Will lawyers go to heaven? I am a lawyer for the last 16 years. I am a personal injury litigation lawyer. I did some divorces, probate and other bread-and-butter enchilada of the law. I am therefore quite familiar with how lawyers think and act in the field of litigation, negotiation and mediation. I have admired and learned from many of them in my practice. And part of the reason why I am still practising is because I love the people in the law.
But love aside, will lawyers go to heaven? Will they make it pass St. Peter's pearly gates? You see, I am asking this question with a dab of levity here but still we are a rather repressed breed of professionals. Here is what I mean. On how to conduct ourselves in court and with judges and clients, we actually have textbooks on etiquette and rules of conduct dealing exclusively with lawyers. We also have a parliamentary enactment to regulate us. Even how you greet the judiciary is neatly penned out by well-meaning luminaries of the field.
Do we then have an attitude problem? Are we that wayward in our conduct that we need to be reminded to behave? From my side of the biased fence, I think lawyers are the most polite people in the world. At any time of the day, provided it is during the working hours, they will greet strangers who walk into their firm with the nicest smile and greetings you will ever hear. They are preternaturally patient and gracious regardless of whatever legal problems you throw at them. You can even be accusing them of slacking on the job or taking a much-deserved holiday and asking a junior to attend an inconsequential pre-trial chamber hearing on your behalf and they will still listen to you with unperturbed maternal understanding.
So if heaven is created for saints, shouldn't lawyers be short-listed, hands-down? Well, I guess still water runs deep. We lawyers are humans too. And in the gladiatorial coliseum of litigation, where blood and gore come in the form of rights, betrayal, bitterness, paybacks and personal anguish, we are often stretched to the max. If will-power to regulate and control our emotions are limited in a week, we often use up most of our quota by Monday lunchtime. We then have to borrow from whatever scraps of self-improvement literature and sources we can muster to put on that tolerant, swallow-your-pride smile.
Still, lawyers are a strange hybrid of sorts. And we are largely creature of culture. If our profession has been pastoral in nature, guiding docile parish sheep from going astray, and giving sermons on a Sunday about love, joy and hope, I guess we will be exemplary and peace-loving 24-7. Alas, far from it, litigation is often a dog-eat-dog arena where lawyers are reminded from the start that it is called adversarial for a reason. And we all suffer from what I would call the duplicity syndrome (a nastier label for it is hypocrisy).
On any given day, we can be acting on both sides of the litigious fence, and on largely the same issue. Take me as an example. I can act for a Plaintiff in a personal injury case seeking the highest possible compensation, and in another file on largely similar facts, acting for a Defendant but arguing for the lowest possible compensation.
And don't start me off with the family practice that leads to the unintended consequences of "breaking up marriages". I have seen myself mutated by a flip of a switch from fighting like an Erin Brockovich for the weeping wife to an Ally Mcbeal-ish tough-it-out for the bullied husband. The glaring cognitive dissonance is just all in a day's work. Some call it occupational hazard. I simply call it character immersion (or wearing different colored hats).
And then comes the issue of honesty. If you find an honest lawyer, please frame him up in a museum...he is close to extinction. But hey, don't judge us because a little white lie peppered here and there is in reality part and parcel of all professions. We are human beings after all. Lawyers are actually as honest as they get this side of heaven. In a parallel world, I would like to think that we could be worse.
Our honesty is however tainted just that smidgen by the technicality call subterfuge. It is really a conscience-balming technique of not disclosing too much, holding evidential cards close to our chest, playing hard-ball with opponents who are also our coffee-table buddies, finding excuses, faking being adversarial for adversary’s sake, blaming our secretaries for personal lapses, telling disarming half-truths, and informing pestering clients we are busy when we are obviously not.
I guess we should not beat ourselves over with a moral stick too hard on this. If there is any consolation, for those keeping score, the net behavioral result in a day is that we are more honest than dishonest. Now that's definitely worth a Friday night's beer-bingeing cheer right?
Anyway, the last (but not least) smear in our otherwise impeccable credentialed profession is uppity. This can be disconcerting. I once heard that lawyers are an egoistic bunch of professionals. They have a sense of entitlement in the same way that a strict disciplinarian always knows best. They are also individualistic, exclusive, self-centered, dictatorial, domineering, discriminating and elitist - so I heard.
Well, to be dead honest, and honesty is not exactly our strongest suit, I must be practising in a remote part of the legal woods. Because the lawyers I come across in my years of practice are generally reserved, polite, considerate, forgiving, wise, helpful and funny. You just have to get to know them better. They are like M&Ms - hard on the outside but chocolatey-sweet on the inside. In fact, most lawyers I meet are darn funny. Some of them tell such good jokes that many of their punch-lines still sneak up to me in my sleep.
Of course, there are always the smug, in-your-face characters but they are few and far in between. I count myself blessed to have avoided crossing their warpath.
So, going back full circle, will lawyers go to heaven?
You know, when I take the cab and when asked - while still donned in my suit - whether I am a lawyer, I will sometimes reply, "No." See, dishonesty! I do that because I was prepping myself up for a case, and if I'd said I was a lawyer, some of the cab drivers would be asking me questions about their HDB flat or maintenance or how to wind down a business. I can really do without the extra baggage - with apologies of course.
My point? Maybe when we stand at pearly gates and Saint Peter asks us the same question, we can adopt the same reply? No, we are not lawyers. We can really do without the extra baggage?
But then, come to think of it, I am proud of my profession. I hold my card-carrying law practice high up like a banner. I like to think that we lawyers are history makers. We get our hands dirty, sometimes dredging deep into the purgatory of dark emotions, fighting a good fight, and making a lasting difference as a result. We may be victims of our adversarial culture but we are also culture-transformers.
As a group, all over the world, we keep the wheels of justice turning, and each of us are part of its nuts and bolts. We are surely redeemed by the ideals of our profession though the means to that end may be less than honorable at times. So, if the road to hell is paved with just good intentions, then we lawyers are safe. We are die-hard doers.
I guess the common denominator for all professions is that we are flawed human beings. And as flawed as we are, any profession that has got to do with justice, fairness and resolution always set us on a positive start and lead us to the most meaningful destination - the muddling middle notwithstanding. Cheerz.