14 October 2008

Of Sharks and Lawyers

I contributed this article originally for the Putik Lada column in Star but was asked to write another different one so I submitted this article to our own Perak Bar Blogspot and it was put up there some time last week :)

So I'll reproduce here for those who wanna read it as well :)

“Q : Why did the shark not eat the lawyer when his boat sank in the ocean?

A : Professional Courtesy”

There are many more jokes of that nature to be found everywhere. So the question is, why would one still want to be a lawyer? Especially in this day and age. Is it because it is an easy path? Does it pay really well? Maybe they just like to be the brunt of a multitude of jokes out there? Who knows? I cannot say for certain why others read law but I know why I did.

I would like to say that I was inspired by the likes of Clarence Darrow or Abraham Lincoln but that would be lie! And as George Washington said when he cut down the cherry tree, “I cannot tell a lie!” (Not really in this case – but I digress…) I would say that television played a greater part in influencing me rather than the great lawyers out there.

I was first influenced by my father who gave up teaching and turned to law. Much of what I knew about law and lawyers came from television. So much so, I read law in the Thames Valley University (TVU) – TV University? Get it?

I remember watching movies such as Ally McBeal, The Practice and a number of other “lawyer” movies thinking that these people had it great! Cool cars and lots of money to boot! Wow… this is the life for me.

So I found myself on the path of becoming a lawyer, reading law, getting myself a law degree and then found myself chambering (doing my pupilage) at a reknowned law firm in Ipoh and finally found myself in practice on my own.

Did the path lead to riches and cool cars as promised? Not really… but in becoming a practicing lawyer I have come to realise something that I have never known before but it is something I feel that one should know about way before thinking of taking up this profession. A small word, seven letters in all but with a whole lot of implications and responsibilities. JUSTICE.

Now what do I mean by this? This may sound a bit na├»ve or aloof; but I believe that lawyers are the last line of defence against tyranny. As Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” and I truly believe that lawyers are good men and women. They have been trained to do good, to uphold justice; to make sure that each and everyone gets his day in court. Of course many other factors are needed to contribute to ensuring a just society.

Having said that; to me, the most important thing to ensure that justice is upheld or preserved is the man itself. As lawyers, we are trained to assist the courts in interpreting the law. Whilst we are advocating our client’s rights and case we must be aware that we are first officers of the court. Our loyalties should lie with the law first, the courts second and then only the client. You would notice however that the lawyers themselves are not even mentioned in the top 3! I know that most of the people who think of lawyers associate us with Sharks and other things which I will not repeat here but that view may not be entirely true (There are always bad apples in any basket!)

For me, in order for someone to take up this profession they must bear in mind that as in everything we do, hard work is essential. Reading and keeping ourselves updated on the law is a requirement. A passion for law and justice should be a pre-requisite. It’s not easy if we want to be a good lawyer.

We lawyers (some of us anyway) are probably the only ones in this world that has set up a Legal Aid centre entirely funded by the lawyers themselves. We pay a yearly subscription towards this fund to help underprivileged and deprived people who cannot afford to engage lawyers on their own and we help them advocate their case in court. Of course there are criteria which have to be met before we can help but at the end of the day the lawyers through the Bar Council has set up such centres throughout the country to assist the public in their woes for FREE!

There are also some lawyers out there who have been remanded, jailed and fined for upholding their client’s rights. Giving up their own liberty to ensure that others may have theirs!

In recent times, we have seen the Bar Council take up issues which affect the public in general such as the independence of the Judiciary as in the case of the Tun Salleh Abas fiasco. The lawyers marched for judicial independence then and recently the Bar council stand has been proven to be the right one. An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any successful legal system and democratic country.

The Bar council again walked for Justice after the V.K.Lingam recordings were made public, asking for a Royal Commission to be set up to investigate the recordings and the allegations therein contained in the video recordings. The lawyers wore full court attire (jackets and ties) and walked in the sun and the rain for almost 5 kilometres to Putrajaya to hand over the memorandum to the Prime Minister’s office.

So its not always about the money and the cool cars (having it doesn’t hurt of course!) but at the end of the day its about justice and how as lawyers we are there to ensure it is available to all. So before anyone seeks to venture into this profession, make sure you are willing and able to contribute positively towards the profession and to the people. If you cannot, then this path may not be the right one for you; for it is not always paved in gold but mostly in pain and heartbreak in the pursuit of justice.

As Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

I truly believe that lawyers can and will pursue justice wherever they may be. I still do!

Are we still the sharks that we are thought out to be? You decide…

Submitted by Kenny Lai Choe Ken

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