Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lawyers have a bad name ? really ?

Oh dear .. We can't speculate much on this one .. maybe its just the Law Society of Scotland and the way they have done things over the past couple of decades ?

For an in depth study of this, go to "A Diary of Injustice in Scotland" and read Peter Cherbi's account of why lawyers aren't exactly the bees knees these days ! : Law Society of Scotland's mismanagement of the legal profession has destroyed public confidence in lawyers

The Scotsman reports :

Why do lawyers get such a bad name?

Niall McCluskey feels that the hatred of legal professionals is, on the whole, ill-conceived, as the vast majority are honest and necessary

BLANCHE Knott wrote: "There are three reasons why lawyers are replacing rats as laboratory research animals: One is that they are plentiful, another is that lab assistants don't get so attached to them, and the third is that they will do things that you just can't get rats to do."

It is difficult to conceive of how she could have been more disparaging of the legal profession.

Many people have tried. Consider this quote from writer and comedian Alan Whitney Brown: "A group of white South Africans recently killed a black lawyer because he was black. That was wrong. They should have killed him because he was a lawyer."

These kinds of jokes abound, and are symptomatic of the disapproval society exhibits towards the humble lawyer.

That lawyers are so hated is strange, because they play such a vital role in our society. There is even a proverb that backs this up: "He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client."

Lawyers assist the public in every conceivable way. In his novel Spring Snow Japanese author Yukio Mishima describes the law as: "A net with mesh so fine as to catch the most trivial incidents of daily life, yet its vast extension in time and space encompass even the eternal movements of the sun and stars." Law is essential and law is everywhere.

Lawyers are also perceived to have the power to improve their client's situation. This is summed up by comic Steven Wright who said: "I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five." So why does the profession receive such antagonism?

Firstly, lawyers become involved in people's lives at times of distress and are a significant and unwelcome expense.

Actress Claire Trevor once said: "What a holler would ensue if people had to pay the minister as much to marry them as they have to pay a lawyer to get them a divorce." This conveniently overlooks the fact that getting married is generally a terrific expense as well as being a very stressful experience.

In my view it is the association of the lawyer with the pain of divorce and not the expense that is the real issue.

Secondly, lawyers are perceived as parasitic and unnecessarily litigious. Scholar Robert Burton commented that lawyers were "so litigious and busy here on earth, that I think they will plead their clients' causes hereafter, some of them in hell".

There is also a German proverb that says: "When two dogs fight for a bone, and the third runs off with it, there's a lawyer among the dogs."

These are misconceived views. The majority of civil law cases settle, and in securing deals, lawyers are very conscientious about reducing client expense.

Thirdly, lawyers are perceived as dishonest. Screen actor Patrick Murray sneered: "A lawyer will do anything to win his case. Sometimes he will even tell the truth." American entertainer Will Rogers expanded on this theme: "I don't think you can make a lawyer honest by an act of legislature. You've got to work on his conscience. And his lack of conscience is what makes him a lawyer."

These are misleading observations. Because integrity is everything to a lawyer, as soon as a one is considered to be dishonest by colleagues or the court their career is in a downward spiral. I have met many persons of principle in the law who give their all for clients in every case they do. The lawyer's case is not helped by the legal system itself being perceived as a barrier to justice. Oliver Wendell Holmes is alleged to have said: "This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice."

A writer, Alice Koller, went further: "It takes a long time to learn that a courtroom is the last place in the world for learning the truth."

These are depressing observations, because if a courtroom is not, at least, an attempt to find the truth, we may as well all pack up and go home.

That said, any lawyer with experience will have, no doubt, despaired at cases where matters of form have triumphed over substantive issues. Furthermore, lawyers are perceived to add to these barriers by muddying the waters. Henry David Thoreau certainly believed this: "The lawyer's truth is not truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency. "

Finally, the law is perceived as remote and incomprehensible. Will Rogers summed this up by saying: "The minute you read something that you can't understand, you can be almost sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer."

It is an axiom that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but how can that be justified in a legal landscape that spans European law, vast legislation, countless (usually obscure) statutory instruments and increasingly lengthy and complex case law. Most lawyers are ignorant of areas of law other than the one or two fields in which they specialise.

The question that arises is: how do lawyers regain the respect of the public? There are no easy answers. Much of the prejudice against lawyers is irrational and unjustified.

Lawyers are necessary when people are in crisis. One message that lawyers need to get across is that they are vocationally motivated to assist people in their hour of need. The profession also needs to educate the public about its high ethical standards, and ensure that the legal system itself is not perceived as unhelpful.

The law also needs to be accessible. Take, for example, employment tribunals. Individuals are often required to represent themselves against highly specialised lawyers. How can that be right when it is acknowledged that employment law is a fast-moving and complex area?

Despite all of the abuse, law is a great career. Like politicians and journalists, lawyers have learned to harden their skins against a barrage of insults. Ideally, lawyers would be better understood and appreciated. But that's not what legal practice is about. The lawyer's job is to take the brickbats for clients and to adhere to their duties to the court. The lawyer's prerogative is not to worry about the admiration of the public.

• Niall McCluskey is an advocate

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