Do you see your lawyer as a dear friend that you can approach to seek comfort when you are facing difficult challenges? Or you see your lawyer as a necessary evil that you will avoid like a plague, if you are not compelled by circumstances? Has he become, as in the eyes of many, a mere necessary evil rather than a force for positive change.
Is your lawyer the trusted ally that you confidently involve and rely on to see you through important decisions? Or do you see him as someone not to be involved in your decision-making because involving him makes decision-making more complicated and cumbersome?
Do you see your lawyer as that knowledgeable and learned professional to be relied on for wise counsel? Or do you regard his claim to being the ‘learned’ one as undeserved and your reference to him as the learned one is with tongue in cheek?
Below are some jokes about lawyers. Though they are supposed to be jokes, listening to them, one cannot escape the feeling that the society has a negative and wrong perception of who a lawyer ought to be.
During the mid-1980s dairy farmers decided there was too much cheap milk at the supermarket. So the government bought and slaughtered 1.6 million cows. How come the government never does anything like this with lawyers? – P.J. O’Rourke
Lorenzo Dow, a 19th century evangelist, was on a preaching tour when he came to a small town one cold winter night. At the local general store he saw the town’s lawyers gathered around the potbellied stove.
Dow told the men about a recent vision in which he had been given a tour of hell, much like the traveler in Dante’s Inferno. One of the lawyers asked what he had seen.
“Very much what I see here,” Dow said. “All of the lawyers gathered in the hottest place.”
Curious, a pedestrian approached the man. “The first hearse carries my ex-wife’s lawyer,” the man explained. “My dog bit him and he died two days later. The second hearse has a lawyer who opposed me in some business litigation. He met the same fate.”
The pedestrian thought for a moment, and then asked, “Could I borrow your dog?”
“Okay be me, but you’re going to have to wait your turn like these other people.”
Worryingly, all the jokes above concluded with evil wishes for lawyers. It is also not unusual to hear the phrase “lawyers are liars” being dropped casually in friendly conversations between lawyers and non-lawyers. All over the world, there is this general seeming hostility towards lawyers. The question arises, therefore, why this seeming general dislike for lawyers? Do conducts of lawyers contribute to this hostility? What role do lawyers play in contributing to societal enhancement? Are lawyers role positive or negative? Do we really need lawyers?
Not less a personality than the President of Nigeria, Mohammadu Buhari, has expressed frustration about lawyers and the judiciary, especially regarding the anti-corruption crusade of the federal government in Nigeria. Not long ago, while declaring open the 2015 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference in Abuja, Buhari accused corrupt lawyers and judges of sabotaging his efforts to recover stolen assets. In his address to the judges, Buhari lamented: “As my lords are undoubtedly aware, corruption transfers from public coffers to private pockets, resources required to deliver social and economic justice.
“Government’s attempts to recover such assets in accordance with the law are often faced with dilatory tactics by lawyers sometimes with the apparent collusion of judges.
“These tactics are often not directed at reaching any conclusion or affirming innocence or guilt, but at stalling trials indefinitely, thus denying the state and the accused person the opportunity of a judicial verdict. I wish to echo the sentiments of the vast majority of Nigerians in saying that we cannot afford to continue on this path.
“Unfortunately, our justice system currently has a reputation for delays, usually occasioned by a combination of endless adjournments, incessant interlocutory applications and overwhelming caseloads. This situation is a huge disincentive for businesses.
“It is not surprising, therefore, that Nigeria ranks near bottom on the ease of doing business index”.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by the generality of Nigerians, especially, on cases involving elections and corruption allegations. Lawyers and judges have been accused of being deeply involved in bribery and corruption.
Common complaints about lawyers include use of dilatory tactics and technicalities in stifling smooth trial of cases, use of injunctions to delay trials, use of frivolous arguments to frustrate trials; preparation of false documentation, charging excessive fees, conversion of clients’ money, among others. These complaints, as serious as they are, should not be the basis of passing blanket judgment on all lawyers. If anything, these are conducts that the legal profession stands against and for which lawyers engaged in them are regarded as renegades. The acts of the few bad eggs, is therefore not enough and should not be generalized to tar all lawyers as enemies of the society.
In any society, lawyer’s roles are important and positive. The lawyer is the guardian and promoter of the rule of law, justice, fairness and equality of all before the law. This role is especially important in the developing countries where the law has the potential to become the great levelers between the powerful and the less so. Lawyer’s obligation is not limited to his client, but goes further to include the court, the public in order to secure proper administration of justice in the society.
There are many other roles, which the lawyers play in the society. In a dispute situation or trial, a lawyer is like a spokesperson hired to speak for a client to settle a conflict. A lawyer can often communicate more effectively than the client because the
lawyer is not emotionally involved in the dispute and has been trained to look for ways to settle a dispute by using the legal knowledge he or she has gained.
Beyond representing clients in disputes, a lawyer sometimes perform the role of advisor or counselor to help clients with personal or business problems such as divorce, relationships between parents and children, drafting wills, drafting contracts and other matters. In this role, the lawyer must seek to meet the desires of the client while providing practical advice to accomplish their goal.
Often, the lawyer serves as a negotiator working with the client as well as the opposing side to find the best way to settle a conflict. This is a difficult role, as the lawyer must be able to find compromises and to know the right moment to present these to reach the best settlement for the client. Negotiation is a skill that requires experience and patience on the part of the lawyer.
There is a common and popular misconception of lawyers as mainly those only to be consulted when you are involved in litigation. Many people wrongly see lawyers as those only to be involved when you are initiating a case in court or you are being sued. Litigation is only a part, albeit the most popular, of the legal profession. Lawyers are advisors and counsel in all spheres of life. Law practice, both litigation and advisory, covers so many areas, hence we have so many practice specialties. Examples include Business Law, Commercial Law, Shipping and Maritime Law, Aviation Law, Oil and Gas Law, Family Law, International Law, Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution, to mention just a few. Any wonder then why lawyers are referred to as the learned gentlemen.
The profession of law is still the noble profession. Just like there are deviants in any group or society, there are lawyers whose conducts may be contrary to the ethics of their profession, which should not be seen as what the profession stands for. As observed earlier, many of the allegations of misconduct against lawyers happen in litigation practice but there are the bigger majority of lawyers, many of whose areas of practice are different from litigation and who are not focus of these allegations. Many are in-house counsel while many others are involved in commercial and corporate practice. Domestically and globally, many lawyers are known to have made indelible contribution to societal growth. Global names such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Indira Ghandi are good examples of lawyers known for great contribution to humanity, while in Nigeria we have great names such as Obafemi Awolowo and Rotimi Williams for their positive role.
While the legal profession is always striving to cleanse itself of the few bad eggs, the vast majority of lawyers uphold the value and ethics of the profession. The noble profession of the ‘learned friends and gentlemen’ still remains the honourable profession and the defender of the weak in the society.
By SESAN AKINSANYA, LL. B., FCIS, FCA, FCIArb, MCIPS, MIoD