About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Practising Law in Rural Mississippi and Saskatchewan

Before embarking on my trio of posts about court cases and commissions of inquiry setting the facts of history I had reviewed A Time for Mercy by John Grisham. It was an excellent book. As I read the book I reflected on the life of a country lawyer.

Many of the aspects of Jake Brigance’s life and firm remind me of my own experience in rural Saskatchewan. In the book Jake is 37 in 1990. I was 38 that year. 

I could appreciate his constant need for new cases and transactions to maintain cash flow because large cases are few in the country. The big cases usually stay in the cases.

As set out in my last post I have had the chance to participate in nationally prominent cases. In addition to the Commissions of Inquiry described in that post I had the opportunity to take part in several national class actions. Yet most of my time has been spent on cases and transactions of importance to the participants but rarely gained further attention.

While rare there can be a local case that garners national, even international attention. Most recently in Saskatchewan it was the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus crash that took place 70 km from Melfort. It was the notorious case that a rural lawyer will have to decide whether it will cost business. 

Every defendant in major trouble is entitled to a lawyer. Here it is easier as Legal Aid is more established and there is a wider pool of lawyers willing to travel to take on such cases. Still I was glad we were not approached to defend the driver in the Humboldt Bronco bus crash. It avoided a decision for our firm.

In A Question of Mercy Jake agonizes over taking on another controversial defence to a murder charge. He knows there will be hostility and anger and financial consequences to representing 16 year old Drew Gamble on the charge he murdered Deputy Sheriff Stewart Kofer.

Thankfully the threats against lawyers taking unpopular cases are absent in rural Saskatchewan. I have never known a lawyer to have his/her house burned down as Jake’s house was burned in Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill.

On a happier note being in a general practice in a rural area means continuing relationships. As Jake has known several of his clients and their families in different ways I have appreciated the chance to represent up to four generations of the same family.

While all litigators know the judges where they are resident you must learn in the country how to work with judges you deal with all the time. In Saskatchewan Provincial Court judges preside in an area. There are two resident judges in Melfort. You worry less about the relationships in larger centres where you see more judges. I am glad that Queen’s Bench judges are rotated in Saskatchewan which results in a variety of judges coming to Melfort.

In Grisham’s books about trials in Mississippi the need for research on some jurors is eliminated as the lawyers personally know them. I expect to know potential jurors in any pool of jurors for a jury trial in Melfort. What I have had to deal with involves potential jurors being eliminated simply because they know me. In one trial I asked the trial judge to require more than just knowledge of me for dismissal as a juror.

Having read the Grisham books and a few more on trials in the deep American South I believe the jurors of our area are more willing to find accused not guilty than in rural Mississippi.  My conclusion is hardly scientific and I recognize the risk of relying on fiction for real life.

There are some distinct differences between practising in rural Mississippi and rural Saskatchewan. There are neither elected judges nor elected Sheriffs in Saskatchewan.

Most of the police in rural Saskatchewan are not permanent residents of the area as are the officers of the Ford County Sheriff’s department or the members of the Clanton police force. As our officers are members of the RCMP they are part of a national police force and transferred every few years.

I appreciate, as does Jake, being within a few minutes of home so that it is possible to have more time with family.

You do have close personal relationships with fellow lawyers. Certainly there are relationships in larger cities for lawyers but I believe the small regional bars in the country promote strong relationships among the lawyers.

I am sure there are class distinctions in Saskatchewan but they are certainly less obvious than such institutions as the country club at Clanton. Melfort’s “country” club is open to all golfers at a modest fee. They are always seeking new members.

There is a major racial divide in Saskatchewan. There are racist attitudes towards the indigenous peoples of our country. I think Canada’s less violent racial history and efforts at addressing racism mean racism has a lesser presence in practising law here than Mississippi. As to the inequalities in our judicial system I make no comment in this post.

I hope Grisham will return in a future book to Mississippi but the acknowledgements suggested he has written enough about Ford County.


Grisham, John – (2000) - The Brethren; (2001) - A Painted House; (2002) - The Summons; (2003) - The King of Torts; (2004) - The Last Juror; (2005) - The Runaway Jury; (2005) - The Broker; (2008) - The Appeal; (2009) - The Associate; (2011) - The Confession; (2011) - The Litigators; (2012) - "G" is for John Grisham - Part I and Part II; (2013) - The Racketeer; (2013) - Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Analyzing Grisham's Lawyers; (2013) - Sycamore Row; (2014) - Gray Mountain and Gray Mountain and Real Life Legal Aid; (2015) - Rogue Lawyer and Sebastian Rudd; (2016) - The Whistler; (2017) - Camino Island; (2017) - The Rooster Bar and Law Students and Integrity; (2019) - The Reckoning; (2019) - Cullen Post in The Guardians and The Guardians; (2020) - A Time for Mercy


  1. I really appreciate this look behind the scenes at life as a rural attorney, Bill. I can see how it would have plenty of advantages, even if there are times when it can be awkward. The one point you made that struck me is the impact of taking on a particular client. I wouldn't have envied your firm defending the Humboldt driver, for instance, as much as I am an advocate for fair trials. And I think Grisham does a find job with that topic in his Ford County work.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I have been glad I practise law in a rural setting. Our office has not shied away from difficult cases but we are not sure we could have defended the driver of the semi in bus crash. As I said we were glad we were not asked.

  2. Very interesting. And I look forward to this Grisham book with Jake Brigance, as I enjoyed the first two.
    You are lucky that attorneys' houses aren't burned down in your area, as Brigance's was in A Time to Kill. I doubt that the KKK is in your province, althougI did read what you said about racism there.
    The racism in Mississippi is horrific. A woman news commentator, who is a woman of color, and lives in New Jersey, said she visited Mississippi and was shocked at the overt racism continually.
    And in the recent election mess here, a lot of the old unsettled racism comes out.
    This was also said by John Grisham in an interview at the Poisoned Pen, well worth watching. He talks about the entrenched racism in the state.
    Well, on to a good year of reading. Hopefully, the pandemic and political situation here will calm down. But we always have books.

  3. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. We no longer have the KKK but they were prominent for some years in Saskatchewan in the late 1920's. They collapsed as an organization when a leader absconded with most of the money they had gathered. From afar Mississippi seems to have come a long ways in the last 55 years. Hopefully progress will continue.