What do you tell a 30-year old?

My elder niece is turning thirty in a couple of weeks.  I am also her godfather. By virtue of either distinction I feel the necessity to convey more than birthday wishes to her on the day. As a token acknowledgement of the significance of the occasion we have resolved to meet for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant (her preference).  There will just be four of us so the opportunity lends itself to earnest dialogue.  Naturally I don’t want to spoil the day by being tedious but neither do I want to avoid the chance to share what information I have that may assist her in life. Notice I call it “information” not “wisdom”.  I won’t be presumptuous.  It has been my experience that sharing the facts of one’s life can afford lessons.  After all apprenticeship at any level is nothing more than that sans the platitudinous innuendo. And if my aspiration in this contrivance is trumped by the weather, the food or any other topic of idle table conversation, I thought I might usefully record what I was doing at 30 years of age.

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I was born in 1948.  So I was 30 years old in 1978.  An especially important date for me in that year is March 1, 1978.  It was the day I opened my own law practice.  While I am naturally tempted to ramble on about the exigencies of running one’s own business that is beside the point for purposes of this chronicle.  What is more relevant is what preceded my decision to open my own office.  The subsequent traffic up the narrow staircase to Mr. Jamieson’s antique office put me in good stead.

Until I graduated from law school in 1973 my progress in life was nothing more distinguished than that of most students.  Upon graduation I secured an articling job at Macdonald, Affleck at 100 Sparks Street, Ottawa. My recollection is that my mother knew a woman who had a connection to someone in the firm.  I honestly cannot recall being interviewed though obviously I got the job.  Apart from having an articling job (which I understand by current standards is no longer a given for many of the law school graduates throughout the Province of Ontario) the achievement was otherwise a small compliment.  We were paid about $4,000 per year (which even then meant that eating at Harvey’s was considered “dining out”) and for the most part we were delivery boys, running between the office and court houses and the Land Registry Office.  Even the conveyancer had a superior status to law clerks, and the legal secretaries unquestionably ranked higher. But it was a prerequisite to completing the Bar Admission Course at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

The next bit of luck arose when I applied to my undergraduate university (Glendon Hall, Toronto) for the position of a Don of the men’s residence so that I didn’t have to pay rent while attending Osgoode Hall.  During the interview the Dean mentioned that the previous applicant (David, also a law student and who has since been elevated to the bench) casually commented to the Dean that I had certain “tendencies” which he considered might make me unfit for the position of a Don in a men’s residence.  I won’t bore my reader with the reactionary fallout of that intelligence other than to observe that, upon hearing it, I stood up and informed the Dean I had a luncheon engagement in the Professors’ Lounge with the Head of the English Department and withdrew.  Subsequently I made application to the Dean of Devonshire House, University of Toronto and was enlisted as a Don.  By the way, the Dean at Glendon Hall also offered me a Donship but I turned it down.

Upon my return to Macdonald, Affleck after completing the Bar Admission Course, I worked for one year.  My tenure there came to an abrupt halt when I discovered that a new articling student had been hired at the same salary I was getting as a first-year lawyer.  When I broached the subject with the Managing Partner he was clearly unaware of the situation though it emphasized to me that my presence and comparative status were either unimportant or undistinguished.  Feeling slighted I began immediate plans to leave not only the firm but also Ottawa (in those days the Ottawa Bar was much smaller than it is now).  Because our firm had recently consumed McIlraith, McIlraith and McGregor and because Sen. Geo. McIlraith was the father-in-law of Michael J. Galligan, QC and because Galligan & Sheffield, Almonte had recently bought the practice of retiring Raymond A. Jamieson, QC, I applied to fill the hole left by Raymond.  I got the job one splendid summer evening at the Mississippi Golf Club, Appleton.

It appears that my sense of self-importance and purpose continued as strong as ever. Within two years, after having made what I thought were frequent overtures to Galligan and Sheffield about acquiring partnership status and having been consistently ignored (as I thought in my youthful impatience) I began what were effectively surreptitious proceedings to set up my own law office.  The exploit was hastened upon learning of the intention of my employers to close Mr. Jamieson’s former law office out of which I had been operating and relocate me in their main office up the street. Quite by coincidence within weeks of my targeted mission (March 1, 1978) Mike Galligan invited me to lunch and announced that he would like to discuss partnership with me.  To this I replied, “I’m leaving on March 1st” to which he replied “You’re miles ahead of us” to which I replied “I’m just trying to catch up!” I subsequently negotiated with Galligan & Sheffield to pay them what they had paid Mr. Jamieson for his practice. Pointedly they retained ownership of his files, I bought only the old hardware (furnishings, copier and books).  Of course I had also negotiated a new lease with the Landlord (the price jumped from the laughable $25 per month that Mr. Jamieson had paid to $100 per month) so importantly by staying there I had the appearance of retaining Mr. Jamieson’s practice even without the technical legal gloss.

I won’t attempt to extrapolate any generic truths from the above narrative other than to say that my personal feeling is that a combination of gusto and luck prevailed. I suppose an admission of bloodymindedness wouldn’t be without foundation as well.  But at 30 years of age, what do you expect?