21st Century Lawyering: Arrogance v Humility

Posted by: NSRLP Category: Blog Comments: 13 Post Date: July 17, 2018

A guest blog by Tania Perlin, a lawyer working with SRLs and a member of the Self-Rep Navigators

I have realized over the years that being a lawyer has its perks.

As soon as I mention that I am a lawyer, certain disputes get resolved very quickly, such as being upgraded to a better hotel room when the hotel has made a mistake. Or getting a prompt response from a nursing home supervisor after I saw an attendant was speaking and behaving rudely toward my grandmother. Or negotiating a rapid follow-up by a medical specialist for my father when he was in the hospital.

I’ve often asked myself, what do people who do not have the social power that lawyers have do in these situations? Do they put up with attendants who may be rude and borderline abusive? Do they have to beg to see a specialist, as the time lag may be detrimental to their relative’s health? Do they not get upgraded when a mistake has been made?

If this is the case, then our society is more harsh than I like to think. And these scenarios may inflate lawyers’ egos, since they achieve results as a consequence of being a member of the legal profession, rather than from any special knowledge or skills.

This leads me to the next point. We have all seen that there are lawyers who behave in a manner that is not courteous, and is definitely not condoned by the rules of professional conduct. There have been many papers written about  courtroom civility – one case in particular, involving Toronto lawyer Joe Groia, has recently attracted a lot of attention. However, from my experience, these rules are rarely enforced, and judges do not punish rude or discourteous behavior (And, perhaps tellingly, the Groia case is about lawyer incivility toward other lawyers).

In my view, arrogant lawyer behavior is the consequence of a society that has developed a fear (and sometimes hatred) of lawyers. A once-noble profession has become feared rather than revered by society.

A perfect example comes to mind: I was sitting at a park one day, trying to take some time to relax. An elderly couple sat beside me, and in the course of conversation asked me what I do. When I said that I was a lawyer, the lady’s face changed and she said “I hate you.” Even though I knew that she said it in a joking manner, I felt upset that such a response would be elicited even as a joke. We all know that in every joke there is a bit of truth. I then felt I had to explain that I do a lot of charity work and that I am “one of the good ones.”  On further reflection, I found it very sad that I had to put myself into a certain category within my own profession. I don’t think there are any other professionals who feel as much of a need to explain to the public that they are “one of the good ones.”

The more I thought about that day, the more I realized that in my own professional experiences – whether in a law office or in a courtroom – I have met many lawyers who felt that if they shouted loudly enough, refused to listen to reason, hung up the phone, bullied the other side, and acted in a manner unbecoming a lawyer, it would increase the chances that the other side would get spooked and give up.

These lawyers do not win because they have researched the law and have the strongest case. They succeed solely through bullying, hoping that the other side will run out of funds or by scaring them into a settlement.

I also know that there are many wonderful lawyers, who truly do amazing work for their clients. However, the lawyers we hear the most about win in ways contrary to the long-established rules of civility, integrity, and wisdom upon which the legal profession was once based. As a result, many people have come to fear lawyers, rather than seeing them as advocates who can support them in solving their legal problems.

I come from a long line of lawyers. My great grandfather and his brothers were lawyers in Eastern Europe, when being a lawyer meant behaving with wisdom and integrity, and earning immense trust from their clients. They were not concerned about winning at all costs, or getting paid large sums of money. At times, they were not paid at all, as their clients were very poor. However, they loved their jobs, and they knew the law so well that winning was not a game of who was a bigger bully, but who had the skills and knowledge to succeed.

I once read that arrogance is thinking that you know everything, while humility is knowing too much and still feeling like you don’t know anything.

It is my hope that as lawyers and judges we are always ready to learn and to acquire as much knowledge as we possibly can, while acknowledging that we still don’t know enough. By being humble, and always wanting to learn more, we will be the best at what we do, and help create the equitable legal system that we so fervently believe in.

Humble lawyers have a chance of once more being defined by integrity, wisdom and knowledge – and winning back the trust of both their clients and society at large.


