The once-renowned and far-from-late Calgary barrister C.D. Evans has, toward the end of his eighth decade, delivered himself of a sequel to his 2011 memoir Painful Duties. My first thought on hearing of the publication of Less Painful Duties, which focuses on the changes in the legal profession in the past half-century, was “Why?” There comes a time in most of our lives when many of our conversations can be summed up in the phrase “Things have changed so much.” Luckily for his readers, Evans’s book, for the most part, discusses what is interesting about what has changed.
It’s hard for those of us who came of age after about 1980 to imagine the practically Dickensian state of the Canadian legal system before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the rise to prominence of women in the legal profession, and the ubiquity of the computer and the cell phone. Evans learned his barristering chops at a time when there were fewer than a dozen women lawyers in Alberta, when criminal defence lawyers practically never relied on constitutional arguments, and when communication between counsel was in the form of painfully polite letters or informal talks over drinks. He has an obvious fondness for the days of his youth—Who doesn’t? That’s when you’re young—but he’s as fond of deploring the state of the 1960s and 1970s Alberta bar as he is of waxing nostalgic about it.
The present, of course, is as full of things to deplore as the past was, and Evans also has a good go at the legal profession of today. It’s a pleasure to hear somebody who knows what he’s talking about find fault with the aspects of the justice system that are generally treated with white-gloved piety. Are Charter challenges far too common? Is pro-bono representation a disservice to lawyers and to justice? Is there such a thing as just too goddamn much information in the discovery process and over-lengthy trials? Might it not be better if there were fewer jury trials? Evans is happy to answer all these questions in the affirmative.
Less Painful Duties probably isn’t the most rigorously logical book you’ll read this year. You may, as I did, find yourself agreeing with Evans as you read him only to be overtaken with sober second thoughts later on. Which is to say that the author, no matter the ultimate truth of the topics up for discussion, is a marvellous advocate for his own point of view—just the sort of fellow you’d want to advocate for you if you happened to get in some sort of legal hot water. It’s the sad truth that the most persuasive argument Evans makes in this book is that his breed of barrister is on the verge of extinction. That’s a shame.
—Alex Rettie is a Calgary writer.