Welcome to Coytown

The most frequent question I’ve gotten from lawyers over the years has been, “Do you ever get slapped back?” By which they mean, do I ever get censored? Toned down?

Generally speaking–no. There have been minor exceptions–a turn of phrase blunted, a metaphor taken out. But only one ever, “this draft is too politically explosive.” And it was on  my first draft of this May 2010 (Lexpert) Last Word, which I had called Pairing Off. It was really, really clever. Too clever.


So you get to read this second, cleaner version instead.

Bankers Hall East building, Calgary, Alberta

Last Word: Welcome to Coytown

By Marzena Czarnecka

Bay Street recruiters are beating the bushes in Calgary, trying to flush out moveable lawyers, preferably ones with portable practices. That is, if you believe the stories spun by Calgary partners, just about every single one of whom, come compensation setting time, had a tale to tell of a recruiter trying to woo him or her to the Dark Side.

Now, I’d never want to accuse my Calgary friends of lying, but I do think there’s just a wee bit of exaggeration going on. Yes, we’ve got a new greenfield in town, and yes, the recruiters seem to be extra-active these days—I keep on bumping into them in the oddest places too (like outside one mega-firm’s annual partners meeting—now that was weird), but boys and girls, if you happen to spot a Bay Street lawyer in the foyer of Bankers Hall and exchange brief hellos… that does not, repeat, does not count as an approach. It’s not even a flirtation. The technical word for that is, I believe, coincidence.

Still, put enough coincidences together and what you’ve got is … nervous anticipation. Which firm’s going to go public with its Calgary plans next? Who will they bring over? For how much? Will they ask you? If they haven’t asked you, why not? Is it because they knew you were immoveable—or because they think you’re yesterday’s news? You’d never, not for a million point seven five, jump ship from the beloved local firm with which you’ve articled and to which your loyalty is beyond question but… it’d be nice to be asked. It would give your ego—somewhat bruised by the events and non-events of 2009—a bit of a boost. Will they ask? Will they call? They’ve called Joe and Rob. Rob says he suspects Anne’s been talking to them to. And Bill’s been acting rather secretive lately—bet he’s talking with them. Why haven’t they called you?


Actually, in 2010, it’s more likely to be a Blackberry buzz. “In town on Friday, have time for a coffee?” There. Now you can say you’ve been approached. It doesn’t work the other way, though: whatever you do, do not pick up the telephone—or Blackberry—and buzz the Dark Side. You don’t want to look desperate, do you? Remember: the more reluctant you are to move, the more they want you. Yes, as perverse as high school dating, but that’s the way it is. They need to entice you, lure you, court you… As soon as word gets out you’re on the market forget about the million five and three year guarantees. They’ll be dictating the terms.

And let me assure you, right now, they—the recruiters, the mythical Bay Street (or Montreal) firms eyeing Calgary, that secret Houston firm that’s apparently finally getting serious about making an entry (for the record, I don’t believe it)—are not dictating the terms. They’re searching, talking, wooing… and more than often cursing. Especially those used to the fluid Toronto market, where partners leave in a tiff at the drop of a hat.

Moving people in Calgary—especially those partners everyone wants, you know, the ones who are high-performing-even-in-a-downturn, connected to everyone and his dog, and super-nice to staff to boot—is still hard. People are reluctant to move. They’re, frankly, afraid to take risks.

Now, this statement frequently shocks my Toronto friends. After all, haven’t we been telling them for the last decade or more that Calgary is all about risk? That in the city the economy of which is built on throwing money into deep dark pits in the ground success belongs to those who carpe diem and leap into the fire without a thorough and rational due diligence and risk analysis process?

Indeed. But there’s only so much risk a Calgarian—a Calgary lawyer—will take. That’s why Albertans never change our government. The oil and gas industry is so volatile and so out of our control, all we want from the provincial government is predictable incompetence. And that’s why getting a Calgary lawyer to switch teams is still a feat that requires considerable effort. She may feel under-appreciated, underpaid (possibly, although, alas, these days, not likely, overworked) and frustrated… but taking the leap to a new greenfield or to a barely established office or, egads, down a tier on the promise of a department headship? When the price of gas is in the toilet, oil is nowhere near the comfort zone, and the future of oil sands uncertain, that’s an awful lot to ask.

Even of a Calgarian.

So how do you get them? Woo them, court them, flatter them. And when it looks like all is lost, shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, I didn’t think you had quite the guts to do this,” and watch them scramble for a pen.

We are a damn contrary lot, we Albertans.

Marzena Czarnecka is a wicked Calgary-based freelance writer who loves watching musical chairs.

Thomson Reuters article record

“But hey, this is your portfolio. Why don’t you give us the too-hot for Lexpert draft?”

“Maybe one day I will. But when I previewed it with a couple of you when the editors balked, to see how much fighting I should do for it, you said, ‘Oh my God. It’s awesome. You will never work in this town again.’ And I have to work in this town for a little longer…”