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Comments (13)

  • Andy Szabo

    Well your article advances the cause of lawyers that act like you talk. I think it fair to say that more lawyers “like to think” they live by your words.
    I used to believe that people were good.
    I used to believe that lawyers and judges were good.

    Are there more bad people, lawyers and judges? Or because of social media we just hear more bad stories?
    Unfortunately I really believe that more people are behaving badly because as you wrote “rules are rarely enforced, and judges (even society) do not punish rude or discourteous behavior ”

    SAD that people will overlook bad behavior. SADDER they condone it by blaming the victim. SADDER yet they condone because they “close ranks”, can’t be bothered to get the true facts etc…

    July 17, 2018 at 12:33 pm
  • Laura MacNutt

    What a refreshing acknowledgement . Thank you for your insightful perspective. As a recent SRL (not by choice but because I could not afford legal representation) in Supreme Court litigation, I experienced many layers of legal bullying. I would never have believed the ruthlessness which lawyers are capable of incorporating in the adversarial arena where I sought justice.

    July 17, 2018 at 1:08 pm
  • Derek T

    You are right. judges do not punish rude or discourteous behavior by Lawyers . I have seen where Lawyers has written rude , discriminating sentences in their court forms & judges do nothing about it even if a party brings it to the judges attention. Yet if a Lawyer brings this same complaint to the judges attention then that person( SRL) is a vexatious person !! ( Double standard for every thing ) I have seen a SRL who had more skills and knowledge better briefs etc. to succeed & win yet the judge turns it around in favor of the Lawyer ? There is no incentive for Lawyers to do good work & be knowledgeable or courteous as they win all the time any way !! I have taken many University courses on how to find the root cause of problems ,plus investigations, audits etc. & I will tell you until the judges are fire able , jail-able , & or fine able this problem(s) will only get worse. Perhaps now we all can work on the root causes & not just put band aides on some problems to give the illusion it is being fixed ??

    July 17, 2018 at 1:22 pm
  • Donald Best

    Good for you Tania. A pleasure to read such an honest piece about the legal profession’s transformation from protectors of ordinary citizens to a cabal of unaccountable noblility that maintains power through fear.

    You might be interested in my story, also published here at the NSRLP…


    … and at my website…


    Donald Best

    July 17, 2018 at 3:57 pm
  • Margaret Capes

    Very well said!

    July 17, 2018 at 5:57 pm
  • Bob Bryenton

    Thanks for your service. I have am seen the good and the bad lately. You are refreshing!
    Bob Bryenton

    July 18, 2018 at 9:38 am
  • Chris Budgell

    I’ve had a very long run of dealing with lawyers. It started just as we were entering the new century. I was treated to a display of arrogance by the very first lawyer I encountered. She was a union staff lawyer assigned to deal with the fallout of my employment termination by the City of Vancouver. I had to travel some distance to meet with her on two occasions at the union’s regional office.
    At one point in the second meeting she said to me, “you should sit back and take a good look at yourself”. What she wanted me to do was simply walk away from the fight. Why? I think the truth was that she had absolutely no confidence in her ability to handle the assignment. I was continuing to insist on proceeding with the arbitration that the local’s grievance committee had committed to in a meeting that I had attended. For the record here’s the “award” that was the result of that arbitration hearing: https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcla/doc/2000/2000canlii29345/2000canlii29345.html
    I’ve since seen a great deal more that suggests to me that the displays of arrogance frequently mask a fear of being exposed as incompetent. And that I think applies as much, if not more, to the judiciary.
    I’ve dealt with more judges than the vast majority of SRL’s and I’ve concluded that a great many of them – certainly the ones I’ve faced – don’t really know what they are doing. And I think the longstanding complacency of the judiciary is now mixed with a fear that the whole system is coming apart. That combination – of arrogance, complacency and fear – is a formula for disaster.
    The many initiatives I took subsequent to the arbitration hearing included complaining about the conduct of that union lawyer to the Law Society of B.C. The law society said she owed no duty whatsoever to me. That her real client was her employer – the union. That my status as a union member entitled me to nothing.
    Just over a decade later I filed with the Canadian Judicial Council a complaint about what I’d endured to that point at the hands of the legal profession . A copy of that complaint is online here: http://www.justice4you.org/gaffney/budgell_complaint_to_cjc.PDF
    I named a lot of people in that complaint, including that union lawyer. Anyone who reads that will see that what was initially a legal case of no particular note developed into what I view as an indictment of the system. And though I haven’t been to court in a number of years the story of what I’m pursuing isn’t over.

