Bad to the bone

Bad to the bone
Illustration: Dushan Milic
Looking for an unscrupulous lawyer to help you bypass some bureaucratic red tape? Gambled away the firm’s money on a dodgy tip? Accidentally sexually harassed an underling? Maybe deliberately? You need Bad Legal LLP, the straight-talking law firm taking the Canadian legal world by storm on Twitter.

And while Canadian Lawyer has none of the above troubles (if anyone asks), we are always looking for the inside scoop on the future of the legal profession. The Canadian Bar Association has had its say, Richard Susskind has had several, and even Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin has thrown in her two cents. But everyone who’s anyone knows Twitter is the future, so now it’s time to give a real influencer a voice in the debate. In just more than a year on the social media site, the @BadLegalLLP Twitter account has amassed well over 3,000 followers, including an assortment of managing partners, law professors, political insiders, and media heavyweights.

If Canada’s biggest law firms were measured by the number of followers their official Twitter accounts have (and if you ask Bad Legal, they should), then the firm has already reached the top 10 nationwide. In the process, it has surpassed the totals of two members of the storied Seven Sisters, “which of course signifies that we are better lawyers,” according to the firm partner who operates under the @BadLegalLLP handle.

In an exclusive interview with Canadian Lawyer conducted via Twitter direct messages, the Bad Legal’s anonymous creator offered this assessment of the Canadian legal market’s outlook: “We’re milking a dying cow in a burning barn,” s/he said. On reflection, it’s a strikingly similar sentiment to Susskind’s. “And we’re going to extract everything we can before it’s reduced to rubble,” s/he added.

While you won’t find the firm listed on any law society directories (we’ve checked), Bad Legal’s creator bristles at the suggestion that the account is a parody, insisting: “We’re the most reputable firm on Bay Street.”

Based on past tweets, Bad Legal was named for its founding partner Arthur P. Bad, who according to firm lore, died on the job, and remains forever on the minds of his former workmates: “He’s embalmed in the lobby.”

Still, doubts about the firm’s existence persist. Last year, Bad Legal publicly refused to comment on its own speculation that the feed was run by Rob Centa, the managing partner of Toronto litigation boutique Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP. Centa politely declined the   chance to comment for this story.

There are, however, a few suspects that can be more conclusively ruled out as Bad Legal’s alter ego. Barring elaborate diversionary tactics, Sean Fine, the Globe and Mail’s justice reporter, can be crossed off the list after branding Bad Legal’s creators “supercilious legal types.” He also blocked the feed following a spat over the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2014 Senate reform reference decision in which Bad Legal teased: “You guys are cute when you try to play lawyer.”

Former Canadian Lawyer columnist Ezra Levant followed suit after Bad Legal corrected his suggestion that Canadian Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, rather than retiring at 75. “Without his business, our defamation group is just not viable,” Bad Legal mourned.

Mitch Kowalski, a lawyer, author, and confirmed member of the Canadian legal Twitterati, says he’s pretty certain that the Bad Legal tweeter must have a solid background in legal practice. “A lot of what they talk about are the sorts of things that you realize after a number of years in practice. Then they just ratchet it up about 1,000 per cent,” says Kowalski. “It’s an over-the-top caricature of a lawyer, but like all the good ones, there’s an element of truth at the heart of it for people to recognize.”

Despite its sometimes edgy approach, Bad Legal could actually improve the reputation of the legal profession as a whole in the long term, says Kowalski. “Lawyers are such a dour lot at times. We can be very serious about everything and also exceptionally sensitive. That’s something we have to get over as a profession,” he says. “If we can understand ourselves, how people view us, and show that we can poke fun at ourselves, that probably improves our image.”

Adam Dodek, a University of Ottawa law professor and Bad Legal devotee, puts Bad Legal’s popularity down to irreverence and wit. “It is very smart and biting satire, which exposes hierarchy, abuses, sexism, and plain stupidity in the law and the legal profession,” he says.

Bad Legal has a slightly different take: “We’ve tapped into a deep vein of self-loathing in the legal community, and we’re interested in finding out just how far we can depress that plunger. People seem to respect us for our unflinching honesty and lax approach to solicitor-client privilege,” s/he said. The willingness to dole out free legal advice in return for a retweet probably helps, too: “You won’t get that kind of value from @TorysLLP or @Osler_law.”

Kowalski says he has no idea who Bad Legal is (isn’t that what the real tweeter would say?), but he hopes deep down their cover doesn’t get blown. “I think it’s going to really hinder the creative process of that person if they’re revealed. Anonymity allows you to say stuff that you never could if it was all coming back to you,” he says.

Bad Legal has no problem with the amateur sleuths on the case: “Occasionally I’ll drop hints, like names of colleagues, references to cases I’m working on, my social insurance number.”
And there’s an alluring prize on offer for the most successful: “If anyone can crack the code, you can bet Bad Legal LLP will hire them.”

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