The country lawyer

At 72 years of age I am old enough to remember the Indian chief television test pattern and the subsequent Technicolor™ peacock. Not far removed from that initial acquaintance with electronic imagery was Howdy Doody (and Clarabell who I have since learned later became Captain Kangaroo) and Perry Mason (and his assistants Della Street and Paul Drake). I won’t say that either Howdy Doody or Perry Mason had a lasting ascendency in my life but without question each sowed the seed of their respective character. Strangely perhaps what ultimately won out as a preference for me was solicitor’s work not barrister’s work. My undergraduate training at Glendon Hall as a philosophy major proved paramount to the entrancing courtroom behaviour of Raymond Burr. I can only assume it is because of the winning relevance to logic and reasoning, the whole deductive thinking business.

deductive | dɪˈdʌktɪv | adjective characterized by or based on the inference of particular instances from a general law

Perry Mason is a fictional character, an American criminal defense lawyer who is the main character in works of detective fiction written by Erle Stanley Gardner. Perry Mason features in 82 novels and 4 short stories, all of which involve a client being charged with murder, usually involving a preliminary hearing or jury trial. Typically, Mason establishes his client’s innocence by finding the real murderer. The character was inspired by famed Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Earl Rogers.

The character of Perry Mason was adapted for motion pictures and a long-running radio series. These were followed by the well-known adaptation, the CBS television series Perry Mason (1957–1966) starring Raymond Burr. A second television series, The New Perry Mason starring Monte Markham, ran from 1973 to 1974; and 30 Perry Mason television films ran from 1985 to 1995, with Burr reprising the role of Mason in 26 of them prior to his death in 1993. A third television series, HBO’s Perry Mason starring Matthew Rhys, started airing in 2020.

In June of 1976 at twenty-seven years of age, a year of practice under my belt with a prestigious Sparks Street law firm in Ottawa including fortuitous appearances in the the Federal Court of Canada (Appeal Division) and the Supreme Court of Canada, I landed somewhat precipitously (and in retrospect perhaps even exponentially) in the nearby rural Town of Almonte, pop. 4,500. My mother and father knew Angus Morrison and Air Commodore Donnie Blaine and his wife Norma who lived in Almonte so the place wasn’t entirely foreign.

R. A. Jamieson, QC Osgoode Hall, Toronto 1921

Two years later I ended opening my own practice and sitting in the chair formerly occupied by Raymond A. Jamieson QC who had practiced law in the Town of Almonte for about 54 years. I was then only one of three lawyers in Almonte, the others being Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield for whom I had briefly worked and with whom I declined a discussion of partnership association. Michael J. Galligan QC (son-in-law of Senator George J. McIlraith, born in Lanark, Ontario and Senator for Ottawa Valley and spirit behind my introduction to Almonte) and Mr. Justice Alan D. Sheffield have both retired from the private practice of law. Though I retired in 2014 I continue to see myself as a local lawyer, no doubt an echo of my commercial trademark.  To this day I am a paying member in good standing of the Law Society of Upper Canada but I can no longer practice because I haven’t Errors & Omissions Insurance.

George James McIlraith, PC QC (July 29, 1908 – August 19, 1992) was a lawyer and Canadian Parliamentarian. The son of James McIlraith and Kate McLeod, he was educated at Osgoode Hall and practised law in Ottawa. In 1935, he married Margaret Summers. McIlraith was first elected to the House of Commons of Canada in the 1940 federal election as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Ottawa West. He was subsequently re-elected on nine successive occasions. McIlraith joined the Cabinet of Lester Pearson when the Liberals formed government following the 1963 federal election as Minister of Transport. From 1964 until 1967, he was Government House Leader in charge of the Pearson minority government’s parliamentary strategy for much of its tenure, including during the Great Flag Debate and parliamentary debates on the introduction of Medicare. He also served as Pearson’s Minister of Public Works from 1965 on, and was also Pierre Trudeau’s first public works minister. He served as Solicitor-General of Canada from 1968 until 1970 under Trudeau, who appointed him to the Senate of Canada in 1972.

The George McIlraith Bridge over the Rideau River is named for him.

I mention Senator McIlraith not only because was he was Counsel to Messrs. Macdonald, Affleck Barristers &c. where I articled but also because he was predecessor as a Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre to Hughie Poulin for whom I canvassed during federal election.  Related to that I worked for Jeffrey Lyman de Witt King in his election (twice) as President of the Liberal Party of Ontario.

