The Lawyer as Poet

At my wife’s library, the new books contained one by an unexpected author – at least in the poetry section – Lazar Sarna

Lazar Sarna’s He Claims He Is the Direct Heir$14.95 paper 0-88984-282-3, 72 pp., 6 x 9, The Porcupine’s Quill, Nov. 2005 introduces a new tone of voice into Canadian poetry. It is wry and droll, an unexpected melange of Jewish humour and Surrealism.

This led me to wonder about other lawyer poets – I guess that many of the Slaw Readers who slogged through Professor Black’s tome on Admiralty Law never knew about his other life as poet Charlie Black

Then as I looked there seemed to be a plethora of websites with mentions of lawyer poets – until I stumbled on the motherlode – a site all about lawyer poets.

The Canadian list is very extensive, but even so misses a few names, like David Weisstub‘s – and Lazar Sarna.


Marc Lescarbot (1570-1642)

Michael Massey Robinson (1744-1826)

Joseph-Édouard Turcotte (1808-1864)

Georges Etienne Cartier (1814-1873)

John Hawkins Hagarty (1816-1900) [“Born inDublin on December 17, 1816, being the son of Matthew Hagarty. Educated at T.C.D., where he does not appear to have graduated. Went to Canada in or about 1834, and became a lawyer of note, eventually reaching the high position of Chief Justice of Ontario in 1878. He wrote a good deal of verse for the Canadian Press, especially The Maple Leaf of toronot, over the signature of ‘Zadig.’ See N.F. Davin’s ‘Irishman in Canada,’ pp. 605, 606. He died at Toronto, April 27, 1900, aged 84.”] [Source: D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of Irish Writers of English Verse 177 (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co.; London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, 1912)(Gale Research Co., reprint 1968)]

Abraham S. Holmes (1821-1908); Peter John Allan (1825-1848); Daniel Carey (1829-1890); Pamphile Lemay (1837-1918); Louis Honoré Fréchette (1839-1908); Alphonse Basile Routhier (1839-1920); Nicholas Flood Davin (1840-1901); Patrick Buckley (ca. 1844- ) [Irish parents; born at Halifax, Nova Scotia; author of two verse pamphlets, Pencillings by the Way and Rome] [Source: D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of Irish Writers of English Verse 45 (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co.; London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, 1912)(Gale Research Co., reprint 1968)]; George Frederick Cameron (1845-1885)(poet, lawyer and journalist)

Pamphile Le May
(1837-1918) [Pamphile Le May]

Martin J. Griffin (1847- ) [“Born of Irish parentage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, August 7, 1847, and was educated at St. mary’s College, Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was called to the bar in Halifax in 1868, and between 1869 and 1874 edited The Herald, and The Express there, besides writing for The Chronicle. He beame private secretary to the Dominon Minister in 1878, editor of the Toronto Mail in 1881, and Parliamentary Librarian, Ottawa, 1885. He is the author of various Poems, and is icluded in Oscar Fay Adams’ ‘Through the Year with the Poets,’ Boston.” [Source: D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of Irish Writers of English Verse 173 (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co.; London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, 1912)(Gale Research Co., reprint 1968)]

Robert Stanley Weir (1856-1926) [Weir was born in Hamilton, educated in Montreal (qualifying in both law and teaching), and became a judge Recorder of the City of Montréal and later served on the Exchequer Court of Canada (now the Federal Court of Canada); served as a member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly; elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society) [Robert Stanley Weir]

William Douw Lighthall (1857-1954) [Canadian Poems and Lays] [Canadian Songs and Poems] [Songs of the Great Dominion]

Thomas Brown Phillips Stewart (1865–1892)(barrister and poet)(left a part of his estate to establish a student library at Osgoode Hall, now the largest law library in Canada)

Thomas White (1867-1955)(Canada’s Finance Minister from 1911 to 1919; acting Prime Minister after World War I; newspaper man, law degree from Osgood Hall in 1899 but did not practice); Jean Charbonneau (1875-1960)

Patrick Slater (1880-1951)

Arthur Long Dysart (1886-1964)

Alan Crawley (1887-1975)

Jack Higgins (1891-1963)

Arthur Stanley Bourinot (1893-1969)

Richard Augustus Parsons (1893- )

Wilfred Heighington (1897-1945)

Francis Reginald Scott (1899-1985)

Alain Grandbois (1900-1975)

Ronald Gilmour Everson (1903-1992)

Abraham Moses Klein (1909-1972)

Donald William MacFarlane (1921-2001)

John R. Leach (1922- )
(author of a collection of poems, Lifestream (1996); born in Enland and grew up there; graduated in law from Manchester University in 1948; emigrated to Canada in 1954 and is now a Canadian citizen; joined Shell Oil Company as a lawyer in 1956; retired in 1977 after serving two years a General Solicitor of the company; private law practice in Toronto from 1977 to 1982; gave up the practice of law in 1982 to write; first book, a novel, Then, Now and Maybe was published in 1986; began writing poetry in the mid-1980s; in 1997 moved to Chisholm Township

Pierre Perrault (1927- )

