Lawyers feel your pain

Brian Jones
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You can’t walk down the street these days without slipping on a euphemism.

Walk behind a politician or a businessman, and euphemisms spill out of their pockets. They litter the sidewalk like doggie-doo on Parisian pavement.

“Downsize,” meaning fire people.

“Accountable,” meaning that if you say it, you don’t actually have to be it.

“Prosperity,” meaning our supporters are doing just fine, thank you very much, and the rest of you should shut up and suffer.

Lawyers are the latest bunch to fling out a preposterous euphemism and sound like they really believe it.

This week, the Canadian Bar Association announced it has prepared a report that outlines the legal profession’s concerns about something called “access to justice.”

No, it’s not a new app or video game. In what will come as a relief to millions, here finally is an issue that doesn’t revolve around technology, the Internet and social media ad nauseam.

Maybe access to justice is a ramp. Maybe it’s a low-angle ramp. That way, everyone can get up it to reach the doors to the halls of justice and get access, etc.

Legal limits

But the bar association has something more abstract in mind. As they explain it, access to justice is something many Canadians don’t have enough of.

As with most euphemisms, this is initially confusing. After all, access to justice seems straightforward in our day-to-day lives.

Say you spend a fun night downtown with your pals. On the way home, the partying goes too far and you teeter and totter and then toss a brick through a storefront plate-glass window, just so you can laugh at all the sparkling shards. Guaranteed, you will have immediate access to justice, when the cops show up minutes later.

Later, a Crown prosecutor will attempt to give you plenty of access to justice.

Nobody — except defence lawyers — wants that kind of access to justice.

Ponder the reverse. Somebody throws a brick through your window. You call 911.

“Somebody just threw a brick through my window,” you say.

The dispatcher says, “We’ll send an officer over.”

There’s your access to justice, and it’s free, except for your taxes, which are necessary to bring order to the concrete jungle, what with all those windows.

Fees a factor

Euphemisms are a way to avoid being precise and accurate. When the Canadian Bar Association says Canada lacks “access to justice,” what it really means is Canada lacks “affordable legal fees.”

But then, the association wouldn’t want to imply guilt of its members. There is, after all, that legal principle about not incriminating yourself. (Or is that only in American law? It will cost you about $250 to find out.)

According to The Canadian Press, the bar association has two major concerns about Canadians’ access to justice: more people are opting to represent themselves in civil cases, rather than hiring a lawyer; and many people earn too much income to qualify for legal aid, but not enough income to hire a lawyer.

If only Einstein had gone into law instead of physics, he could have stood up at a bar association meeting and theorized, “Perhaps the fees we charge are too high … relatively speaking.”

Lawyers like Latin phrases, so they should ponder this one: mea culpa — i.e., acknowledge your own fault. If too many Canadians don’t have access to justice, it’s because too many Canadians can’t afford lawyers’ fees.

Instead of admitting its members’ role in this dilemma, the bar association predictably calls for action by the federal government. It wants the government to pony up more money for the legal aid program.

Plead guilty? That’s for clients, not for lawyers.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. Canadians can gain access to him by email at

Organizations: Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Press, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

    August 24, 2013 - 12:11

    I enjoyed that! Such " uncommon " sense.

  • Just sayin
    August 23, 2013 - 13:10

    If Lawyers got paid for what they did or achieved instead of for their time, called billable hours, they would, for the most part , be in the poor house. Imagine paying a carpenter a hundred dollars an hour or more, but the carpenter making no progress, but being sure to log in his hours. Now that's a racket only lawyers get away with. And they're concerned about access to justice? LOL.

  • Guy Bellavance
    August 23, 2013 - 10:28

    Now that's a great piece of columnist's opinion. Great reading!

  • Cashin Delaney
    August 23, 2013 - 09:27

    Law as a friend of money is very fond of salutary neglect. Our politicians prime mandate seems to be to create opportunity to pay lawyers. We love to believe our politicians are stupid when they cost us money in an expropriation or silly court challenges, etc. They are not dumb, some say our legal system is the best, overt, unassailable money laundering and make work project Newfoumdland has ever seen. Imagine a wharf, or breakwater built from the legal fees incurred by the province since 1959. You could see it from the CN tower.

  • Colon Burke
    August 23, 2013 - 07:34

    I usually comment in these places only on what I disagree with, but bravo! Brian, Bravo!

  • Stephen Redgrave
    Stephen Redgrave
    August 23, 2013 - 07:09

    The 'guilty plea" is every justice systems best friend--usually rewarded with a lighter sentence and a silent , albeit brief, sigh of relief by the court.. Legal aid is the 'fast food' of the legal profession--but I'm sure that any one of the guys or girls flipping legal burgers is more than capable of cooking up a four course meal (resisting the urge to put 'special sauce' on everything). Anyone who leaves knowledge of the law strickly in the hands of the legal profession, is destined to to eat 'special sauce' whether they deserve it or not. On the other hand, people who know the law, rarely need a lawyer.