Friday, April 30, 2010

Law .. then Sometimes, Justice

I have always liked the idea of playing Voltron (the defender of the universe) or a female Zoro (I like the idea of a sword). So when I finally got past the fact that studying law offered a rather narrow career path; I warmed up to it and took the second best option – saving the world. After all, government backed by law would ensure justice and save us all from the Hobbes’ world where life was brutish and short and who better to do the saving than my perfectly deluded self? I even took human rights classes and looked forward to rubbing shoulders with Gani, Ayo Obe or Shirin Ebadi (*hint hint*a Nobel prize). After a few ASUU strikes and mounting realisation that my friends in privately funded schools were going to be in Law School two years earlier and would inevitably become my ‘seniors’; I started seriously considering tax advisory or something pretentious enough to pay me to send my kids to private schools.
Still, I loved the idea of being a ‘minister in the temple of justice’ and convinced myself that my world saving ideals would work in corporate law where I would protect the poor defenceless tax-avoiding companies from the claws of the monstrous Federal Inland Revenue Service.
After two years in law practice and many more observing the courts and law makers, I think I have finally ‘gotten it’. Justice has as much to do with law as voting with the names on INEC’s certificates of return. Here is my analogy – as voting gives the ‘elected’ some semblance of legitimacy but has little to do with who is elected, so does law have little with being just. I think elections are held merely to allow governments spend money, wax poetic about the rule of law at international conferences and other things they like since everyone knows that the electoral body, rather than our measly votes has accounted for a large percentage of political offices in the past decade. Yet, life goes on and we live with an electoral body whose supporters are scorned as turncoats.
So, justice and law: law (in the general sense of judicial rightness) and laws (in the particular sense of rules in books) exist because they offer us some path to (what we assume to be) justice. Law tries to play the part and keeps Lady Justice’s company (hence the phrase ‘law and justice’). It seems to work since people keep paying taxes to fund legislators’ expenses and salaries of officers of a judicial system copied from a colonial system.
For most of the world, the connection between law and justice is like that between PHCN and electricity supply. Sometimes, it succeeds - like the time a big shot politician was convicted for fraud the same way yahoo yahoo boys get jailed for 419 and everyone sniggered about how the mighty had fallen. Law was also justice when electoral returns were upturned by the courts and the publicly perceived winner was made governor. People also loved the law when the Navy was told to pay up for doing what was perfectly acceptable ten years ago. Other times, law and the laws fail to catch up – like selective prosecution or the way no one catches political officers when they dip their hands in tax funded cookie jars.
Perhaps, the problem with justice is law. Law is pretentious. The rule against hearsay, for instance, means we cannot do anything about the ‘cabal’ with bad intentions even though the Minister of Information told us so; and the reasonable doubt rule in a world where we have been told to believe that our president is well enough to drink tea but not a five minute speech to the nation.
I have come to live with the fact that justice sometimes depends on the more expensive lawyer or one who can drum up the most technicalities. I take what I can of what law offers. Like the biblical solicitous rich man who was content to keep all the non-fiscal commandments but reluctant to sell his possessions, I live with justice coated law. This coat allows the luxury of being goody two shoes while we turn a blind eye to justice that has nothing to do with us. We hold on to a bunch of rules for predictability in commercial transactions and save ourselves from the fuss the late Gani would surely have made about their constitutionality.
Thinking through it, law offers a preferable second best. Justice is messy and complicated in the ‘an eye for an eye’ way that assumes the eye-remover has an eye or cares about it. Then again, who needs justice when lawyers get paid for law?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's Law Practice, Silly

Going to Law School was one of the best decisions I ever took. Although it was really pretend-choice since my decision was between taking a picture with a wig and gown at Law School graduation and destroying my mom’s dreams of finally having a lawyer in her family. Thankfully, lawyering has turned out to be enjoyable... ok, I exaggerate a little – sometimes enjoyable.

Law practice is largely easy. It is undemanding and forgives a multitude of errors. Lawyers are actually encouraged to make mistakes - it is law ‘practice’, silly! You can make as many amendments to your processes as you like. I have read amendments of Statements of Claim and witnesses’ statement on oath that are unrecognisable from the original claim and no one makes a fuss about it. Better still, since an amendment is deemed backdated, the other party cannot protest an outright lie. Law offers full redemption like Mrs. Tiger Woods.

The best thing about zero expectations of perfection is that it is really hard to go wrong. It’s like a marksman who chooses his target after hitting it. We get to take our time with everything too. Experienced litigators, for instance, tend to take time at trial since no one expects them to get it right the first time. In any case, we realise that perfection at trial may put appellate courts out of business – no one wants that. It probably smacks of judicial usurpation or some grandiose term.

Lawyers use precedents – we do not reinvent the wheel. Innovation is in fact, frowned upon. They are good for everybody: lawyers are unencumbered by the mental exhaustion of individual thinking, the courts are easily persuaded to interpret a provision like it was done elsewhere. Life goes on without the annoying flutter of brain activity.

The law is a very loyal profession. It lionises its veterans for simply existing. In fact, the only thing better than law practice is the Nigerian civil service, ministerial appointments and other political offices. You don’t to do anything to be respected. You can as well play dead while the years pile on. Of course, once in while you might do something close to inviting Jay Z to commission boreholes which cost less than you paid Jay Z’s entourage but at least, you get your name in the papers for it. The trick is to hang on long enough, make enough friends to get selected, promoted, appointed or at least ensure your family member ‘gets into power’. In law life, ageism is everything. Stand still and in a few years you could end up being magistrate, judge, take silk even. In between waiting, Law School assures us all of a steady stream of juniors to bully and harass, in the right quantity to massage our ageing egos.

