Litigation is almost as good as show jumping

Name:  Lisa J. Bonin
Firm and practice area: McCarthy Tétrault LLP, litigation
Year of call, plus jurisdiction: 2004, Toronto
Law school: Osgoode Hall


The job
I have a broad litigation practice which includes medical malpractice defence, corporate-commercial litigation, professional discipline, and family litigation. I have been at McCarthy Tétrault since I summered in 2002.

What makes it great
I don’t often admit to being a lawyer, let alone a Bay Street lawyer. After all, I was going to ride horses for a living, and Bay Street is about as far away from farm country as you can get.  So, as long as you promise not to tell, I’ll let you in on my secret — I love being a litigator.

I am privileged to work with some of the best lawyers in the country on precedent-setting cases. Of course, not every case is precedential, but we do a lot of them. My clients are some of the most interesting and diverse people I have ever met. They are doctors, lawyers, businessmen/women, and entrepreneurs by profession; but musicians, artists, athletes, singers, writers, etc. as people (some of them are these things by profession too).
Sure, the hours are long, and I’ve put together my share of last-minute motion records. I’m sure every young litigator has had a dressing-down or two from the master or judge when materials weren’t put together just right. This part of the job is not fun. And clients can be difficult by times too.

Sometimes, on particularly frustrating days, I wonder whether the practice of law would not be infinitely easier without judges or clients — we the lawyers would then be left with the pure intellectual exercise of debating justice. But that thought never lasts long, because I quickly remember that it is those unknown variables that make litigation so much fun. There really is nothing like hearing your client develop a completely new theory of the case while testifying in court.

Of course, being able to do justice every now and again is very satisfying too. One of the more challenging motions I’ve had to argue in some time involved a pro bono “client” through the new Pro Bono Law Ontario Superior Court project. I volunteer a few times a year at the PBLO centre, as well as a few days a year at the PBLO Small Claims Court centre.  It helps to work at a firm that actively supports PBLO initiatives and encourages its associates to participate. But I don’t do it because my firm gives me a 50-hour credit towards billable targets (I frankly don’t need the extra hours anyway); I do it because there is a real access to justice problem, and the people I help through PBLO really need it. They often have very interesting issues, and you have to drill down to first principles sometimes and just argue the equities — all, of course, flying by the seat of your pants because you’ve had only 20 minutes to prepare your client’s case for trial or motion.

Being a litigator is all about the sport of the courtroom — the thrill of the chase — the adrenaline rush when you rise for the judge to enter and again with every word from your witness’ mouth. That’s why I love being a litigator. Sure, I’d still rather be riding show jumpers, but sport is sport and litigation is great sport. n

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