The file of the barking dog

There is a great irony housed within the muscled walls of Bay Street’s Death Star law firms. The irony doubles as an embarrassing secret — a secret that partners seldom discuss even among themselves and associates are too ashamed to admit to each other.


Deep within the cabinets of the country’s most powerful law firms lie some of the most ridiculous, unsatisfying, and tiny claims on the court’s docket — claims that (perhaps somewhat unfairly to our loyal, four-legged, furry friends) have come to be known as dog files.

Death Star law firms are stationed prominently within magnificent buildings decorating the skylines of major cities across Canada. The storied buildings themselves are patrolled by battalions of the finest security guards and police officers. Only the chosen few with security cards or access codes can pass through the labyrinth of elevators, doors, gates, and corridors protecting Death Star law firms from the public’s general access.

As if the foregoing wasn’t enough, said law firms also employ the brightest technology consultants known to humanity — consultants entrusted with the mandate of constructing and maintaining impenetrable firewalls and other doohickies to safeguard the firm’s sacrosanct computer and telephone systems.

On top of this, the very fabric of Death Star law firms consists of premier advocates. They boast multiple degrees from prestigious universities. They have won numerous academic and athletic awards, speak several languages, have travelled the Earth, and given their time to various charities. They are trained to aggressively defend against or pursue claims on behalf of their clients so as to justify their obscene hourly billing rates. Even their dress and manners are beyond reproach.

And yet, despite all the security, despite the fine minds and obscene billing rates, dog files manage to crawl past the lines of security undetected, jump over socio-economic barriers, and land comfortably in the laps of partners, all of whom are anxious to download such matters to their loyal associates.

Dog files infiltrate Death Star law firms in many ways. For example, J.J. Finnegan may be the most prominent securities litigator on the street, but his Aunt Agnes is in a fight with her dry cleaner and she wants blood. Her favourite tablecloth came back from Sunshine Dry Cleaners with a black stain, and she knows that her nephew will help her squeeze out the full $250 that she paid for this precious linen. Of course, her nephew isn’t going to be doing the dirty work — that’s where you come in. Aunt Agnes won’t take a nickel under what she paid for the tablecloth. Sunshine Dry Cleaners won’t pay the full amount. As a result, you’re doing a trial in Chatham, Ont. against the unrepresented defendant.

Elizabeth Slaughter has one of the deepest books of business in her firm. William Thurston, the president of one of her blue-chip clients, has managed to get himself into a little spat with his contractor over a $2,500 home bathroom renovation project. Apparently the contractor splashed a little white paint on the dark wood baseboards. Thurston accordingly refused to pay for the renovation and now finds himself in a lawsuit. Slaughter has passed the matter on to you with stiff instructions to defend vigorously and counterclaim for the cost of removing the unwanted paint.

Retired partner Jim Broadsides had some difficulty figuring out how to use those new parking meters in Toronto’s tony Yorkville. He thought he put enough money in for three hours. He was wrong and ended up with a $40 ticket. Broadsides believes the instructions on the machine were unclear and he wants to fight it — a matter of “principle,” he called it. He’s come to you for help.

Dog files — all of them.

So don’t be fooled my fellow associates. Just because you’ve been summoned by a prominent partner to help on a matter, doesn’t mean the matter will be prominent. Brace yourself. You could leave the partner’s office with a brand new puppy — a Shih Tzu or a schnauzer — of a file.

Associates, of course, are helpless when confronted with partners downloading these barking files. It’s not as if you’re in a position to turn the partner down — that is, if you still want to be considered what partners call a “team player” and ultimately keep your job. After all, Aunt Agnes needs compensation, William Thurston deserves protection, and Jim Broadsides is due justice.

Regardless, you must figure out whether the partners are just testing you to see how you can perform, with a view to welcoming you into the promised land of Cadillac files, or whether they really are just dumping on you, without regard to developing your career, except perhaps to developing you into the next resident dog catcher.
Once you put this key piece of information together, you can begin to protect your office from becoming the local dog pound and escape Bay Street’s great irony and embarrassing secret. 

Primo J. Mendes is a senior associate in a big Death Star law firm in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

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