Why do persons say that all professional lawyers are thieves? What are the statistics on this statement? Has any analysis been done to determine just how many lawyers out of the lawyer population commit criminal acts?
However, in examining the thinking behind the foregoing statements, we first have to understand what a lawyer is, and what makes people decide to enter this most noble profession. A lawyer is a professional who applies abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve legal problems that individuals may have or who advances the interest of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.
The law was created to govern and control human behaviour, to regulate commerce, to enforce property rights. At a more fundamental level, law governs human interrelationships. It is what separates us from the beasts of the field, as without the law, we would have chaos. Even in the field of science, laws exist. The laws of thermodynamics, one of which states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, is an example.
The earliest examples of how law was used to govern human behavior were the laws of Hammurabi in ancient Sumeria in what is now part of modern day Iraq. Therefore, it can be said that the law and lawyers have existed since the dawn of human civilization. One of the more famous lawyers, Marcus Tullius Cicero who lived in the late Roman Republic, had his hands and head separated from the rest of his body for his opposition to diminution of the rule and the role of the Roman Senate. His resistance may have been due to his belief in the founding principle of the republic – that power should not be concentrated in one man’s hands.
But what do lawyers do? Most people see lawyers at the criminal bar defending the rights of the accused and as prosecutors who seek to ensure that justice is done. However, lawyers do perform far more significant duties; lawyers are central to the drafting of new laws and regulations. Indeed, it falls to lawyers to draft constitutions and all subordinate laws; laws that are debated in parliament before being passed, signed and proclaimed by the Head of State.
Lawyers are central to the transfer of property and the protection of property rights. Lawyers draft contracts, draft wills and probate estates of deceased persons, protect the intellectual property rights of those that create music, literature, art or anything that the human mind can create. Where persons are injured and suffer loss and damage due to the negligent acts of others, lawyers are retained to seek compensation for those injured. We turn to lawyers when persons in authority, whether in government or in the private sector, infringe on the rights of citizens.
So what makes us who are lawyers enter this profession? Most people who enter the profession have a strong sense of fairness, along with the strong desire to do social good. The profession brings with it high status and considerable recognition and respect by members of the public. People entrust their affairs, finances, business and personal effects to lawyers. As such, a lawyer has to live up to high standards of personal and ethical conduct.
While there is potential for high income in practice, the legal profession comes with some significant drawbacks. There is a saying that the law is a jealous mistress, and this is true. If you speak with any law student who is preparing for class assignments and or exams, or a legal practitioner who is preparing for a murder case, or a case which involves complex business transactions and may include intractable issues relating to a client’s taxes, they will tell you that legal research and case preparation takes up a considerable amount of time. Considerable time is taken in preparing written submissions and witness statements, and in preparing case theories and strategies involved in the questioning of witnesses and in oral arguments before the Court. Therefore, stress levels can be excessive; long hours on the job impact on family life to a significant extent. Therefore, as a lawyer, one has to have an understanding and patient spouse.
Prejudices against the legal profession are as old as the profession itself. The legal profession was actually abolished in Prussia, (a state in Germany), in 1780 and in France in 1789. However, it was restored because the judiciary realized that it could not function efficiently without lawyers. There is also the argument that there were too many lawyers in the mid-nineteenth century, the early 20th century and as late as the 1980s. The public distrust of lawyers peaked around the time of the Watergate scandal in 1973 in the US.
The legal profession has scandals just like any other profession. We well remember the accounting scandals involving World Com, Arthur Anderson and other large accounting fir Yet these may not receive the attention which lawyers receive for transgressing the law they are sworn to uphold. While one is not saying that lawyers should receive a pass on transgressing the law, we must remember we are dealing with human beings. As such, we are not perfect; some will fall short of the ethical standards of the profession. However, I am of the view that the vast majority of lawyers who work in obscurity are upright individuals who strive to live up to the high standards of the profession.
Edward Hunte, an attorney-at-law, is the holder of an MBA with concentrations in Economics & Finance. He was also an economist with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs; email: [email protected]