    July 18, 2018 at 12:54 pm
    • tom tupper

      there must be a way to get all the SRL’s together and fight against judge/lawyer corruption-when they case fix and we lose we then become vexatious if we dont give up or cant pay court cost.
      the nsrlp wont deal with judge corruption as the cause as to why we lose our cases so we need our own group and we need to sue for the right to use the courts-a constitutional right.

      July 26, 2018 at 2:34 am
      • sandra olson

        YES!!!!! Nobody wants to do what has to be done. Make this system accountable to the people who are coming to them for justice. We have tried asking the AGS, Both provincially and federally. The staff were rude, and had no interest in my comments about the way the courts went. please let me know if you have an idea. I have been thinking about that for some time now.

        July 26, 2018 at 11:54 am
  • P A Rempel

    “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Solzhenitsyn

    Hello Tania. I don’t think the public’s negative view of lawyers is as simple as there being “bad ones” and “good ones”; as Solzhenitsyn says, all people do both good and evil.

    Lawyers will reflect the communities of which they are a part; doing charity work, coaching hockey, running Brownie packs etc. The critical question is not “ Do lawyers do good?” but rather “How do lawyers act when a matter impinges negatively on them?”

    As examples:

    1. When a lawyer realises that she did not act competently in preparing a Power of Attorney, does she admit this?
    Or, does she declare that she has copious notes and rely on the prohibitive costs of a legal action to conceal her errors?

    When the lawyer’s clients have insufficient funds available to contest a passing of accounts motion for their PoA period, does she follow their direction to misappropriate funds to pay for litigation on the matter?

    2. When a litigation lawyer realises that her retainer for a passing of accounts motion has been paid with misappropriated funds, does she return the money?
    Or, does she accept additional misappropriated funds while asserting that allegations of fiduciary breach will be vigorously opposed in litigation?

    When a litigation lawyer receives bank/accounting correspondence contradicting assertions her clients made about significant sums of money, does she advise the opposing party that the proposed Minutes of Settlement are based on incorrect advice?
    Or, does she count on her foreknowledge never coming to light, withhold this advice and proceed with signing Minutes of Settlement which includes indemnities for her legal fees?

    3. When a litigation lawyer is advised that the opposing party to a motion has had surgery for breast cancer but wishes to attend the hearing before needing to return to Australia for radiation treatment, does he accommodate the request to have the hearing in the specified 3-week window?
    Or, does he agree but choose the latest possible date and then, after the opposing party has arrived, declare that he needs an extension of time and assert that there is no need for the opposing party to attend the hearing since she has legal representation?

    As you can probably guess from the specificity, these are not hypotheticals and, in the first two examples, I know that the women involved ARE very active in their communities. They are ‘good’ people; however, when it came to these legal matters, their self-interest was WAY ahead of whatever consideration was in second place.

    The Law Society of Ontario has a complaints system which theoretically addresses these matters through education and discipline. Hhmm.

    The LSO held a Regulatory Meeting about my complaints on the first matter. It took a great deal of nagging and almost 3 years before the LSO issued their finding. The results can be found on page lxxx of the 15 December 2017 edition of the Ontario Reports.

    My complaint on the second matter is somewhere in the LSO’s Enforcement section. This area is a Black Hole into which complaints go to be aged and from which no responses are emitted. Nagging is difficult because the LSO does not provide email details for senior managers.

    The third matter was dealt with by the Hamilton court system which knocked back the request to delay the hearing. (Thank you.) I don’t believe this is a Professional Regulation matter- it is more a lack of basic human decency issue and you can’t regulate that.

