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Found at last: The missing blink | Marcel Strigberger

Friday, December 17, 2021 @ 2:44 PM | By Marcel Strigberger


Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
As lawyers, do we ever experience trouble or suffer problems? Unlikely. But how about making a new year resolution to prevent trouble or unnecessary problems?

Albert Einstein said, “Intellectuals solve problems. Geniuses prevent them.”   

I recall my first day as an articling student. My principal Hank sent me to the registry office to close a house deal with a lawyer, a “Mr. Buckley,” much my senior. This involved handing him a deed and keys in exchange for a certified cheque. As I proceeded with trepidation, Mr. Buckley sensing my anxiety remarked, “As a lawyer you always have to be tough. Take no prisoners.”

This comment took me aback. What was I supposed to do here and now to act tough? Throw the keys out the window?    

I related that chat to Hank, and he said, “Remember, in our profession one party might make war on another party. Do not make war on the other lawyer.”

Fortunately I followed Hank’s sage advice and I developed some routines to deal with problems and troubles some of which I wish to share (the routines, not the troubles).

Firstly I found it useful to keep my ego at the door. It was OK to blink first. Often clients would attend with letters from their spouse’s lawyer, spouting vitriol, reading something like, “My client will not condone your monstrous acts.”

I would not hesitate to call the other lawyer and introduce myself as representing that resident of Loch Ness. It broke the ice. Often the case concluded with a speedy resolution saving the clients money and us avoidable aggravation.

I never regretted blinking first. Digressing slightly, likely my most important first blink was my marriage proposal. I made my pitch to Shoshana while inside the Humour Pavilion at Montreal’s exhibition, “Man and His World.” I figured had she said “no,” I would have responded with, “Only kidding. This is the Humour Pavilion.”

True, I did have that safety net for my ego. But worthwhile blink.

And if you do mess up, apologize. It will not diminish your toughness. Never mind Mr. Buckley.

Mark Twain said it best:

“Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”

I had a nasty family law mediation once where the opposing lawyer called my client a “contemptible cretin.” While I pondered my response, my client said to me, “Marcel, don’t go there. Rise above all that.”

Somewhat rattled, I asked the other lawyer to step out, and I said, “Surely Harold, counsel of your ilk is capable of better than that.”

Harold reflected for a minute, returned and apologized.               

My client and I both felt vindicated.

If you are wrong, own up to it. (Fortunately Harold did not exercise Mark Twain’s suggested opportunity to “commit more.”)

More about apologies. A mere explanation is not an apology.

We were on a cruise once on the second level deck when our sleep was interrupted by a little clanging noise. Actually it sounded more like our bed was lodged inside Notre Dame’s 12-ton bell.

I complained to guest relations and the “guest relater” confidently calmly explained saying something like, “Oh yes, that’s the fourth ballast cadiddle buttressing the intermediate engine on the port side.”

“Of course,” I said, “That’s helpful. Now at least I’ll know why I won’t be getting a wink of sleep on this cruise. Thanx”.

Don’t just rationalize it. Fix it.

And speaking of machines going wrong, this brings me to my major pet peeve; technology. Though I appreciate its value, I am a technophobe loathing our total dependence on it. I won’t say I am a Luddite however if I were living in Salem, Massachusetts, I would circulate a petition to go after Siri.

I am now a boomer, happily retired from law practice. But while in the trenches, I noticed several common problems especially relating to e-mails.

Firstly lawyers often feel compelled to respond instantly. And too often, after cooling off, they regret doing so. The “undo” feature lasts for only seconds. It would be nice if these replies could contain a caveat saying something like, “I reserve the right to recant that anatomical reference.” Alas!

Another problem is recipient boo boo. A colleague once meant to address an e-mail in an emotionally charged divorce matter to his client Marcus. After keying in “Marc” his system sent it to “Marcel,” a.k.a., yours truly. It contained sensitive property and custody recommendations. I called him admonishing that he be more careful adding that I would not give up custody as he suggested, of the family beagle Bentley.

And most important in our quest to avoid trouble is to maintain our sense of humour.  We all have one. To paraphrase Stephen Leacock, we just have to kindly observe the incongruities of life. You need not be a Seinfeld, or attack anybody or tell jokes. 

For example I once dealt with a fax obsessed lawyer. Our office received multiple faxes from him almost daily. We referred to him as Dr. Fax. Whenever we heard the fax whirring, our staff would chuckle saying, “Must be Dr. Fax doing another office call.” Or “What is he prescribing now?” One day there were no faxes from him. My assistant said, “The good doctor must be out golfing.”

This playful attitude cleared the air, boosted morale and helped avoid tension.

However, nothing works all of the time to prevent trouble. Einstein aside, I also respect another renowned philosopher Yogi Berra. He noted, “The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.”

Still, I hope some of my thoughts about preventing unnecessary hassles have been helpful. Does achievement of this goal make a sensible year-end resolution? No problem. 

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His just launched 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.

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