Law is amoral. While some other professions expect you to take oaths of kindness and goodness to humankind etc, law does the direct opposite. It allows your play Mr. Hyde without feeling bad about it. Law extols backstabbing, lying and all the other stuff we all really want to do but which society otherwise scorns.

It is easier to save money while in law practice. You don’t really need to spend plenty on clothes as long as you have the robe. Also, no one will every accuse you of mismatching colours – it’s hard to go wrong with white and black. The only downside is the loss of aesthetic appreciation of colours and the fact that we’ll probably spend a lot more on deodorants to try to mask the stench of sweat under the robe.

Law pays you for the hours you spend. You really don’t have to do much – you can Facebook, read up all the news on the THISDAY website, or play Spider Solitaire. As long as there is a client to bill for writing a letter or ‘carrying our research’, you’ll be fine.

Unlike the Nigerian Senate where the public ignorantly assumes that its members reason with some semblance of logic; lawyers are not burdened with such expectations. It is in fact our job to make the most irrational arguments like ‘Muttalab is innocent until proven guilty’ or ‘the doctrine of necessity supersedes the Constitution’. Once in a while, lesser mortals try to steal our thunder. Fortunately, they rarely get away with our job – ask Charly Boy and his pro-Iwu marchers. No one does it better than lawyers do.

*Rookie Lawyer offers fictitious rants about the law profession. She does not reflect the true position of law practice. In real life, she is a perfectly reasonably boring young lawyer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shh... Lawyering is a Scam!

Perhaps, no one really needs lawyers. At least not in the way we need a non-phantom president; or members of the Senate whose thought processes will inspire our secondary school students; or in the way we assume we need ministers who can manage prayer sessions and culinary skills without spilling their loyalty. Laywering, of course, does not come up close to teaching, medicine, or engineering, whose skills keep our minds, bodies and skulls safe. Yet, lawyers have managed to get a lot of attention and charge for bills for what looks like doing most of nothing.

It is like a scam everyone falls for – not 419 enough for EFCC to arrest us and set up a press conference about how fantastic the organisation is, but a scam still. Like the way people pay underage hustlers for ‘cleaning’ their windscreens in traffic on Lagos roads when every idiot knows that the Omo laced water will only leave streaks on the glass. Or the way we pay park attendants for ‘helping’ us park or give the scary looking guys next door ‘weekend dash money’. Lawyers seem to charge people for services no one really needs, and the world falls for it every time.

Take the lawyer’s basic services – attending meetings, preparing agreements, giving opinions, listening (or pretending to listen) to clients rant about how their partner / wife / other person, all have long red tails and horns and is horrible, etc. Most people can do that without legal help. If we scrap meetings and use emails and everyone becomes saints and adheres to agreements, we can easily take the lawyer out without a bother. Luckily many can write so the email bit is easier to manage. Better still, if the world’s sainthood prospects fail, we can work with threats or other extra judicial methods to enforce our agreements. Listening is pretty easy, pastors will do it without a fee and gossip mongers will do it for free for the thrill. Opinions, like talk are cheap – every fool has one. Appearing in court, which may the only tricky bit is not as worrying when you think about the number of ‘fake lawyers’ who have practised successfully for years. Certainly, everything can be learnt on the job.

Technically, a law degree seems as useful as a complete pair of Cinderella’s glass slippers in Mile 12 market or a nice fireplace in one of Ikoyi’s posh houses. They look good, are pretty expensive but are useless in the real world.

So why do we have lawyers? In figuring this out, the easiest people available for any irrational conspiracy theorist are the ‘they’ (one world for government, the schools and basically every one worthy of suspicion). The schools make more money for keeping students in for five years instead of four. Law school gets them for another year, and the government subsidises the fees so because of the ‘compulsory’ dinners at Law School. Feeding students makes the government look good, as it part-fulfils its MDG goals. ‘They’ also have to keep the schools open because it is cheaper to pay salaries than force the lecturers to retire. The law profession gains the most – the feudality of it all, ensures that SANs continue to maximise their superiority over the rest of us and seniors continue to bully juniors. The juniors, victims of the Stockholm Syndrome are reluctant to rebel out of affection for the SANs and other seniors – and so it goes in a circle.

Despite the many bad bad things people say, lawyers will be here for a while. History itself seems to tell of the dark ages before us – like Eve in the Garden of Eden and her lame finger pointing Statement of Defence, which was not even a general traverse: ‘the serpent deceived me’. *Smsh* A lawyer could have built a stronger case.

Then in Lagos. King Dosumu could have gotten a better bargain for ceding Lagos to the British – perhaps, interests in the South-South. At the worst, a good lawyer would have scuttled negotiations and history as we now know it.

Here is my take on it all: lawyers have successfully created an ‘indispensability’ myth for centuries, it is not going to disappear anytime soon.

One Piece of Non-Fiction

On Tuesday 13th April 2010, young people in Nigeria will fight: we will not play Mandela or throw bombs. We will, however, strengthened by our anger, do what we can.

We will call for rightness with a strong faith in a better future:
Plenty more here at Enough is Enough

The Bigger Picture is the 2011 Vision:

Register (R): Empower yourself. Stop complaining and get your vote on!
Select (S): Choose wise, responsible people to support! Good leaders build a good nation.
Vote (V): Take Charge. Exercise your power. Roll with your buddies/clique to the polling booth.
Protect (P): Make your vote count. Don’t walk away from your future.

Maybe this will not do plenty. Maybe it will. We have to do something to find out.

Take-off point is Archbishop Vinning at 11 am.