The lawyer mindset epidemic

Tessa is the teenage daughter of a professional couple known vaguely to me through the social network of a friend. A poolside announcement during a gathering last weekend that Tessa had decided to follow her father into law was greeted with congratulatory cooings and nods of approval by those present – at least, that is what I am told by an impeccably reliable source (happily, I was otherwise committed on that day and was not among the recipients of the glad tidings).

That Tessa’s abysmal career choice was applauded is hardly mysterious; once qualified in law, a rosy financial future is virtually secured, ladies in law are commonly glamourised in highly rating tv dramas, and reflex reference to ‘doctors and lawyers’ as status professions is globally commonplace. What parents would not be pleased at the prospect of their kids taking on law?

Hmm – maybe those who, like me, view lawyers as a particularly loathsome breed undeserving of their elevated social status and surreally inflated remuneration. With some inevitable and, I suspect, relatively rare exceptions, it seems to me that a moral lobotomy is a pre-requisite for the successful practice of law. I jest not.

As with politics and business, success in law demands a rewiring of the brain, a moral recoding processed gradually through years of study and exposure to the legal system. Why? Because successful legal practice is about victory in the courts (or preferably, out of them), not serving justice or maintaining personal integrity; a blinkered focus on winning, in which fact is often regarded merely as a bothersome incidental to the main game, is vital to the lawyer’s shady art. Lofty notions of justice sit awkwardly in the legal world, where success depends on strategy, presentation, exploitation of loopholes, and manipulation of perceptions of “the truth”, rather than the truth itself – in essence, spin.

What is a lawyer if not a wigged spin doctor, practising an art that is frequently malicious in its intent, focusing on touching up or concealing anything that might reflect badly on the client while seeking to discredit the opposition in whatever way possible, regardless of truth or fact, in the interests not of justice, but of court victory and professional reputation?

Yet, despite the sleazy reality of legal practice, daily observation of the law in action while working as a court monitor for a transcript firm left me with the impression that somehow justice prevails in our courts most of the time. The great casualty of law as it is practised today is humanity.

Like generals musing on their strategies in the comfort of war rooms far removed from the blood and stench of the battlefield and the fear and suffering of their pawns, lawyers develop a puppet master mentality, becoming uncaring of, if not oblivious to, their power to hurt and destroy. Their art is essentially reductive and thereby inherently lacking in humanity (which is by nature admitting of the complex): they seek to paint their cases black and white, to make their side all right, and the opposition all wrong. Their mission is to search and destroy. There is no room for humanity in that.

The personal toll of power is self-righteousness, pomposity and a bloated ego. And since society rewards its powerful with ridiculously outsized incomes and privileged status, they begin to believe that they are, indeed, superior beings, with the right – if not the duty – to sit in judgement of others, and where possible, impose their will for ‘the public good’ (which equates, naturally, with their vision of how things should be).

This dysfunctional mindset is not confined to lawyers, of course – it is viral and epidemic, and in my observations, especially rife amongst politicians (notice how many come from legal backgrounds?). Corporate management, gangster organisations and religious zealots are equally afflicted.

Scratch any tyrant, from dominatrix matriarch controlling her family through subtle manipulations and emotional blackmail to dictators whose levers are guns and propaganda, and the same mindset will be found. It is the mindset of the powerful and those who jealously guard their power, whether that power resides in a family, a court, a government, a fundamentalist religious group, a terrorist organisation. And it is ultimately morally corruptive in nature.

Which brings me back to Peter Garrett’s turnaround on US bases in Australia (the subject of my previous blog entry). Political party machines attempt to present an image of party unity to the electorate, because in unity is strength and policy cohesion, and that’s what the punters go for – focused, of course, in the party leadership. We can’t handle dissent. Keep it simple for us simple folk out here. We need to know what we’re voting for, right?

Well, maybe not. I don’t think I’m the only one out here who is heartily sick of political spin. I’m sick of politicians not answering direct questions directly, of people like Garrett forfeiting his right to express his true opinion to protect his place in the ALP and advance the party’s chances of triumphing at the next election under a united banner, even if that unity is a ruse. I’m sick of people like Howard and Ruddock who take the high moral ground with righteous lawyer-speak about observing due legal process on issues such as David Hicks’ disgraceful treatment, which is surely now an humanitarian concern above all else. I’m sick of having the world presented to me in black and white by lawyer leadership that is all about presentation and propaganda and nothing about truth and humanity.

Bin Laden is not the enemy. Neither is Bush. The real enemy is the lawyer mindset that demonises one side and deifies the other, unmindful and uncaring of integrity and honour. Therein beats the heart of the terrorist that is the true enemy of humanity.

3 thoughts on “The lawyer mindset epidemic”

  1. Hmmmm…….and if you didn’t catch that……hmmmmmmmm.

    Do you really believe lawyers are the real enemies of humanity? That they don’t do ANYTHING beneficial at all? That there isn’t some small correlation between law-based societies and the freedom to do what you want? That at least some of the prosperity and freedom to rant about lawyers or anything one chooses has nothing at all to do with the fact that lawyers are everywhere doing their business and that the legal order forms the foundation for pretty well everything everyone does? And if you don’t believe this imagine living in a world without lawyers.

    Yes, lawyers are interested primarily in winning cases and will generally do whatever is needed to win them, subject only to varying levels of moral qualms and practicalities. And sure, it can look ugly and cynical. And no doubt Cosmic Justice is only fitfully (if ever) achieved. But, as a canny practitioner of the profession once said, in law 95% is perfection. It’s the utopian attempt to attain that final 5% that leads to the undoing of the other 95% and carping about what bastards lawyers are and how imperfect the world is and how under your plan everything would be alright is downright utopian in its trust that perfection can be attained if only……..