    So…..back in 2012 when all of this started, I had a reasonably positive view of lawyers and the legal system. Now I understand where the jokes about lawyers, lab rats and things lab rats won’t do come from…..

    I realise that lawyers have an obligation to zealously advance their clients’ interests. How the social norm of ‘treating others the way you want to be treated’ intersects with this obligation may be a matter for debate; however, I would still like to believe that most lawyers would have a standard of behaviour which would withstand public scrutiny. Lawyers’ behaviours certainly shouldn’t fail the W.W.L.R.D. test.


    P Anne Rempel

    July 20, 2018 at 4:38 am
  • Paula

    My ex choose the most obnoxious lawyer he could find simply because he thought this type of man was sure to win at trial ,also I discovered that this man had been disbarred for using client trust accounts that he was not entitled to and he also had to see a DR for anger issues ! I was an SRL and he was quite aware of my fragile health yet he would torment me by saying things like ” you had better quit now because you are going to loose and you will have to pay all my fees “,he also thought it clever to hand me a pile of case law to “study”, he lied ,missed dates etc .During the trial the judge told me I had done a very good job with my case law and suggested he start reading more current cases ! The pile of crap he gave me was from the 80s ,he promised my ex he would get him out of paying anything and did not even respond to my generous offer to settle ,big mistake ,I ended up winning on all points of law and was awarded 2x what I was currently reciving plus additional 300.$ .I have grade 11 education ,dyslexia and am suffering a chronic illness .Family law lawyers have earned the bad reputations they have ,they often are arrogant and think they know more than anyone else if they worked with thier clients they might have a better outcome IMO .Its not rocket science it’s just a system of complicated protocol that screws you up along with a host of antiquated details that make it hard to navigate ,I doubt most of these lawyers could even function without the support staff whom are paid a fraction that they get . And then they become politicians another wonderfull group we all can trust .It will take a lot of work to ever change the general perception that most lawyers just want your money ,family court ones anyhow ,I feel sorry for the up and coming who want to change this perception because frankly from my experience with duty council etc they may not be bullies but they still have a superiority attitude ,I found on more than one occasions that I was given wrong information or told that I was wrong about something instead of admitting they did not , only one young woman had the integrity to admit that as she had never herself conducted a trial and did not have an answer let’s hope she continues to practice family law and helps set a new standard .

    July 20, 2018 at 3:15 pm
  • Jason Lisburn

    Thanks for an inspiring article, I wanted time to concentrate my writing and to not repeat what others have said about the excellent description of ‘Them and Us’ that you have given. It clearly details that ‘Them and Us’ is not really about rich and poor; it’s about lawyers and non-lawyers.

    Most politicians are lawyers and it is these politicians that make ‘our’ laws (and there are soooo many ‘laws’) mostly to restrict the freedom of everyone else, as we all know lawyers always manage get off when breaking their own laws (part of being ‘Them’ is that the rules don’t really apply to ‘Them’). We also know that these politicians/lawyers ‘trade baby lives’ in ruling over us and determining who lives and who dies and which corporations get the biggest share of the peasant tax payer dollars.

    ‘Us’ has to hire one of these lawyers when we fall foul of one of these rules or are in a legitimate dispute with another person or corporation (but I repeat myself). The lawyer charges 10 times per hour than what most of ‘Us’ makes for a living; and they charge for EVERYTHING (15 minutes to read a single sentence email and then another 15 to respond with a single sentence reply). You attend an appointment at great expense with your lawyer and they have to be reminded about almost each and every detail of your case in order to address your pre-advised concerns, wasting your time and money because they don’t need to be prepared, just paid. Us/We are indentured, our earnings must go to the politicians and lawyers, even before your rent and food, particularly if you wish to any semblance of freedom or avoid systemic punishment.

