The Killing Fields of Law

Recently, I was frankly delighted to be invited to dinner with people from my former profession, law.

I miss lawyers’ company. They’re smart and savvy. Often they’re funny. I like to keep up, more or less, with the law (not a terribly onerous business, as law invariably lags behind society by a half century or more).

What leaked out of our conversation and caught on my skirts was a comment indicating that the quality of my husband and law partner (low) was well known among the august members of the profession. I think the comment was meant as an indication of solidarity or at least sympathy.

The comment followed me home, as wet skirts will do in winter. I was reminded of another colleague’s comment, several years ago, as we found ourselves side by side in the main Volvo dealership, waiting for our darling vehicles’ restoration to full health. This colleague had said, “We always knew *he* was an asshole.” (Pardon the language; it is a quote.)

You always knew there was something wrong with the man I planned to marry but you never said a thing? You came to my wedding, partook of the table, let our children play together—but you never said a thing?

Apparently the entire profession knew that my beloved was an asshole. Professor, ex-girlfriends, colleagues—nobody said a thing.

As things fell apart, we must have appeared before dozens of judges, all of whom must also have known that my spouse was a donkey’s anus, and it must have been abundantly clear from the nature of the applications that I had been dragged to court or else had had no choice but to make that particular application—but of all those wise judges, only one Got It. (Blessings upon thee, Mr. Justice Stewart, the only one who instantly sensed what was going on and threw some legal fire retardant on the blaze.) The rest? All they could do in the face of my beloved’s psychopathic behavior was rant at the two of us about how we shouldn’t come to court to adjudicate this mess—and throw the man a bone consisting of criticisms of my mothering, bones which only encouraged him to sue and sue and sue me—and everyone near me—for twelve long years.

Imagine what it’s like to live at the butt end of some 40 lawsuits. For years. Somehow, we survived.

My daughter still fears he’s wanting to kill me.

He ruined my professional life and my health and he almost took the lives of my daughter and me—and you, oh judiciary so full of fail, let him do it. The weakest litigant in family-law court is a mother who happens to be a lawyer.

Let’s throw in the Law Society of BC, here. This is the entity entrusted with governing the profession of law. For my darling’s extortion on me in the presence of witnesses, the Society finally succeeded in suspending him for nine months, a procedure which merely deprived Daughter and me of the money to which we were entitled and which we desperately needed to survive. For the assaults, gun crimes, threats, abuse, stalking, rapes, libels, slanders, thefts, lies, and old-fashioned chicanery he carried out, the penalty was…nothing. Because, you see, the complainant was a woman. Me. I was a lawyer. I should have known better, I guess.

It was a domestic matter, said the reply to each of my official complaints to the ruling board of my profession. They could hardly dirty their hands with…ugh! domestic disputes.

Apparently all a lawyer has to do to get away with assault, abuse, threats, libel, slander, theft and fraud against another person, even another lawyer, is…marry it. It. Me, the chattel, the slave, the possession. Little had changed in the last millennium.

To top it off, when I returned from eight years’ exile and re-applied to my beloved profession, in which I had done no wrong for fifteen years of practice, the Law Society made it impossible. I was forced to take the PLTC course again, virtually the same as what I had passed with flying colors a quarter-century earlier. Nothing much had changed in the law, believe me. I only wish I could say there had been such fascinating innovations in the law in the eight years of my absence that I was panting to get down to Vancouver each Monday morning for my renewed education, for nine long weeks, sleeping in my car at the ferry to be sure to get there more or less on time. The material, alas, was pretty well same-old, same-old, although I determined to enjoy meeting new prospective colleagues.

Gullible little me. Certain persons were apparently detailed to report on me—I saw reports, some of them false, on my attendance, punctuality, and comportment, as if I were attending grade school. For heaven’s sake! I had fifteen years of blemish-free practice behind me! I was firmly ensconced in just two or three areas of practice, personal-injury, wills-and-estates and criminal. All three areas were virtually the same as they had been when I had fled the country to save my daughter’s life! Yet the Society denied my request to write the final exams untimed, as by then I was an old person with eye problems and could not read and write fast enough in areas of practice unfamiliar to me.

Yup, denied. So now my community lacks one more competent lawyer in her chosen areas of practice—wills and estates, personal-injury and criminal defense—because I couldn’t answer builder’s-lien questions fast enough.

Builder’s liens? I HATE builder’s liens! Would always send such a client to some lawyer crazy enough to like the darned things.

The Law Society simply never wanted to hear from anyone from my firm again—that’s my guess. After all, one of our judges had called our divorce the second-worst in Vancouver’s history—and, he added, the only reason it wasn’t the worst was the fact that our daughter hadn’t committed suicide…yet.

I knew the case he was talking about. What I did not know, but sensed at some level that would not allow me to give up on saving her, was that our daughter had already tried to end her life, on her father’s watch, and he had not been there for her. He is an incompetent parent. On the deepest levels, that knowledge would not let me go.

The Law Society, too, is full of fail when it comes to gender issues.

I don’t entirely blame either the judiciary or the profession for the wreckage of my daughter’s life and mine. Could I do it all over again, I would not marry or cohabit with a male lawyer, would not let him know of any child’s existence, would not work as partner with a spouse, would not, probably, marry at all, or perhaps only very late in life, after children. Safety for children comes first.

After all, the law to this day can still be said to be born of men, by men, for men. It’s hard to break away from that matrix. My generation of women lawyers were still a minority in the profession, expected to work harder and brighter and behave more like lawyers than male lawyers ever did. Much has changed in the thirty years since I was called to the Bar, but not enough, and there are still many of us staggering through the killing fields of divorce, looking for a warm sandy beach on which to end our days in relative peace, and a way to make our excruciating histories valuable to those who come after us.

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