Lawyers in courtroom
By Chijioke Massai Okafor
In its purest form, our profession is no friendlier than a cock-fight or a gladiators’ pit. Every player has at some point tasted the sands of defeat. Therefore, no one lawyer can beat his chest as the quintessential bench-mark when at certain points in his career; he may have been bloodied by some wiry minion. The competition is so stiff that we continually look over our shoulders to gauge the next man’s every move. The young lawyer begrudges the old of his stability and massive client-base; the old is scared of the revolutionary upheavals that the young are brewing in those computers and tablets, while fuzzily shaking his head when they chant alien phrases like Digital Rights and Cyber-legislations.
The corporate lawyer envies the litigation-lawyer for his seamless grasp of procedure; while the litigation guru goes green at sighting his corporate colleagues safely ensconced within the limited challenges of secretarial duty.
We regularly schedule conferences and seminars, ostensibly to impact the legal network. But those are really avenues to measure progress (or hopefully, stagnation) across the competitors. How much exposure has he attained since the last visit? Any new mega-briefs or transactions? The mandatory requirement for the Practice-synopsis of Key-note Speakers is a subtle web to catch these details. And being the megalomaniacs we all are, nothing is ever left to the imagination. So, we leave the conferences either more vain, or more bitter; depending on how well our achievements fare in comparison to those of the next lawyer.
Burrowing into our typical psyche (i.e. extreme disdain for 2nd-place); I have attempted hereunder to identify certain error-zones that may be counting in favour of the next man:
1. Headlines Versus Details
Every lawyer prides himself for being an avid reader. But maybe, that virtue sometimes proves hurtful. You try to devour every single detail in a book. You measure numerous precedents in every routine brief, and rigorously research for every client-interview. Expertise, you call it. But this other lawyer who doesn’t work half as hard, soars. He doesn’t dive deep, but beats through every surface. He skims for headlines and key-words, while you burrow painstakingly through every syllable. You are heavy on thoroughness, while he is on sensation. When it matters most, he can give decent overviews; expertly implying that he is constrained by available time. The sufficiently impressed client buys him in, and it is only when his earnings are assured that he digs deeper. Odds are, he may even outsource the digging to you, for a stipend; while he skims through other opportunities. Your knowledge pays you, but his masterful use of time pays more.
2. He is Less Law, more Business
Knowing all the law is a historical impossibility. Thus, the next best thing is - how much you know beyond the Law. A small-time auto-technician knows every car part; but the business man earns bigger from assembling them as commercial wholes. Pretty soon, the world will grow wise to the fact that lawyers bring absolutely no extra value to a transaction between gentlemen. Oh, we try to shackle them with terms and conditions (or more frighteningly: covenants). And we never fail to insert that arbitration clause which is not intended to oust the court’s jurisdiction, of course. But maybe the parties have just not figured out that “disputes” are merely disparate views of a tangible subject. Therefore, they do not need a lawyer to resolve them; they simply need experts in that relevant field. Also, they don’t need to be called disputes. Simply refer to them as varying opinions. When this happens, lay-experts (as opposed to legal-experts) will be ushered in to resolve contentions; and Agreements will subsist happily ever after. That next lawyer may be more successful because he has grown capacity beyond the law; and in certain technical business areas, he lends an extra limb. Do not say you haven’t been fore-armed...
3. “The Philosophers’ Football Match” