This is Not Legal Advice.

This is Not Legal Advice, a podcast about the
history of law and legal theory. My goal is to
explore a hidden side of the world and show
you how small choices, sometimes made
hundreds of years ago, shape our modern
world in dramatic and unexpected ways.


The contents of these podcasts are not legal advice. That's serious, not just the name of the website. You should not rely on them, do anything, or fail to do anything, because of something you have heard in one of these podcasts. Regardless of anything in these podcasts, do not disregard professional legal advice, or delay in obtaining same.

About Me


I was a terrible child. Looking back on the first grade I have more memories of being in the Principal’s office than in the classroom. Though I have no memory of ever doing anything terribly wrong it might be best not to try too hard to remember.

In the second grade I committed to turning my act around. Like many life changing resolutions this one had venial motives: her name was Natasha, a fellow student in my class, and she was beautiful. Again it is probably best not to strain my memory on what I found attractive in my seven-year-old crush.

What is important is that Natasha was a well behaved girl and I thought good behavior was the path to success with her – the fool I was. Gandhi would have us believe that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. That even sounds difficult and there was a much simpler option available to impress Natasha. My second grade teacher ran a weekly contest to reward good behavior. He gave students tickets when they did a good deed. Each week we wrote our name on our tickets and put them in a large box at the front of the classroom. The teacher would then hold a little ceremony and draw tickets (and this is the important part) until three different students had been called. Each time your name was called you could go to a chest of toys and take one. So if one person got called twice, four toys were awarded.

It took a Sisyphean effort, but in the space of two months I went from getting no tickets to averaging two tickets a week. The problem was, despite strenuous washing and ironing, my moral fabric was only of middling quality compared to the other students, and I never won a toy. Apart from how crushing it was to have worked hard with nothing to show for it, if I was never called for a toy, how was Natasha to know of my improvement? There was also the larger problem that simply winning a toy or two was not enough. Most of the other children had won a toy, and I had to impress her. Anyone could win the luck of the draw once or twice but I had to prove I was the pre-pubescent boy for her.

I needed a plan. I realized that if, instead of putting my tickets into the box each week, I saved them and put them in en masse my chances of success would be much improved. So I began to save my tickets. And then I began buying tickets. I traded hockey cards, lunch snacks, whatever I had of playground value to purchase tickets from other children in my class.

Now I think it is important you know that I was not a “rich” kid. I did not get pre-packaged pudding cups or fruit roll ups in my lunch, the adult equivalent to showing up to work in a BMW with a starbucks. I was of limited childhood means and as such a degree of salesmanship and skill was required to turn a chocolate granola bar, or hockey cards of middling players, into good behavior tickets. Each trade took multiple recesses and lunch periods to organize. But I persevered – hording my tickets and biding my time.

When the end of the year was in sight I began writing my name on tickets. I wrote every day until my hand cramped up: hundreds of tickets, months of work.

I remember having to be discrete as I stuffed the ticket box, not wanting the teacher to see how many tickets I had. When the teacher called us all over to the small corner of the classroom used for the ticket drawing ceremony, I ran over, excited to reap what I had sown.

I remember sitting on the classroom’s old carpet, barely able to contain my excitement, but worried I might still not be called. The first ballot drawn was mine. I strode up to the front of the class, and selected a toy with the care of a Sommelier picking between obscure vintages: I settled on a Dick Tracey fridge magnet. I was also the second name called. At this point I think the teacher knew something was “up." Over the course of the year only a handful of really well behaved children had ever received more than one toy in a given week. And with a rich stream of tickets to be purchased on the playground black market, I admit to having made less of an effort to win the pittance of tickets I might have gotten by merit.

I forget what I got as a second toy, and for that matter my third, fourth and fifth. I do remember the chest of toys slowly running out of anything good. I remember starting to feel embarrassed after selecting my twentieth toy and seeing the looks of surprise on the faces of the other children, the ones who had sold me their tickets, obviously not realizing the terrible and wonderful extent of my plans. I remember the teacher vigorously shaking the box hoping to disburse a clump of my tickets he might have hit. And I remember the look of jealousy on Natasha’s face as the handful of toys she had won over the year was lapped again and again and again by my own reward for behavior.

Eventually however two other students names were drawn and the ceremony came to a close. The last toy I had selected was a book “R is for Rocket” – which for a young boy tells you just how slim the pickings had become.

I learned several valuable lessons that day. First, girls are difficult to impress. Second, what you want isn’t always what you want. Third, the results of any system are not necessarily those intended by its designer.

Other impacts of that day took longer to reveal themselves. It was more than a decade later when I received a degree in aerospace engineering, it turned our R was for Rocket Scientist. And it was almost twenty years after that day that I became a lawyer in Ontario.

It's strange, but despite nearly three decades having passed, despite having gone to law school, and despite having married a wonderful woman, somehow I still see the world with the same outlook as I had in the third grade.


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