Charles Roach (1933- )
Trinidadian-Canadian ; civil rights and immigration lawyer; author of Root for the Ravens: Poems for Drum and Freedom (Toronto: NC Press, 1977)

James Clarke (1934- )

Dugald E. Christie (1940- )

Gary Botting (1943- )
[Poems — Legal Studies Forum]

Marlene Nourbese Philip (1947- )

Eva Van Loon (1948- ). van Loon, who now now writes under the name Kaimana Wolff, was born in the Netherlands, June 29, 1948. She was called to the Bar in British Columbia,September 25, 1985, and to the Yukon Bar, in 1986. She became what is sometimes called a “holistic lawyer” in 1997. After her marriage failed in 1998, she took up residence for a sabbatical in Hawaii. In Hawaii, here legal activities are restricted to mediation, legal counselling, and helping a lawyer friend with her caseload. In Canada, van Loon’s areas of legal practice include mediation, wills and trusts, and estate litigation. van Loon has self-published eleven chapbooks, including poetry volumes entitled: Cured of Kings, Chaos in the Garden, How I Died, Ich Bin Ein New Yorker, and The Power of Water. She is also the author of a novel, Broken Sleep (Trafford Publishing, 2005). She is a member of the Maui Live Poets’ Guild and joins other informal groups for poetry readings. van Loon is also a writer of fiction.

Brenda Niskala (1955- )

Nancy Jane Bullis (1956- )

Paul Sanderson
Sanderson majored in Political Science and History at Glendon College, York University and then earned his law degree at Osgoode Hall, York University in 1981. He became a member of the Ontario Bar in 1983, and is now senior lawyer in the firm Sanderson Taylor which specializes in arts and entertainment law. His volunteer work includes: co-founder of Artist Legal Advice Services (ALAS), Canada’s first and only summary advice legal service offering free legal advice for all artists; and membership on boards of arts service organizations, including the Scarborough Arts Council, the Music Gallery and the Advisory Board for the Humber College Jazz Program. Sanderson is a frequent guest speaker on the legal aspects of the music and art, and has lectured at the Trebas Institute. He has authored legal texts on “Musicians and the Law in Canada” and “Model Agreements for Visual Artists,” and has published in numerous legal journals. Sanderson’s poetry has appeared in Tower, Zygote and the White Wall Review.

Tom MacInnes

Michael Shain
born in Toronto in 1956; obtained his B.A. at the University of Toronto, an M.A. at Concordia University, and his law degree fron the University of Windsor; has lived on Manitoulin Island since 1990 where he directs a legal clinic on the Sucker Creek First Nations; his work is included in Northern Prospects: An Anthology of Northeastern Ontario Poetry (Your Scrivener Press, 1998)(Roger Nash ed.).

Paul McLaughlin
author of Welcome to Reality: A New Lawyer’s Guide to Success

Reid Cooper
Ottawa-born lawyer; a lawyer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade; poetry has appeared in the Carleton Literary Review

Meredith Quartermain
[Meredith Quartermain’s Page] [“What’s here?”] [“Meaning Dreams”] [Poems: East Village Poetry Web] [A review of Miriam Nichols (ed.), Even on Sunday: Essays, Readings, and Archival Materials on the Poetry and Poetics of Robin Blaser]

Leslie Hall Pinder

Alphonse Lanza
Poet/lawyer; lives in Hamilton, Ontario; first publication appears in The Antigonish Review 105.

John Kleefeld
Lawyer/mediator/teaches law at the University of British Columbia; his poem, “Boilerplat,” appears in The Dalhousie Review (vol. 85, no. 1, pp. 132-133)(2005) [University of Waterloo (B.A., Hons. Econ., 1991); University of British Columbia (LL.B., 1998); Osgoode Hall Law School (LL.M., 2002)][Law firm profile]

Kathleen Fisher

Gilchrist lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; lawyer and claims consultant for professional liability insurers; resumed the writing of poetry again in 2002 after a hiatus of a good many years; poetry has appears in Reconnaitre Magazine, Saucy Vox Review, Literati, and Worm.

Joseph A. Farina
Joseph Farina is the author of a collection of poems, The Cancer Chronicles: A Parent’s Journey (Serengeti Press, 2006).


  1. Shift happens. I’ve become a community publisher in a small town on the west coast of BC. My house, The Pack Press, has just published glasstown, by a young Canadian/American poet, and an anthology of local children’s peace-poems, Can You Hear Peace?. The next book is a poetry collection from across the land entitled Parallel: forty-nine Canadian poets speak to Obama.My own book Bitters has just been published by Motley Crew House under the name Kaimana Wolff.

  2. And I am likely the only litigator in Canada to have published a New and Selected Poems (Back Off, Assassin! New and Selected Poems from Toronto’s Mansfield Press (November, 2009)) – check out the book on the press’ website and my Lawyer of the Week profile in the March 5, 2010 Lawyers Weekly (p. 4). Course I was a poet with books way before law school in 1994. My feeling is that the practice of law may have affected my poetry, but not vice versa. And it is a noble tradition – thirty years ago I worked on my Masters thesis manuscript with writer-in-residence F.R. Scott. A giant – poetically and legally.