Thursday, 4 February 2010

On Lawyers

A few weeks ago, I was out with a couple of friends, let's call them K and V, for dinner and a few drinks and K suddenly went of on a rant about how all lawyers were cunning thieves out to get as much money out of their clients as they possibly could and how the world would be a much better place without them. Now, I am a lawyer and I am used to my kind being generally disliked. I know that people of almost every other profession tend to liken us to those slithery, fork-tongued, often venomous creatures which slide around in the grass looking for prey. You know, like the one that offered the fruit to the naked lady? And I'll tell you now that I am not overly fond of my kind, either. I mean, I am not excessively enamoured or awed by the profession, I don't build shrines to the blindfolded goddess of Justice and I don't hero-worship any practitioner of the law, though I do have a lot of respect for many of them. I also know that many of us are slimy, corrupt, cunning, opportunistic, boorish, dishonest, heartless, thoughtless, ruthless, remorseless, selfish, greedy, unjust, lying sons of whores and I will, therefore, also take a lot of flak on account of the doings of those particular lawyers, because I know people need to unload their frustration on someone, preferably from the same profession, and I am generally magnanimous enough to just smile, empathise and crack a few lawyer jokes and let it be. I don't need to stand up for my fellow lawyers, they can do that for themselves. What gets me mad is when a whole profession (or a whole anything, really) is based on the "evil" exploits of a few. To say that the world would be better off without lawyers just shows ignorance and stupidity. It didn't help that both K and V are engineers. Well... actually, no, V holds an engineering degree, but has switched to marketing the product that is manufactured by the company he works for, which is why he was trying his best to be neutral throughout conversation... and failing. K, on the other hand, IS an engineer who specialises in the oil and natural gas sector, an industry which is systematically raping the planet and spending billions of dollars on making sure that no one can do anything about it. He will defend it till he goes blue in the face and then proceed to judge me (I say "me" because he specifically pointed at me and used the words "you lawyers..."). He will turn "realistic" when I talk about alternative sources of energy and then quickly hop onto the "idealism" train of thought when the topic of lawyers is brought up (Wouldn't you rather rid the world of its dependence on oil than ALL the lawyers in the world?). He then said engineers are much more important to the world than lawyers. Engineers are important, I said, and so are lawyers. The degrees of their importance varies as per the situation and the work required to be done. Neither can do what the other does. So then he pointed to some random objects, the table, the chairs, the cutlery, the beer bottle, and said, none of these things would have been here if it weren't for engineers like him. I agreed, and then informed him that the beer he was drinking was made by a company which lawyers like me had helped incorporate and that also went for pretty much everything he had pointed at, and then said that the country, of which he was a citizen, was functioning because of a constitution written by lawyers like me, which gave him the fundamental right to walk into this restaurant, which was probably set up with legal advice from lawyers like me, and expect a certain standard of cleanliness thanks to a health and hygiene code drafted by lawyers like me and also reasonably good quality of food thanks to food safety and standards rules drafted by lawyers. Like me. I also informed him, that without lawyers like me, the Indian economy would come to a total stand-still, if not collapse. See, all the foreign direct investment that the media is raving about, that you applaud and are thankful for everyday? We bring it in. No you don't, that's MNCs. Sigh. I tried to explain FEMA and RBI regulations to him, I tried to tell him that the law is complicated and one does not just set up shop in India. Every single foreign company comes to Indian law firms and lawyers take them through the whole process of setting up a business here. But it was quite pointless.

And then, K made an argument which was so naive, I was totally flabbergasted. He said, "When we engineers are asked to make a design and fail to deliver, we don't get paid. But you bastard lawyers, you demand your fees even if you don't win the case for your client. That is just unfair." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I felt exasperated and didn't even feel like pointing out the fact that litigators are NOT the only lawyers. I am a corporate lawyer, I don't generally go to court. But, okay, let's stick only to the litigation aspect of the profession. People who don't get this, need to understand this once and for all... it is not a lawyer's job to WIN your case for you. It is a lawyer's job to REPRESENT you in a court of law to the best of his/her abilities in strict accordance with the law. No self-respecting lawyer will guarantee you a judgment in your favour, s/he will simply tell you what s/he thinks your chances are. He won't give you guarantees because he can never know for sure. Witnesses turn hostile, judges are paid off/have mood swings, YOU might be lying, evidence might disappear, new facts might arise etc. etc. This is the human, social realm we're talking about and there are no certainties, unlike the laws of physics and mathematics which engineers work with. The law of gravity WILL apply to everything. The fundamental right to life and personal liberty may or may not apply to you depending on a set of certain circumstances. And judges are human beings as well. What if your client's name is Mohammad-al-Rashid and the judge comes over all glowy when someone mentions Veer Savarkar? What if the judge thinks that all women who stay out late at night are women of "loose moral character" and your client was raped in an alley at 2:00 a.m.? What if you take your neighbours to court for blaring Om Jai Jagdish Hare at 350 decibels at 4:00 a.m. every morning and it turns out that the judge secretly wears saffron underwear and believes waking up early in the morning is the best way to combat alzheimers? We are not paid to win cases. We would like to. The more we win, the more cases we get. Our livelihoods depend on it, so we have something at stake too. But we charge for the hours put in by us. You CAN do your best and still lose, you know. I tried to explain unforeseen circumstances to K with an example. Suppose you built a perfectly functional and viable building and there's an earthquake and it crumbles. Would you not get paid? He dismissed it, saying that was force majeure, and that he wouldn't be liable for that anyway. Which was funny, because force majeure was a legal maxim created by lawyers. Like me. To protect the interests of people in such situations, which includes engineers. Like K. And then they come back and tell us the world would be a better place without us. I out-argued him on just about every point he put forth, but ultimately he decided we should end the argument because I would never be able to convince him, because his mind was already made up, and I said thank god you aren't a judge! Bah!

P.S. I may not have painted K in the most flattering light here, but rest assured he is a smart, funny and entirely likable person. He just has some weird ideas about certain things. I could have better articulated some his arguments here, but I am in lawyer mode and my aim right now is to present my arguments in the best possible way. See what happens when you aren't adequately represented?