It was fortunate for me that when I arrived in Almonte I was already in tune with what I thought a lawyer should be and how he should look. The archaic vision was still alive in rural Ontario. No doubt it was partly the influence of Raymond Burr; but there was as well an underlying British motif which may have been propelled by John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey or even Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in P. G. Wodehouse’s comic exploits. And I confess my European tailor “Palette” on Sparks Street was partly responsible for my antique sartorial companionship.

When for example another “less formal” shall I say lawyer arrived in Almonte, an elderly businesswoman on Mill Street disparagingly remarked, “He doesn’t even look like a lawyer!” Naturally appearances did nothing in the end to hold the day; but for one such as I who had assumed the practice venue of a man aged 82 years of age when he quit, the quaintness of my dress contributed to a digestible and authenticated transition. Clients are seldom easily convinced by young doctors, lawyers or accountants. The first decade of my practice was devoted largely to settlement of the estates of Mr. Jamieson’s former clients. I had no trouble recognizing a last Will and Testament drawn by Mr. Jamieson at the hand of his erstwhile exceedingly capable assistant Mrs. Evelyn Barker. I also developed an uncommon introduction to the popular ancestry of the Village of Clayton and the maple sugar industry of the nearby Thompson family. It was a preliminary insinuation which grew like an underground stream throughout Lanark County. From those roots spring today the fledgling association with Neilcorp residential home contractors.

I continued this conventional enterprise in my involvement with the local Masonic lodge, A.F.& A.M, Mississippi Lodge No. 147 at Almonte, Ontario. There I had the benefit of direct contact with nearby residents and business people.  In my other professional duties on boards and business groups I also maintained the traditional outfit of a lawyer.

Appearance was not however the deciding factor in business.  Like any other personal service business mine depended on satisfying the client; and that meant not merely looking the part but more importantly playing the part – and with identifiable results. Early in my practice I learned you can’t please everyone; and you can’t do everything. It would amount to utter and shameless presumption on my part to suggest I acted upon the now popular adage about creating a so-called “niche” market but in business things have a remarkable way of distilling – and rapidly. I was set upon delivering sophisticated and detailed documents.  Nothing else drove my ambition, neither rural vs urban nor short vs long nor cheap vs costly. Though I was very good at keeping account of my time, I also was never persuaded to limit my time in the rare circumstance that I exceeded expectations to complete the job properly. I had the pleasure and privilege of proving my worth even after having been chastised and criticized by a senior lawyer who insisted that, “In Lanark County we don’t do things that way“.  Not long afterwards when dealing with the same commercial matter I crossed paths with an Ottawa solicitor who repeated the challenge I had originally raised but which now had been addressed by the Court.

That occasion marked one of the last times I appeared in a court of law.  I had quickly learned that one cannot be both barrister and solicitor notwithstanding the elemental training we received in either law school or at the Bar Admission Course in Osgoode Hall. For those local lawyers who persisted to step across the boundary they inevitably relied heavily if not indeed almost entirely upon their in-house staff to manoeuvre the day to day solicitor’s work.  I was not so readily prepared to abandon my dominion upon my signature. I would generally say it was a mark of my obsessiveness that I kept such rigorous hold upon my dossiers; but I also thrilled to dedicate extraordinary responsibility to those whose judgement and assiduity I trusted.

it is predominantly the unique privilege of the country lawyer to represent generations of clients in the same family. There was nothing incestuous about the familiarity just the convenience of association among a surprisingly fertile group of country people who astonishingly remained committed to their home territory contrary to the more popular perception that country people can’t wait to get to the Big City. I count that endearment with Almonte among my own successes. Forty years ago people in the City regularly asked me when I planned to return to the City. No one ever believed me when I told them I’m never going back.

He retired laughingly to the country with his book and his bottle.
Baron Thomas Babington Macaulay, Trinity College, Cambridge

Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, FRS FRSEPC (25 October 1800 – 28 December 1859) was a British historian and Whig politician. He is considered primarily responsible for introducing the Western educationsystem in India.

L. G. Wm. Chapman, B.A., LL.B. 74 Mill Street, Almonte Office of R. A. Jamieson, QC c. 1980

The scene appears to be the old law office of my predecessor Raymond Algernon Jamieson, QC. When I moved from that office and cleaned out the place, I filled four green garbage bags with empty booze bottles I found stored behind the books!  Some of the dregs were cloudy with age!  Raymond also conveniently  had a hide-a-bed stored in the vault! It seems that when his clients visited they frequently did more than “do up the writin’s”!