Should lawyers always adhere to the law?


As a child growing up in Montreal we had problems with a neighbor. Madame Poirier had a large mut named Roger that she allowed to roam the land. Roger did his business in our yard. It led to frequent confrontations between my mother and Madame Poirier, who insisted Roger was simply doing what dogs do.

Roger dropped a large calling-card next to our prized tomato bush one autumn morning as both women were raking the leaves. My mother was not happy about this.

My mom pointed her rake at Roger accusingly, and a heated argument ensued. Madame Poirier retaliated unapologetically by swinging her rake at my mother. Fortunately, my mother ducked quickly, avoiding a potential decapitation.

Roger, who was sitting comfortably and observing the chaos, entered the fray, scooting to my mom, barking. My mother responded to this by throwing her rake in the direction of Roger, like an Olympic javelin medalist. Roger, whose rake had missed its target, decided that discretion was more important than valor and ran home with his tail between his legs.

My dad ran out, thinking it best to avoid an escalation by getting my mom in the house and preventing a duel between rakes. He called the police.

Two officers arrived. The older officer was much older than the younger one. The younger officer asked my mother to give a statement. She was quite dramatic. She compared Madame Poirier’s rake to a samurai blade and Roger to a Tasmanian Devil. I don’t remember the entire conversation, but her description of Madame Poirier reminded me of Lady Macbeth.

The younger officer frantically scribbled into his notebook and nodded his head, uttering a couple of well-timed hmms. My mother no doubt expected that the police would charge Madame Poirier for attempted murder.

The older officer was listening to the conversation with a sheepish smile. He had not said much. He told her that he would go and speak to our neighbour, then return. After 15 minutes, he returned.

He told my mom that Madame Poirier’s version of events was different, and she claimed self-defense. He said that she might be able to file an assault complaint against Madame Poirier. However, he warned her that this could lead more neighbors to become acrimonious. Laforme, the officer, warned Madame Poirier against provocative acts.

He suggested to my mother that she consult an attorney for advice, and then let him if she wanted him “to go by the book.” I didn’t understand the meaning behind this expression.

My father was ambivalent in his desire to pursue this matter, but my mom urged him see an attorney. My parents invited me to a consultation because they thought I was an important witness.

The lawyer, a gray haired man named Horowitz who was wearing a three-piece suit listened to my mom recount the events. She was now focusing on whether or not we could have Roger seized and removed.

I imagined the scene in the The Wizard of OzAlmira Gulch visits Dorothy Gale with a sheriff order that allows her to remove Dorothy Gale’s little dog Toto. My mother also wanted to take legal action against our neighbor because of the rake.

Horowitz concluded it was possible to take action from a civil or criminal angle if my mom wanted to pursue her legal rights according to “the big book.”

I thought about the officer Laforme’s comment about “the book,” and wondered if it was different from the “big book.” Was the book Horowitz was referring larger?

The lawyer cautioned my parents that legal proceedings—especially between neighbors—can turn ugly. He said a criminal trial would be stressful. A civil lawsuit would also be expensive and take a long time. My parents said that they would consider it.

My parents received a Horowitz bill for $50 within a few days. This was around the amount of my father’s weekly tailor salary. I remember my dad lighting a cigarette, and puffing profusely while he scanned through the bill.

My parents quickly decided not to “follow the book.” Neither one—big or regular. Perhaps the bill played a role. My dad often encouraged me to be a lawyer by saying that “lawyers are very wealthy.” I cannot say, however, that Roger was the catalyst for me to pursue this noble profession.

I remember the topic of “the book” being brought up in practice. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Hank, a seasoned litigator. We both attended an evening dinner for retiring officers. Near the end, McKenzie, one of the police officers in attendance, asked if anyone could take him to the subway station. Hank offered to help. Hank drove McKenzie to the house, even though the subway station was not in our way.

I asked Hank, “Why didn’t you just drop him off at the station like he requested?” Hank said, “In practice you will come across situations where you can make some decisions and have some discretion. When possible, give more than people expect. It is best to be flexible in many situations, even if you are right. I could have just taken him to the subway station, and that would have been fine, according to Hoyle, ‘by the book.'”

Not long after, I had to go visit a client in a local Toronto jail. The visiting lawyers were required to sign in, and they were then ushered into the interview area according to their arrival. There was a delay in lawyers entering the interview area for some reason. I was at the end of the line. To my surprise I heard someone call me. McKenzie called me. He said: “You’re the one who works with Hank?”

McKenzie seemed to have some sway at the jail and he got my entry almost immediately. Mark Twain said “Do the right things.” It will please some people, and amaze the rest.

McKenzie definitely did the right things. I am not certain what I did wrong. I was glad that he didn’t “go by the books.” Any size book.

To our surprise, things have calmed down for my parents. The neighbor decided, for some reason, to curb her dog.

Is it better to not always “follow the book”, even for lawyers? Nay or yea?

Marcel Strigberger, who spent more than 40 years practicing civil litigation, has closed his Toronto law office to pursue his passions for humor writing and speaking. His newly-launched novel is Boomers, Zoomers and other Oomers: An Irreverent Boomer-biased Perspective on Aging. Visit for more information and follow him on @MarcelsHumour, formerly Twitter, at X.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.


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