Thursday, March 25, 2010

Law Life Does Not Imitate Art.

Despite what everyone thinks, practicing law is far from fun. Of course, underlying my sweeping statement is my lawyer-conceit that assumes that people find time to wonder about what we do and attach some sentiment to what pays our bills. I however like to think that somewhere in between the security issues, a distracted National Assembly, energy (non-) supply, the existence or otherwise of a non-acting President, among other thought-worthy issues; we do our bit in keeping the world well hung. In any case, time has shown that worries have nothing on Nigeria since life tends to go on. The education minster will party in the midst of labour strikes in the education sector; the budget will be signed whether or not the President exists; graduates will be deployed to a state that is giving Georgia and Turkey a run for their CNN coverage (who cares if we lose a few of them), etc.

Once in a while however, I get statements like ‘wow, you are a lawyer! I read Grisham, you know’, accompanied with a misty-eyed look. I am usually amused at the disappointment people show when I fail to provide the ‘I am your soul-sista’ or ‘I feel like we totally connect, you know’ expected response. It is however difficult to sympathise with anyone who takes a retiree lawyer’s views seriously. If law was really that fascinating, Grisham would be in some law factory, loving the law and oblivious to the world and everything around him, rather than writing about it.

Law life does not imitate the art. The closest thing to ‘real’ lawyers is something in between the respected late vociferous Gani and what some bad belles may have called ‘lethargic’ former justice minister. Most lawyers are really boring with lives where the sole excitement or show of revolt is in the colour of pocket kerchief they choose to wear on the day they appear on NTA to provide blustery contradictory statements on the most recent drama at the National Assembly. The rest like me are the juniors who do work no one wants and is sent to clients who are looking for someone to blame and really don’t want to listen to our opinion. Grisham does nothing to paint what really happens.

One of the most influential pictures of lawyers is probably a man in a suit and in classic Johnnie Cochran style – ‘if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit’ to a mentally bullied jury. In real life, there is no judging jury of twelve. The judge is all we have and is too egoistic to be bullied. There are also no dramatic opening or closing statements since the rules of court mandate counsel file written addresses. The Nigerian lawyer has little or no chance to grow his oratorical mastery and in any case, the bench is the sole listener to the soundless oratory on paper.

Lawyers don’t say ‘objection my Lord’ every three minutes like Nollywood wants us to think. Law practice has largely evolved from table banging objections to smoother ways of backstabbing. In any case, (for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph) verbal lawyering is a fading art. One more thing Nollywood does not get right – lawyers do not ‘rejoice’ with their clients after the judge gives a ruling with their favour. Whoever wrote that into a script?
Almost every self-respecting Nigerian family has coerced the least resistant child into studying law. There are so many lawyers in Nigeria that the allure has largely worn off. It follows that apart from the beloved human rights lawyer, who is near knighted, the rest of us are largely disdained or ignored. Members of the unfortunate lawyer-less families are easily recognisable – that are the ones that call us ‘De-law’.

Fiction rarely mentions the wig and gown. For obviously sartorial reasons, few non-Nollywood movie directors bother with clich├ęd uniform. The lawyers wear dark sharp Saville Row suits. Some even get away with Legally Blonde-pink. Ha. Law in real life is sober – black gowns over sober flat shoes and everything anti-aesthetic.

On television, most lawyers stick with basic salutation – Mr. Miss, Mrs, Ms. Anyone seeking the ire of a ‘real’ Nigerian lawyer may stick with fiction. Here, lawyers are identified by the prefix ‘barrister-’ or ‘lawyer-‘.

Have a great week.

Lawyer Rookie

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