Going to court – Part II
In last week’s article, I provided an account of the background information leading us to court. This week, I want to get behind the story and provide you with a glimpse of what our lives were like when all of this was happening.
As discussed in the previous article, I received a demand letter from the landlord claiming I owed sums for back rent and unpaid fees. He gave me one week to make the payment or he would take legal action.
Before I go on, Iet’s review the purpose of demand letters. Lawyers, usually but not always, draft these types of letters. We draft them using formal and legal language to put another party on notice that our client claims a legal right vis-à-vis the recipient. A demand letter, however, is not the start of a legal process. Rather, it simply notifies another party that the initiator has taken a legal position. Demand letters usually outline the claim and include a demand that the other party comply with the claim or else face legal action.
These are usually meant to bring a dispute to swift conclusion, as it escalates quickly. The threat of legal action is meant to intimidate. You can find another definition at Wikopedia.
When I received the demand letter at the beginning of August 2019, I had to wrap my mind around the implications. I first phoned the law society to find out about my obligations to my clients if the landlord exercised the right to re-entry or attempted to seize my assets. Under our
First we must protect client property. We hold approximately 200 corporation minutes books and well over 3000 wills and other estate planning documents. If the landlord locked us out or seized our assets, we would lose control of these documents. Secondly, we have a duty to keep our clients’ information confidential. Confidentiality goes hand in hand with our obligation to honour client-solicitor privilege. Courts will hold us to a very high standard in this regard.
Now that the landlord had triggered a countdown (we had 7 days to comply), we had to act quickly. We were not about to pay him for sums not owed. So, our first course of action was to secure our client documents. Over the first couple of days following receipt of the demand letter, we moved all of our corporate minutes books and estate planning documents to my home. I must have taken approximately 10 trips with my vehicle packed with boxes.
All the staff boxed their current files and took them home every night, returning with them the next day. Fortunately, we adopted a cloud based computer system to store files, so we have significantly less paper than a traditional law firm (although “less” paper than a traditional law firm, is a far cry from little to no paper… as a profession, we still have much work to do in this regard…)
While these were not perfect solutions, they reduced our and our clients’ exposure. It did, however, create logistical problems, when we needed to access the moved files. Fortunately, we developed simple systems to keep track of the work and the files needed and managed to minimize any delays.
I also contacted as many of my business contacts as I could asking if anyone had temporary offices in the event we were locked out. Commercial space is not easy to find. However, we were fortunate enough that we found at least one option. It was located downtown rather than St-Boniface, but it would have provided us offices to continue meeting our clients.
The pressure was on.
After a day or two, we had secured most of our client documents and emergency offices. However, we still felt exposed. We still had files to work on and August was our busiest month this year. The deadline was looming. As discussed last week, I contacted several litigation colleagues, only to find out that, due to the short notice, they couldn’t commit to helping.
I was feeling the pressure… Court is an intimidating place. When I practiced criminal defence, I was keenly aware of the stakes. A court decision (once all appeals are exhausted) creates finality. The court’s decision is binding. To complicate matters, cases are rarely straightforward. A good lawyer can always find a counter argument. Additionally, even when you believe a court case seems straightforward, it rarely is. I often found that cases would take unexpected turns, throwing all planning and preparation to the wind.
The decision to go to court
As outlined in my last article, on the Thursday night before the Tuesday deadline, I decided to represent our firm. Over the next 4 days, I must have allocated over 30 hours from the time I sat down Saturday morning, until I finished the first court hearing on Tuesday morning. It was a tremendous amount of work under pressure.
When I look back at that week in particular, I am amazed at what we were able to accomplish at the office. The staff rose to the occasion and everyone pitched in. It was a true team effort and a pleasure to see everyone fly into action. Rather than feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of the work and risk in front of us, the team rallied. While the tasks seemed daunting at the time, we adopted Marcus Aurilius’ famous quote: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Although we borrowed Ryan Holiday book title: “The obstacle is the way”.
In next week’s article I will write about the court hearings on the results.
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Philippe Richer is President of TLR Law Group. TLR has been located in the St. Boniface neighbourhood, in Winnipeg, since 1996. The office serves the middle class and small business within the province. With a focus on estates, wills, real estate, and corporate law, he leads his team in providing accessible legal services. Philippe also authored the business law course for the Knowledge Bureau and instructed the français juridique class at the faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba.