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Last Time Around

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Mike, Rossi and McGillvary were the first to graduate. Despite everything, they all pulled off the grades necessary to earn the sheepskin, but Sean still owed some tuition for the last half of third year, and they withheld his diploma pending payment. He never paid. He never got it.

Jerry and Jason were a year behind, and so, now, was Kevin – he got so fed up with law school that he took a year off. In typical Kevin fashion, he had an intense May/December romance with a woman he met on the job – I think he took something with the city, that year – except “December” doesn’t really fit, it was more like May/Mid July. In what was now my fourth year in the basement, I finished up undergrad over in the Poli. Sci. department, and pondered a future that seemed to offer very little to recommend it. The rest of the guys prepared for the Darwinian sport of obtaining an articling position (a sort of apprenticeship that law graduates are made to endure before being admitted to the bar), hoping to land a position at a local firm.

There are more stories to tell, but in a way, there aren’t. That year went pretty much like the other years, though things were a little more sedate in the absence of the Rossi-McGillvary Axis. We partied, we boozed, we wrung the last few drops of hedonistic fun out of Seymour Street, and stumbled blind drunk towards the future. As year-end approached, the guys prepared their CVs, and threw them out there at dozens of firms, but all that came back were dozens of PFOs. The grades. It was all about the grades; that, and we had more law graduates than open articling positions. This is another chasm between the profession and law school. Nobody at the schools cares whether the steady drumbeat of graduations was grinding out more wannabe lawyers than the profession could possibly absorb (or that society needed). So there was a glut. So what? Somebody, somewhere, would hire them. Some day. Ontario would sop them up, or B.C., or they’d go back to where they came from, since many came to study in Halifax from other parts of the country – getting into a law school was not unlike getting a job afterwards, you might well have to leave your home town. Anyway, this was not a vocational school. The point was to get a legal education, not get a job. Hyuk.

If the world didn’t need so many lawyers, it needed all of us Arts graduates even less. I kicked around Halifax for a year after I got my degree, applied for a few jobs, lived at home with my folks, and generally drifted around rudderless. Jason and Kevin, unable to find anything at home, migrated to Toronto, where they hoped to do better. It took a while. Kevin actually worked as a security guard, for a time, wandering the halls of Royal Bank Plaza at night, seeing where the proverbial Bay Street Lawyers actually maintained their lairs. He sent me an ironic picture of himself standing there in his blue uniform dress shirt, pantsless, proudly holding up his framed law degree.

I was lonely, actually. Sometimes I’d walk past Domus on my way to and from home, and there were nights when I was sorely tempted to return to the basement, but I didn’t want to become the next Jack McKilroy, poking people drunkenly and asking them to challenge me. I decided graduate school offered the best interim solution, and I snagged an SSHRC grant and gained admittance to the masters’ program in international relations at the University of Toronto. Kevin and Jason were renting a house together, and they took me in for a while until I found a quite dismal apartment. It was a little rough for a time. Toronto took some getting used to, and U of T was uninspiring, to the point that any Ph.D. fantasies I’d been entertaining swirled around the bowl for a bit and vanished. This left a blank spot on the calendar. What next? I had to do something. My Masters wasn’t going to kick open any doors. What was I qualified to do? Go to school, that’s all.

I took a temporary job painting houses, and when “temporary” had stretched to three years, I finally bowed to the inevitable and went to law school. I didn’t want to, really, but it seemed the best of a uniformly unpalatable set of options. So fine, I enrolled in U of T’s law program, and gutted it out. No parties, no basement life, no bacchanals, just work, strive, compete, work, strive, try to beat the bell curve. All the while, I kept up with Mike, and Kev, and Jason, and learned how miserable they were as lawyers. Mike had hung out his own shingle, an incredibly daunting thing to do right out of school. Jason and Kev worked in firms for people they didn’t much care for, and had abuse heaped upon them, like all junior lawyers do, in Toronto, anyway, but I kept on working hard so I could join in the misery. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

It could have been worse, of course. I met my wife there, the luckiest break I’ll ever catch – for some reason she didn’t find me as unappealing as the rest of her gender – and I did well enough to get a job with a prestigious firm in a downtown tower, so hey look at me, I was a Bay Street Lawyer, and that was that. The die was cast.

I do not recommend that you follow in my footsteps, if you haven’t already. Neither you nor anyone you care about should consider law as a profession. Trust me.

The problem with broadcasting that warning here is that only about five people have ever visited my blog, and they’ve all been lawyers for decades.

It’s been over thirty years since we crawled out of the basement, blinking in the sunlight, and wondering what to do. 1255 Seymour Street doesn’t even exist any longer. They tore it down in 2004 to put up a shiny building for the Faculty of Management, and a new parking garage. Some of us were a little sad about that, but not Mike. No bullshit nostalgia for him. He cheered when they bulldozed the place. He hates to even remember his time there, and tells me he won’t even park in the new garage. This whole set of blog posts has been a trauma for him, actually. Sorry, Mike.

I don’t feel quite the same way, but any of us looking back today has got to have feelings that are at least a little mixed. We had our fun. We made lasting friendships. We were princes in our own little castle, we did what we wanted, when we wanted, and answered to no one. We’d also been exceedingly foolish, and we’d gotten away with it. Today, the real people behind the characters in these posts are mature and upright citizens, professionals, and parents, a few of them. They’d probably have a conniption fit before keeling over from a coronary if they even suspected their kids were doing any of the things that we used to do. Maybe I shouldn’t think back upon any of it fondly, if in the end all it amounted to was an overripe interlude of stupid. Maybe it should be good riddance.