    It’s ironic that you consider the Law and tyranny to be synonymous. In fact, it’s the fact that law is an oppositional system in which both sides are striving to win that resists any tyrannical urges. Despite all the bitter fighting in court, the judgements are generally adhered to peacefully and life goes on in some compromise or other and rarely to the complete satisfaction of either one of the parties. Law is largely a matter of adjusting between contending interests with each part demanding as much as possible and settling for something less than asked for. In the process certain grievances are not always met but it’s vital to the continuance of the legal (and political) order that the decision is accepted and ranting about the nefarious behaviour of individual lawyers and their alleged role as terrorists of humanity (!) does nothing to promote such acceptance.

  2. I thank you for your excellent post, Herr Soze! You have given me an opportunity to clarify a few things that are vitally important to the message I was trying to get across – which you have evidently misunderstood. I am probably to blame, though. I had a feeling that I needed a lot more room to properly explain myself, and your response to the blog confirms that this is likely the case. So, let me begin by disowning some beliefs you wrongly attribute to me.

    No, I do not believe that “lawyers are the real enemies of humanity”, or that they “don’t do ANYTHING beneficial at all”, and I did not make any such assertions in my blog. On the contrary, these sorts of sweeping statements and the black-and-white perspective they come from are characteristic of the very mindset I was decrying! Further, I answer in the negative to all the questions you pose in your opening paragraph.

    We have few points of disagreement at all, in fact.

    I have no idea about the literal accuracy of the claim that “in law 95% is perfection” – I would have thought that figure slightly optimistic – but I did state that during my experience in monitoring court cases for a transcript firm it appeared to me that justice prevailed most of the time – so I basically agree!

    Is it true that “the utopian attempt to attain that final 5%… leads to the undoing of the other 95%”? I’m not sure. Possibly. I’d hate to think the speaker was implying that all attempts to improve the system – however fine it already may be – should be stomped on as potentially subversive, though. That does smell a little like tyranny, doesn’t it?

    Speaking of which, I do not “consider the Law and tyranny to be synonymous” and did not claim this! Further, I did not allege that individual lawyers, or lawyers generally, were “terrorists of humanity”! Finally, I plead innocent to having a plan under which “everything would be alright” – where did I lay claim to such a plan? Certainly not in this blog!

    OK, that dispenses with the items/claims you incorrectly attributed to me. So what was the focus of my blog if not lawyers and the Law per se? It was the “lawyer mindset”, as I termed it. THAT’S my true target.

    Perhaps it was misleading to attach the lawyer tag as a terminological descriptor, in which case I regret doing so. I stand by my claim that lawyers must adopt this mindset whereby winning is all and truth an incidental – their professional field demands it. Further, that humanity (that is, humaneness) is a casualty of this mindset, which in its blinkered pursuit of WINNING attempts to impose on a complex world simple categorisations of good and evil, right and wrong, black and white, unmindful of truth or issues of personal integrity, which become mere trivia in this game, except inasmuch as they enhance or diminish the odds of victory.

    If my true target is the “lawyer mindset”, as I term it, doesn’t it follow that lawyers are also my target? Not necessarily. In their professional conduct they provide an excellent example of the sort of mindset I am railing against, but I am reluctantly willing to concede that they are doing what they must within the environment in which they practise, as least that that prevails at the present time. I don’t LIKE it, but I concede it.

    I believe, for the reasons outlined in my blog, that lawyers risk being personally corrupted by their profession and the thinking it requires of them. Those I have met have tended to be pompous, inappropriately verbose, unjustifiably and indiscriminately self-opinionated, and given to holding the floor in the delusion that all present are as impressed with their endless pontifications as they are themselves. I cannot help but recall Swift’s hilarious satirical treatment of the Laputian mathematicians and academics in Chapter 2 of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.

    However, I acknowledge that not ALL lawyers are as I describe in their personal lives – I can speak only of those known to me. I suspect they are fairly typical specimens, but I do not know – or much care in the context of this blog. Individual lawyers’ personality traits in social settings are not my concern.

    Neither am I claiming that lawyers are the source of the mindset that I am targeting. It is not as if I am warning about some sort of virus that has spread from the wigged ones to the rest of the land, hopped the seas and infected the terrorists of the Middle-East! I AM claiming that the mindset that is evident in the practise of law, that is essentially sophisticated spin, that is potentially morally corruptive and can even be downright evil, is common to politicians, CEOs and other creatures of Management, the Mafia and other gangster organisations, religious fanatics and their organisations…and terrorists! Yes.

    But not everyone afflicted with this mindset is a terrorist. Little old mothers in dysfunctional families exercise the very same mindset keeping their brood in check, ferchrissake! We’re not necessarily talking ‘bad’ or ‘evil’, but we are talking about something that is always going to deny humanity as it runs its course, and leave victims in its wake. The extent of the damage is a function of the level of power of the tyrant concerned.

  3. Of course another mindset which is equally bad for society as a whole , must be the bottomline mindset ,introduced and perpetrated par excellence by the unlamented Alan Bond .

    Did ” golden handcuffs ” and now ” golden hellos ” [ viz ., the new chief of the ANZ bank ] exist before the rise and rise of A B ?

    Such a sad influence has now entered the operations of all of the public hospital system it would seem , where charity and forbearance are quite hard to come by except at the personal level of the staff as individuals of course .

    Yours , Alicia .

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