Characters and their names in this novel are creation of the writer’s imagination.
For Mitra who faithfully kept me company throughout this journey
It was Tuesday December 04, 2001. His clock showed forty-seven minutes after seven o’clock in the evening of a gloomy drizzling afternoon when Mr. Skeptic started writing the story. At nine forty-five in the morning Mr. Skeptic and his wife Nelly had gone to the fifth floor of the courthouse in Ottawa to meet an appointment about the payment problem with a law firm. The problem, originally, stemmed from the disputed partnership between Nelly and her business partner in the year 2000. Since May 2001 Mr. Skeptic, who was regularly paying the law firm’s fees and expenses, had stopped making the monthly payments pursuant to a letter he had written to a law-society about the law firm’s handling of the case. In the letter he had written:
I do not know to call this letter a complaint or a request for some explanations in order to justify what lawyers have done to my family in the past year. Somewhat it seems to be a novel of both.
In March 1999 my wife entered a business partnership with another woman in sewing industry with the understanding they equally share the expenses and the profits, however they did not write this down and everything was put on mutual trust.
Since there was shortage of cash and space, they decided to start the business in the basement of the woman’s house. They put several thousand dollars and bought two industrial sewing machines and some fabrics and other equipments that were needed for the operation. Meanwhile they were getting orders and started making some money, however all the money was being spent on purchases needed for the business. All in all, they did not make money. They did not accumulated high debts either.
This continued until December when they received two orders of dance wear from two dance schools. They collected some money from the schools and bought the fabrics for the order and almost finished some of the garments.
On January 31, 2000 the other side unilaterally barred my wife from the partnership. On February 01, she called my wife saying that she had registered another business and was going to operate under the new name and was keeping the dance schools’ orders for herself.
Shocked by the action, my wife was left with about six thousand dollars of debt that she had paid for the purchase of the fabrics by her credit card. Two days later, through mediation, she got her debt paid off by the business money in the business account, but she did not receive any of the fabrics purchased for the dance schools’ order. Of the rest of the assets she did not bring home anything because the other side had offered her just a little of fabrics. Since they had no written agreement, my wife was afraid to bring what she had been offered lest the other party claimed my wife had all her share. And of the sewing machines she showed my wife a finger. For the two months that she had worked on the school orders my wife received nothing either. Of the business documents, she was given nothing either.
Mediation did not work. On February 08, my wife who had some personal belongings in the place and had been banned from her partner’s house went there with two police officers and brought home her personal belongings. Regarding her share of the business, the officers had told her that it was the work of lawyers and they could do nothing about it. People whom we consulted told us to see a lawyer too. All ways led to Rome!
Devastated by the blow and unaware of the legal procedure, we decided to hire a lawyer to fight for us in the case. Since my wife and her partner had spent all the money they had made on the new enterprise plus some original money that they had put in the business, a friend recommended my wife called the Legal Aid and asked for help. She did this. As a result, a lawyer named Ron was introduced to her. Because of my wife’s difficulties with English I had to get involved in the matter from the very beginning.
My wife met the lawyer in downtown Ottawa. He had told my wife of a personal case like hers and that he had been able to get his share back. According to him my wife’s case involved a big amount of money and he could not give her free service. He had added that he would charge her one hundred fifty-eight dollars an hour to follow the case with promises that he would get what she was entitled to. As he had said the case could have been settled either by three letters or the court after those letters. Each letter would take him forty-five minutes to write. At the end of the meeting he kept the registration paper of the business and told my wife to make a decision if she wanted him to start the case and come up with a deposit.
Obviously, I could not believe that the case could go to court after three letters. The main reason, I believed, was the lawyer’s lucrative hourly pay.
My wife told Mr. Ron that her ex-partner always used say that she had no money and if convicted the court would order her to pay ten dollars a month. She asked how he was going to get what she was entitled to. He answered that the court was going to put what her partner owed on her house. Explanation was that anytime her partner sold the house she had to pay my wife from the price of the house before she was able to touch it. Of course, we had to pay the lawyer’s wage and other legal expenses until then. Chances of winning the case, as he said cautiously, were something around sixty percent. Reason for not winning one hundred percent for my wife appeared to be judge’s error due to the vulnerability of human beings to making mistakes.
I called Mr. Ron and asked about a rough estimate of the total cost. He told me that it would cost us between sixteen and twenty thousand dollars. To start the case, we had to provide him with seven hundred in trust. This amount was to be paid at once and as it depleted we had to put more money that he could continue. Where could we bring seven hundred dollars to begin with, leave alone the sixteen to twenty thousand dollars? For a family that was living below poverty line and probably was eligible for social assistance this was far too much.
Nevertheless, my wife who had lost everything did not stop looking for an affordable lawyer. As a result, she was introduced to Mr. Douglass. She met him in his office where he said my wife had a reason for legal action. He put his hourly rate at one hundred twenty dollars per hour and he would not start charging legal fees until he actually started the case.
Also, he had given her a retainer agreement to read and sign so that he could start the case. He was asking for five hundred dollars deposit in trust. This amount was not to be paid at once. We could give him five post-dated checks of one hundred dollars each.
The evening that my wife found Mr. Douglass, Mr. Ron called in and spoke to me. I informed him that my wife had found another lawyer and she had decided to follow the case with him. I asked Mr. Ron to send us the registration paper that we needed for the legal procedures.
Mr. Ron said he would respect my wife’s decision, however my wife had taken one hour and a half of his time plus the time that he had spent on the phone talking to us. So, we had to pay him for all the time he had spent in order to get our paper back. I mentioned that of the total time I was unaware but “there is one half an hour of free legal consultation in this country”. He totally rejected the idea. “I don’t know where you have got this idea of free legal consultation,” he said.
The next day my wife explained to Mr. Ron how difficult it was to pay his hourly rate and the fact that the registration paper was the only document she had from the partnership. Eventually, Mr. Ron relented and faxed the registration paper so that we could continue with the case. He promised to send us a small invoice, but he never did.
In Mr. Douglass’ retainer agreement, which I still have, in short we had to authorize him to do whatever he saw necessary at our expense to pursue the case. In this agreement we were the only side that was obliged to meet the conditions and obligations. The lawyer assumed no responsibility towards the way he conducted the case or its outcomes. Among the conditions mentioned was that the firm would render an interim account to us and we had to pay the outstanding in thirty days otherwise we had to pay interest on the outstanding. Also, that the lawyer’s hourly rate was going to be affected by eight factors. Obviously, the lawyer was the only determinant of those factors.
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