Sitting by the river

Forty-six years ago my morning, noon and night were consumed running my solo law practice. I employed three secretaries. And in keeping with the tradition which my predecessor Raymond A. Jamieson QC had afforded his farming clientele over his 52 years of practice, the office was open Saturday mornings (though unlike Jamieson I didn’t balance by closing Wednesday afternoons). I regularly ate my lunch out of a can while leaning over the kitchen sink to avoid getting either fish pieces or oil on my waistcoat. Once when I attempted a healthier concoction by assembling raw vegetables and tomato juice in a blender, I failed to secure the lid tightly and the contents exploded on me and the kitchen cupboards. I was momentarily distraught.

Initially I often worked very late into the night or until the early hours of the next morning. The labour always surrounded complications arising from the investigation of title to real estate being either purchased or mortgaged, necessitating the proof of a so-called marketable title. Added to that fundamental level of enquiry was a review of supporting legal and conveyancing documents including paramountly the transfer of title to the new owners and the commonly associated vehicle of indebtedness (usually a mortgage) to the lender. I read everything.

My reward for the diligence had nothing whatever to do immediately with my compensation. The reward for my relentless effort to unravel a fuzzy title was the clarity it gave my mental attitude to everything I was doing. It was admittedly to the disgust of other solicitors that i often succeeded to obstruct the anticipated smooth commercial transition. My interests were never directed for or against any particular party. I always viewed the issue as intellectual only. And I was determined without qualification to provide expert legal opinion to my clients in the end. Sometimes the discovery of problems required rectification by the owners or members of their immediate or extended family (including those separated by familial difficulties); sometimes disputes arose from the dead; or adjustment was required by the Ontario Land Surveyor; or there were corrections required to the Agreement of Purchase and Sale drafted by the estate agent. On rare occasion input was required from a chartered accountant. A universal concern arose from applicable details of the Zoning and Building By-laws of the municipality. The last resort of lingering disagreement was adjudication in the Supreme Court of Ontario at its county seat in Perth, Ontario.  Invariably these attendances were conducted with mutuality since it was always hoped the Court would profit by the attraction of reasonableness to overcome the putative dilemma.  And never were we disappointed. For the most part these esoteric title disputes submerged into the depths whence the are seldom if ever revisited.

It was obviously in the interest of all parties to bring about a smooth and timely closing. As I recall an Ottawa lawyer once quipped to me, he was a deal maker not a deal breaker. But I tolerated no qualification of the mechanics in the process. And frankly I don’t recall more than one transaction in 46 years that didn’t close except at the instance of the client.