Martha Metzner made history, setting legal precedent before she ever became a lawyer.
Her case, an acrimonious divorce, continues to be used in current courtrooms and is unique because she was a lay litigant, acting as her own legal counsel.
“[The case] lasted about 13 years, which was twice as long as the marriage,” she said.
The case was rare, resulting in a seven-week trial.
Twice the Supreme Court of Canada became involved.
A lower court made its ruling.
The BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling, and Metzner applied to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the Court of Appeal’s decision.
“The facts were sufficiently unique that even though they didn’t feel the need to have the whole case heard, they essentially smacked the hands of the Court of Appeal by remanding it back to the Court of Appeal to be heard by a different panel, taking into consideration different aspects.”
The appeal court revisited the case and sided with the lower court. Then her ex-husband appealed that appeal court decision and went to the Supreme Court of Canada. It sided with the appeal court and took an unusual step – awarding her court costs.
“They had never had costs awarded to a lay litigant,” Metzner explained.
The case was very traumatic for her children but she hopes it also set a good example about facing adversity.
About four years into the divorce case, she could no longer afford lawyers, and fought her own case through the courts, which set the stage for the next chapter of her life.
“Although it was tough, I learned a lot about the law,” Metzner said.
People suggested she become a lawyer.
“In my opinion, if you’re thrown lemons, make lemonade,” she said.
She had life and legal experience that served her well in law school, but it was tough to get in and tough to graduate.
She understands how stressed, frustrated and exhausted her clients can be when going through a family law case.
She wasn’t initially going to go anywhere near family law but realized her experience made her uniquely qualified.
“I felt like it would be burying a gift,” she commented.
And the respect she earned by taking on big challenges made her more contemplative and focused on integrity in her work.
“My motto for this firm [Martha D. Metzner Law Corp.]… is first seek to understand then to be understood.”
She had the good fortune to come from a family that expected the children to work hard, no matter their gender, and she prides herself on having been inclusive in her law practice, advocating for the rights of people in the LGBTQ community.
And she welcomes the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that are providing women with the opportunity to discuss gender-based abuse and misconduct against them.
“I’m very pleased that the #MeToo movement has finally happened,” she commented. “It takes courage.”
Metzner doesn’t define her success in the legal profession as being the stereotypical adversarial win-at-all-costs lawyer, because in family law, there are usually children and no lack of emotional rawness involved.
“Growing up in a family where there is strife is hard,” the mother of three noted.
Metzner tells her clients to think about their behaviour, and not just in how it affects their legal case in family law.
“I tell my clients how important it is to be an example to your children,” she said.
She sees her work as not just solving immediate legal problems but helping change the course of clients’ lives for the better. And key to that is for people to think about their actions and words because they are setting an example for their children.
“Those examples last a lifetime,” she said. “It also helps me defend them in court.”
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