Pulp friction

  • Subtitle: Trial by Fire
Written by  Posted Date: January 30, 2017
Pulp frictionOne, two, three, four, five and six diagonal strides; one, two, three and four double poles. Now don’t forget to breathe. Thanks to my trusty, freshly waxed wooden Rossignols, my ascent of Mount Royal is proceeding apace.

Urban cross-country skiing is my favourite pagan ritual to celebrate the winter solstice.

The temperature is precisely -4 °C, according to my smartwatch, which is also obligingly calculating the distance I’ve covered as well as my heart rate, the rapid rise in which painfully reminds me that my level of physical activity in 2016 was inversely proportional to that of my intellectual exertions.

One, two, three, four, five and six diagonal strides; one, two, three and four double poles. And don’t forget to do your laundry.

Ah, minus four Celsius! The perfect temperature for cross-country skiing since, as everyone knows, the static friction and kinetic friction coefficient ratio is then optimal — it’s practically poetry in motion! And I can feel the hyggelig warmth of the thermos of Honduran coffee in my back-pack, masterfully brewed by my friends at the Humble Lion. My happiness index is at its peak.

One, two, three, four, five and six diagonal strides; one, two, three and four double poles. And don’t forget to water your office plant, Lily.

At the top of Mount Royal, I’m virtually alone. Taking a sip of Honduran elixir from my thermos, I scan my surroundings, looking for the bold and brazen squirrels who terrorize snack-laden outdoor enthusiasts up here on the mountain. But my splendid isolation soon prompts me to reflect back on the year that just was.

No question, 2016 was a wild, tumultuous, event-filled year — a tornado of . . .

The revelry of my ringing smartphone interrupts both my reverie and the Icelandic techno-pop coursing through my Bluetooth earmuffs. I free my hands from my pole straps and answer using my smart glove:

-    Yes, hello?
-    Mr. Rheault, this is Mr. Flint. I’ve just gone over your firm’s billings over the past year and I have a few questions about the budget I thought we’d agreed upon this time last year, which appears to have been . . . (pregnant pause) badly blown.

Mr. Flint is a major client with whom I normally get on very well. But his unusually formal tone indicates something is amiss. Sometimes lawyers really need a sixth sense to understand what their clients are not telling them.

-    Mr. Flint, I’d be happy to meet with you to discuss this in detail. Would you be available in a few . . .
-    In a few minutes — yes, perfect. I’ll be waiting for you in the restaurant.
-   OK, but, um, I’m in the middle of something right now, so I’ll be there in half an hour.

I’ll have to finish my retrospection later: duty calls! I slip my hands back into my pole straps and:
 
One, two, three and four diagonal strides; one, two, three and four double poles. Double pole. Double pole. Double pole. Double pole. Double pole. Double pole.

And don’t forget to buy saffron for your risotto Milanese.

175, 176, 178, 180. What’s the normal heart rate for someone my age? Be that as it may, after twenty minutes of double poling I have gone from the top of Mount Royal to the Golden Square Mile. I enter the upscale restaurant — out of breath and sweat sodden — to meet with my client.

-    Mr. Flint — so good to see you! Please forgive my appearance, I just finished cross-country skiing.
-    Splendid! And how is my friend?
-    Um, I’m not sure. You’d have to ask him. Which friend are you talking about?
-    Ha ha ha! You of course! Come, sit down and have some borscht my friend, some nice hot borscht to buck you up. Émile! Bring my friend here some borscht, on the double!

While inhaling my soup, I listen attentively to Mr. Flint as he explains why he’s convinced our latest invoice to him must have an extra zero or two tacked on at the end. Man this borscht is good — perfect après-ski food!!

I then calmly explain to Mr. Flint that lawyers have to try and achieve a balance between their desire to do impeccable work, which requires time, and the financial constraints imposed by the client and the monetary stakes of the file. This requires us to be ultra-efficient and also cover all angles — a tall order to fill. And sometimes, because of the issues involved, we practically have to re-invent ourselves to get on top of them: Time is money, but money is not time.

Another challenge is that we often share the litigation stage with opposing counsel who are past masters at the art of stalling for — and buying — time. More often than not, our counterparts prove to be specialists at procedural delay and obtaining deadline extensions, and you have to give them credit for their boundless imaginations and creativity.

My explanations appeared to be as finely honed as the waxing on my Rossignols, creating a sufficiently calibrated kinetic friction coefficient to keep me from losing control on this slippery slope of justifying budget overruns. When we finish our espressos at end of the meal, Mr. Flint is still a client.

Emerging from the restaurant back into the wind and cold, I put my Bluetooth earmuffs back on for a dose of Dutch post-punk, but instead I get the urgent ringing of my smartphone: it’s Melissa. Well, well — haven’t heard from her since I had to have a sea cucumber removed from my throat with forceps. I answer with a voice unobstructed by unsustainable seafood . .

TO BE CONTINUED

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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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