Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lawyers demand critics be silenced, vent bitterness against reforms

Having a chip on the shoulder is one thing, but having a chip on the shoulder the size of ice shelf is something else, as Donald Reid vents his frustration over critics of reforms to the legal profession.

Its good to have opinions of course, although Mr Reid ends his piece with a plea that victims of the legal profession itself should not be allowed to have any input into the debate on reforms to the legal profession itself.

Go tell the same to rape and abuse victims Mr Reid - ban them from having any say in reforms to the law too ...

The Scotsman reports :

Lawyers … and other reptiles

By Donald Reid

IDLING on The Scotsman website, I found some feedback on my last piece. I'm so flattered. It's all hate mail.

One correspondent, however, inadvertently gave me a good bit of advice, namely to read Jess Brallier's (now out-of-print) book, Lawyers and Other Reptiles. It's wonderful. I have always loved lawyer jokes and quotes, and this book is full of them. All I can say is the title is a bit hard on reptiles. What have they done to be cast as bedfellows with the lowest form of living scum?

My favourite quote so far is from the New Yorker: "I told you that you should've got yourself some legal advice before running to a lawyer."

It hints at several of the reasons why such expressed vitriol against our noble profession so proliferates. The first reason is money. Lawyers are expensive. If you "run" to a lawyer, the chances are you'll get a bill, and a hefty one at that. No-one likes bills, and an easy way to externalise this dislike is to blame the biller rather than the billed. In the excitement of their initial consultation, I find it hard to get clients to face the financial reality of their principled crusade, or their precarious venture. I have to tell them that the practice of the law, and the results obtainable, are not necessarily the same as the client's perception of justice.

Yes you should think twice before going to a lawyer. The fact that the money you pay him or her is substantially to cover the overhead he or she has to maintain in order to give you the service you seek is not an easy swallow. After all, you've seen his/her Merc.

But the quote is tellingly ironic as well. How can you get legal advice on whether to get legal advice? The fact is you can't really. Lawyers are no doubt expensive, time-consuming, anxiety-broking vultures (now we're insulting scavenging birds), but they are necessary. You can't avoid them. One of the ironic outcomes of the political drive to treat lawyers like bad children is the enormous length of the engagement letter that solicitors are now required to issue before any work is done. My tongue is not entirely in my cheek when I say that clients should perhaps get a different lawyer to check over the intended lawyer's terms and conditions. But who checks the terms and conditions of the checker?

I think the main reason for books such as Brallier's is this: lawyers don't deserve it, and the lawyer-bashers know this full well. The jokes are only funny because they are jokes. They express the angers and frustrations of litigants and clients precisely because their lawyers have not caused the problems, but rather have earned a living out of them. I can understand the epithet "parasite" but it can be used, with greater or lesser justification, upon all sectors of service industry. Yes, there are some very serious cases of bent, greedy and self-serving lawyers. But if these were the norm, rather than demonstrably the tiny minority, the whole joke culture would collapse. After all, no-one makes jokes or collects pithy sayings about perverts or genocidal maniacs, bankers or any other persons held to be truly reprehensible. Do they?

These critics will say that they are the victims of bad lawyers whose actions have damaged or ruined them beyond any joking. Perhaps they are right; certainly they are humourless; but they are a minority. They allege corruption at the very core of the profession and its governing body, which is surely beyond credibility. Is it right to allow them such influence in current demands for reform? There may be a few rotten apples. But the tree is still healthy.

I'm not joking.

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