David McWhinnie has been known to show up in court sporting a black eye, only to be asked by the judge if he’s actually the accused.
Hanging from the back of David McWhinnie’s chair you’ll find something unusual. It’s a pair of boxing gloves. “My helmet sometimes sits on my desk as well,” he notes. “I think it reassures my clients that I’m not afraid of getting into a fight in court.”
It’s not every day you come across a litigator who’s also a boxer. The combination can cause quite a stir when McWhinnie, a second-year associate with Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP in Vancouver, strides into the courtroom bearing the scars of battle. “I have frequently gone in with black eyes and fat lips,” the 32-year-old explains. “One time I got up to speak, clean-shaven in my suit, and I had a big black eye. The judge asked me compassionately: ‘Are you the accused, sir?’”
McWhinnie’s passion for pugilism dates back to childhood. Coincidentally, his interest in law took root at the same time. “I blame my parents,” he says. “I was introduced to Rumpole and Rocky at the same time. So I became a lawyer who loves boxing.
Since then he has participated in the so-called “sweet science” with enthusiasm. He finds it helpful in his law practice. “I go into the ring confident, calm, and reserved,” he says, “even though inside I may be screaming. If I get jitters before a fight I never show it. So when I go into court, I’m also confident, calm, and reserved.”
In the practice of law, it’s essential to project confidence, he feels. “The kind of confidence I get from boxing is not the kind that comes from knowing you can fight and you can beat guys up. It’s the confidence that comes from knowing you’ve pushed yourself and you haven’t quit. You always find you can take more than you thought you could.”
Plus, giving and taking a beating in the ring actually recharges his mind. “It really helps me focus my thoughts. If I’m working on a difficult case and I’m not getting anywhere, I’ll leave the office and go to the gym and fight. I’ll come back and I’ll have new ideas.”
How do his colleagues react? “At my office there are people who think I’m daft,” he laughs. “And there are people who have been very supportive. It’s surprising. I would have thought the partners would be a bit dismayed that one of their associates is taking part in a sport that involves them going out and being punched in the head repeatedly.”
On Nov. 22, McWhinnie won the heavyweight belt at a charity bout called the White Collar Fight, with the proceeds going to help underprivileged kids participate in sports. (It’s called Athletics For Kids, www.a4k.ca) “The last White Collar Fight raised about $15,000, and the upcoming one is expected to exceed that,” he says. “My opponent is a lawyer from Fasken Martineau, which makes for some interesting pre-fight trash-talk: ‘You claim to be an expert in personal injury, well I’m gonna make you an expert in being personally injured.’ ” In the end it took a fourth round to decide the winner in the McWhinnie-Simon Coval matchup.
Support staff at his firm had a contest to give McWhinnie a ring name. “For a while I was the Bleeding Barrister,” he says. “One suggestion was The Brawler, because I’m not an out-fighter, I’m what you call an in-fighter. I don’t have a very good jab, so I have to get in close and hook and hammer.” Another suggestion was The Kilted Destroyer, in reference to his Scottish heritage. “I’m absolutely not going to fight in a kilt and blue paint a la Braveheart,” he insists. He settled on “The Fever.”
McWhinnie is an old fashioned general litigator, moving from criminal to civil and even appeal work. “Nothing puts a smile on my face like a good contentious dispute where I go before a judge and argue a difficult point of law or cross-examine a tough witness,” he says. “I get grumpy if a few weeks go by and I haven’t been in court.”
His prescription for associate success: “There are two things I have learned,” he says. “First, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. It’s almost a cliché, but it’s good advice. If you don’t like this type of work, it’s a job that will consume you and eat you up and make you miserable and stressed. Second, your future career is what you make of it. It’s really open to you to go out and get the type of work you want.”
Finally, he advises, “Never plead guilty. Never quit. Never back down. I can take a black eye every now and again.”
Are you an associate with an interesting story to tell, or do you know someone who does? E-mail editor Gail Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it.