What is the most tedious aspect of being a lawyer?

What is the most tedious aspect of being a lawyer? The never-ending paperwork. Answering phone calls all hours of the day; especially if you are into international practice. Doing everything at the last minute because clients won’t give you what you want – that despite you asking them for the documents numerous times, and far […]

What is the most tedious aspect of being a lawyer?

The never-ending paperwork. Answering phone calls all hours of the day; especially if you are into international practice.

Doing everything at the last minute because clients won’t give you what you want – that despite you asking them for the documents numerous times, and far ahead of time.

Having to take the blame for the errors client’s executives make.

Holding clients’ hands in times of stress (they expect you to be their agony aunt).

If you win a difficult case, or clinch a deal through a tough negotiation, it is all because the client has been the author of every joy.

If there is a snafu, you are to be blamed. Not only that: you must do a seppuku exercise and explicitly say ‘Sorry’ and  bow while you are at it.  Generally you are everyone’s punching bag.

Just because your client made an error, the trial judge will give you a 10-minute public dressing down on how ‘You should be more efficient’ and how he used to run his practice with Prussian efficiency when he was in practice.

Oh, we know all about that.  We know how, and what  he did.  It is just that we’re saying anything. Lawyers can take a great deal and be gracious under fire. Once in a while a judge will go overboard. A quiet word is spoken in chambers. Fences are mended.  Life goes on.

It all comes with the territory.

Over the years lawyers pick and choose their clients. They keep some in their stable and reject most. They avoid difficult and fussy clients. If possible, they send such clients to a competitor’s stable. That way, these little napoleons will sabotage their own lawyers.  And you, going against such a lawyer, will have an easier time. That works all the time.

As for clients, there are three types. The entrepreneur, the aristocrat who has had familial wealth, the nouveau riche (in UK, the ‘new rich’—the guys who have made their money in one generation) and their family.

The entrepreneurs are the best. They are polite.  They are considerate. They are conscious of time. They don’t demand meetings in out-of-the-way places.  They come in, ask what they want, pay their fees, and leave without fuss. And so long as you are reliable, they keep coming back. They’ll recommend you to their family and friends. When they call, they will speak to you directly. You don’t have to regard the mouthpiece in exasperation while his secretary ‘passes the line.’  They don’t mind talking to anyone – especially your juniors – when you are unavailable.  They just want their questions answered.  The answer is important to them, not who gives it.  Every Chinese New Year, or Christmas, or Hari Raya, or Deepavalee, there’ll be a dinner invitation.

The aristocrats (those who come from old money families) are not bad either. They exhibit a level of courtesy that is exemplary. They’ll speak directly to you. They are in no hurry. They wait. They turn up 10 minutes ahead of time, rise and greet you. And they pay.

The ‘new rich’ are a pain. There was a guy I knew who would get out of his S – Class Benz and close the door shut with the heel of his Gucci shoes — just to make a point. He is always in a hurry.

‘I am busy’.

‘There is a meeting with the Prime Minister at 2.00pm, so hurry up.’  

Stuff like that. So all this drama just adds stress; particularly to the junior colleagues. They are ‘ordered’ to be in constant touch with our New Rich’s secretary. He won’t deign to talk to you. He is ‘in a meeting with some Ministers’. His secretary or executive will call all the shots. As they walk past you, you must lie down and be their carpet. They demand you see them at their office.  Or at the airport. You are made to wait for an hour. You watch the traffic build up from the 40th floor of a gleaming, glass-clad building: and you think of an unrelated trial the next morning.

These guys in fact think they are doing you a personal favour.

You burn the candle at both ends.  The work is done.  Then you send in the bill.

Then reality hits you like a ton of bricks.

‘They are not in town.  One director can sign the cheque, but the other director is in South Africa, so how?’   And ‘Can you please re-send’, for the third time, ‘the ‘original invoice, because company policy is such’.

You do that.  Three times. Eventually you realise no one will pay your bills.  You think these guys are bad.  Wait till you see their multiple wives and their court-entourage. They treat you like dirt.

Lawyers know everyone in town.   They’ve all come and gone.

You know a guy who knows a guy.

And eventually, Mr. New Rich will get his comeuppance. I have seen it with my own eyes.

So, choose your client with care, or you and your blood pressure will soon become bosom buddies.

Every legal practitioner has maxims that go something like this:-

‘He who pays the least,

blames the most, and

wastes the most time.

He who pay the best,

pays on time,

gives no trouble at all’.

That is what legal practice is.

Unbelievable.

But true.

So keep the entrepreneur, and the aristocrat.

When the cause is just, always represent the poor, the needy, the victims of bullies, the makcik  or  pakcik from kampong who have lost everything, and can’t pay your bill.

Your Brioni-clad opponent from a Premier Firm will scoff. Don’t mind him. He’s on his way to a big fall. Seen that too. Too many times.

The judge will be unhappy, thinking you are wasting the court’s time.

Soldier on.

Fight it till the end.

When you fall, rise and fight.

You’ll be all right.

You’d sleep better.

 

[March 17, 2017)

 

 

 

 

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