Monday, February 1, 2016

a lawyer is your champion in a hostile world

Through babysitters here in Cambridge I have become acquainted with the current realities of legal education.

The babysitter we had last year was a law student. She was working a ton of hours to pay for her degree, she had a massive commute to London and before she had undertaken any sort of course work whatsoever she had to produce a legal resume and take a massive amount of time preparing to market herself. This included applying for positions, having to answer ridiculous multi-page questionnaires (what makes you a smith law firm person?) studying the minutae of each law firm's website, trying to come up with reasons she truly preferred to work at a mid-size agricultural firm in rural Essex.  Weeks and weeks of work. Sixty percent of all of her degree-related time.

Now law students are tap dancing for corporations before they learn a single thing about the law. Competition is unreasonably fierce and time-consuming. I don't think it should be easy to become a lawyer. I am a big fan of academic competition. But my babysitter was spending sixty percent of her time on marketing which was seen as the only answer to the fact they are competing against each other for a scarce resource. Not good. Subtext: fear the future.  Some law students are under intense economic pressure.  They are awash in an anxiety sweat about signature font and stressful multi-day interviews.

What these kids are experiencing in their bodies is the rule of law slipping farther away from us. Their grueling lives are controlled by future flow of money.  The young suffer first, right?

It's not just law students. It's in-house counsel. The legal department of companies is an increasingly vapid post, the rule of law and duties of loyalty, good faith - these things do not have a place at the table. Legal counsels report to the CFO. How can it be otherwise, though, right? When they are competing so hard for shareholder returns? This shareholder return gig is a bad deal for most people. As an employee your company has to keep working you harder to grow results - and has to keep cutting corners and treating you worse. It's built in.  And the shareholders who benefit are almost always the  1%.  Yet everyone has accepted as a given that shareholder returns must be the prime responsibility in any transaction, and that corporations can be giant and have endless power in our politics.

 This simply cannot be the case any longer. Everyone agrees that the action of any entity, whether a legal fiction or a living thing, should not actively degrade the environment, and should provide a liveable wage, and should pay a fair tax. Yet every corporation granted existence by a government  - a government created to serve you - has no such obligation.

Why not? Because the lawyers aren't striving for justice, they are competing for money.

The ones that aren't - kids with resources and high ideals -- get channeled somehow into human rights law. I think it's such a shame. I think it's a ghetto. It's a place where not very much is happening and there are very few opportunities  Brilliant insight and legal reform is desperately needed. And a call to action to bring the courts back to the people, increase the budget for justice significantly  - a petition to the house of lords from the young. Our generation kind of messed things up so you have a lot of work to do.

Law students need to quit all the marketing bullshit and just volunteer at all the wounded institutions. Maybe demonstrate a little. Right now in my view the UK Government is in violation of the magna carta by selling justice, and by making the courts unavailable.  Consumer justice could be a website. Access to justice is a ten year wait in this country and that is disgusting. Justice delayed is justice denied, yet no one calls out the delayers. These guys are messing with the people.  We say that we live under the rule of law, but we live under no such thing. Money decides everything.

The rule of law needs a major overhaul. Human rights law shouldn't be just in a few slow minor courts, it should be at the heart of every contract, every merger, every currency decision and policy decision, and not just the letter, but the spirit. The spirit of the law. The spirit of justice. That feeling of putting things to right that have been wrong for a long time. Consumer rights and earth rights and creating a worldwide response to the migrant crisis - these issues have to come to the forefront now - and the lawyers have to help.

Someone should investigate these rumours that UK Tory MEPs were told to lobby against multinational corporate tax treaties.  Even as hospitals close. A government that is telling the people that there is no money for the NHS cannot also be lobbying against increases in government revenue by protecting Google's tax status. There is a violation of a duty of loyalty in there somewhere. I mean that is some treasonous shit. At the very least, you can debate a fraud case in the house of lords. Or do something. Where are the gadflies? Who will be the gadfly to bite the flank of the horse of Athens? Could it be law students? Students? Poets? Whoever is willing to go for the jugular. The jugular of the legal fiction.

So Dershowitz was my criminal law professor. I regret taking the last piece of cake at our Orientation Group dinner at his house because he looked so disappointed. I actually was mostly surprised that he even wanted cake. I thought he was above cake somehow. But Dershowitz would quote Freedman - a lawyer is your champion in a hostile world. I loved it. Push as hard as you can to get the best result . Don't cross the line.  But go up to the line and maybe explore novel interpretations of where the line is. Try really, really hard. Tax your brain.  I loved that and I loved to think about it and it made me a good lawyer.

Now a lot of things need champions. Every refugee. Every stream, the wind and the air. Every person working for a corporation or buying from a corporation. They need the rule of law. They need justice. And we're all tap-dancing for the money.

The world is woven by laws, by institutions that are only in the end legal fictions. Corporations, religions, borders - these are legal fictions and if we apply the laws of people to these fictions, we would just have a much better story. We would have better rule of law. But this would take champions. Where's the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?





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