    We all know we can’t afford to get in to confrontation or conflict with one of ‘You’, so we are obligated to bow and scrape and appease in our daily interactions with you so as not to upset or offend you for fear of your wrath. If we do, we might end up in front of a lawyer called a Judge, whose job it is to ensure the lawyers rules are applied and enforced to the best advantage of the lawyers and to ensure those lawyers in front of them get away with whatever they need in court without reprimand. These Judges are important, because as any lawyer worth his salt will tell you, your chances in court: “Just depend on the Judge and how he’s feeling that day’ – i.e. no better than chance)

    It’s slavery (or terrorism) by another name but because it’s couched in legal jargon and officialdom (these are the laws of the land, you know) it’s just an inherent part of our society now. The ‘beauty’ of such a system is that many lawyers don’t even stop to think of how pernicious it all is and their integral part as slave masters is. If they do, they almost universally, whole heartedly jump on the gravy train. (From my $450 ‘Family’ lawyer: “It doesn’t matter if you do or don’t go to trial, my kids won’t starve”). Like a secret society, even some of it’s members don’t realize the full extent of the ‘game’ but as long as they follow the rules, the game continues to the enrichment of those on the ‘right’ team. A prime example was the squashing of the bill attempting to ensure fathers are assumed equal parenting rights (“What and kill the family law game?” – No way the Family lawyers/politicians/Judges are gonna allow that cash cow to be slain!)

    Then there’s the SRL, the outright, bare-faced cheek for one of the unwashed to ‘play’ at being a lawyer is something that boils lawyers to the bone; how dare they not afford to hire me, how can you possibly come to a gun fight with a knife and a straight face? Nothing but distain and derision, as if we were from a different class of animal.

    The question becomes: now that this is explained, how do you feel, what will you do about it? You already do a lot of pro-bono work perpetuating the system, but what really need to happen is firstly, a deceleration of the pace of new ‘laws’ being produced (look for example at the ‘recriminalization’ of cannabis the lawyers are currently writing into law – this is not a ‘legalization’ of cannabis but a monopoly of it by ‘Them’ and continued freedom restriction against the common folk). Second is rolling back all the rules that exalt ‘You’ and to start returning freedoms to ‘Us’? Anything else is simply lip-service, something lawyers excel at.

    None of us is holding our breath that one day, a lawyer is going to stand up, be counted and turn against his tribe. It seems impossible, because every fresh faced university legal student wants to change the world for the better but can do no better than be absorbed in the system because, lets face it; it’s more attractive to live as one of ‘Them’, always on the right side of the law, than be one of ‘Us’ – always working hard to paying for ‘You’ to have it all.

    July 24, 2018 at 1:18 pm
  • Chris Budgell

    I have put it before that the legal establishment is in the process of demolishing its own house. The protection it has enjoyed by the political establishment and the media has only served to delay the day of reckoning.
    What has Jody Wilson-Raybould been doing since she accepted the federal justice portfolio? Google her name and you’ll find this – https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/minister-wilson-raybould-addresses-united-states-conference-of-western-attorneys-general-about-transformative-approaches-to-reducing-over-representation-of-marginalized-people-in-canadas-criminal-justice-system-688905181.html .
    None of Canada’s attorneys general are members of this organization. Like many politicians Minister Wilson-Raybould likes to travel, preferably internationally. They need distractions to keep them from thinking about what they should be but are not attending to.
    One file that is particularly problematic for the minister is the one regarding the Canadian Judicial Council. They don’t know what to do to save the CJC, so they are doing nothing.
    When I first approached the CJC with a complaint it was dismissed by Council member Neil Wittmann. The letter I received is online here: http://www.uncharted.ca/images/users/ssigurdur/2010_cjc_decision.pdf .
    I recently discovered what Mr. Wittmann is doing now post-bench: https://calarbs.com/the-honourable-neil-wittmann-q-c/ .
    Notice the last line about his engagement with the Canadian Football League while he was both a judge and a member of the CJC.
    My reading of section 55 of the Judges Act – http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/J-1/page-14.html#h-26 – says that this engagement was in contravention of that provision.
    I could be wrong, but I am going to try to pursue this further. If I’m right then I would say it is just more proof that the judges believe they are above the law.

    July 25, 2018 at 4:40 pm

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