a pair of eyes observing me through the crack in my door. It’s the lawyer who’s supervising me on the file.

I’m beginning to think he has the gift of omnipresence. For some reason he finds it amusing to see me standing on my chair, waiving my arms about like a banshee while on speakerphone. Then, like a Jedi master, he vanishes.

Another round of parry and thrust ensues with my adversary, resulting in . . . zero progress. The upshot of our skirmish? A mutual undertaking to resume it in front of a judge.

Coach Kenobi is now in my office asking me to brief him on the status of the file and my meeting with the client. After I expound on the convoluted legal theory I developed while eating my Wheaties this morning, he correctly diagnoses a severe case of YOLO and gives me a prescription: Call some friends who are not lawyers, go chill with them over dinner or drinks, and DO NOT talk about the file.

“Strangelove
Strange highs and strange lows
Strangelove
That’s how my love goes”

I follow Kenobi’s prescription, and after gatecrashing an AcroYoga class at the park and playing a little pétanque at the old folks’ home in my neighbourhood, I go and have dinner with my friends who, after I remind them who I am, are delighted to see me. I have a great time and am in bed by 10.

Next morning in the taxi on my way to the courthouse, I feel much better, the Depeche Mode earworm my only remaining symptom, and it’s so catchy I hardly mind. I feel even better knowing it’ll be all over today after the judge decides.

My adversary is waiting for me outside the courtroom. He wants to continue negotiating until the judge is ready to hear us. We go into a private room and he makes an offer that meets all my demands from yesterday’s telephone duel!

I stare at him with my best poker face: “I’ll have to speak with my client.”

My client, obviously, accepts the offer. He can hardly contain himself on the phone and I sense his profound gratitude, which is the greatest reward there is in our profession.
****

As I’m walking toward the courthouse cafeteria to buy a chocolate milk to celebrate my victory in style, I see her.

It’s definitely her: my favourite barista from previous columns, Melissa. Code of procedure in hand. Deep in discussion with someone who appears to be a client. Wearing a black courtroom robe.

The barista was in fact a barrister! Cue music.

“It’s a competitive world. . . ”

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Julien Rheault

Julien Rheault practises civil and commercial litigation in the Montreal office of Langlois lawyers. He was called to the bar in 2015 and can be reached at  julien.rheault@langlois.ca.

Column: Trial by Fire

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