Maybe, yet even now, looking back with aging eyes and admitting all of it, thinking of one’s younger self and cringing, it feels like it was more than that. You only get to be young, and strong, and naive about the future once, if ever you get to be that way at all. We were morons, but it was our moment to be free, and a lot of it I miss. I do.

Either way, the house is gone, but something that calls itself the Domus Legis Society still exists. You can visit their web page:

It provides a brief history of the goings-on when 1255 still stood. It’s a little different from mine. When I first read it Diet Coke almost spewed out my nose. Look at this:

The home-base for this affable enterprise was located at 1255 Seymour Street, affectionately nicknamed “the Dome.” Here law students, faculty, and alumni could come together to enjoy one another’s’ company, engage in lively debate, share their (often musical) talents, and escape the stresses of life.

Lively debate! Talent shows! Stress-relief! I guess so, if “lively debate” was getting punched in the face, and flirting with death and disaster was blowing off steam. It’s like describing one of Stalin’s purges as a cabinet shuffle. It gets better:

But Domus was so much more than just a party setting: it was an active force in the development of Canada’s legal culture. As Tom Khattar (‘78) put it, Domus has always been “a desirable social atmosphere … in which a meaningful dialogue might occur between students and practising lawyers.”

Oh, there was dialogue all right.

They do allow that some of the former members would probably prefer to remain anonymous, if anybody who wasn’t there sits within earshot when their exploits are remembered ’round the campfire. So true. That’s why none of the names used in these blog posts has been real.

It was a bit jarring to suddenly switch gears and leave all that lively debate and meaningful dialogue behind. What did normal folk do in their spare time, anyway? Before Kev left for Hogtown, we’d sometimes go downtown, where a growing trendy bar scene was fuelling the gentrified replacement of all the old dives. They even roofed in a whole length of street, with the renovated bars sheltered in buildings beneath what came to be known as the “Liquor Dome”. It was all very preppie, all shiny surfaces and rounded edges, and we were out of our element. The new establishments had names like “Lawrence of Oregano’s”, “My Apartment”, and “Maxwell’s Plumb”. Going from Domus to one of these joints was like being pulled off the front lines for a weekend furlough in Paris, and finding out you didn’t really care for Paris. No explosions. No bullets whizzing by your head. Boring.

Kev and I were downtown one evening, trying to figure out which of these places was the least objectionable, when there was a minor ruckus across the street. Some drunk was getting forcibly ejected from Maxwell’s Plumb. After he regained his balance, he saw us standing there and made straight for us, as best as he could on his rubbery legs, all smiles and how-dee-dos. It was Laughing Boy. He lived.

“Hiya guys! See that? I just got barred from that place!”

Kevin said something like “Well, you don’t really match the décor”, and told him this probably wouldn’t be the last watering hole to give him the heave. “Hell, you almost got barred from our place, which is damn near impossible.”

He looked at us, mystified.

“What? Do I know you guys or something?”

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This entry was posted in Domus.

3 comments on “Domus Legis – Epilogue

  1. Kitty says:

    You failed to mention that U of T Law not only didn’t have a bar, but it had a goddamn wine club. Embarrassingly called The Supreme Cork. Oy.


    1. graemecoffin says:

      Actually, that’s in a prior post!


  2. Kunga Shiwa & the Search for Enlightenment says:

    I feel I should submit my own epilogue on this fantastic, but true, tale. Like the Greatful Dead, lately it occurs to me what a long,strange trip it’s been.

    The law school experience was an assault on my self-confidence. I got into law school with a 3.5 or 4.0 GPA, but by the end of 1st year I was convinced that I had lost a few (dozen?) IQ points. And it was more than beer that was making me lose what I thought I had, in spades– the drive and work ethic to excel in school.

    I graduated with a dog’s breakfast of a transcript, about 100 extra pounds (I weighed 358 at my worst) and 0 self-confidence. I didn’t even apply for any articling jobs. Couldn’t bring myself to try.

    In what was supposed to be my articling year,1984, I went back to Dal for a Masters in Political Science. I planned to write my thesis on South African politics, specifically the Inkatha Freedom Party, led by Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Apartheid and the Homelands Policy were in full vigour.

    I discovered that I was not brain dead. I excelled in classes again. Things improved so much that I applied for an articling position. I was hired at a small “eat what you kill” firm in Dartmouth at the princely sum of $96.58 per week. Articling and its pressures meant that I didn’t continue with my thesis.

    I took the Bar Admission Course. I did a ‘180’ from my law school days. I remember saying to myself ‘this is your career, don’t blow this!’ I attended EVERY class . The only time I was in Domus during the days was at lunch hour, to play shuffleboard and video games. I still had a bit of the Dome in me, but it was nothing like the old days. Thank G*D. I have been a lawyer for 31 years.

    Through it all, my wife stayed with me. That says more about her than me. Never mind, our 36th anniversary is this August.

    She now admits that if we hadn’t been married after 1st year, we never would have been married.

    In the words of a fellow law school grad, “look–we have lived some things down”. Amen.



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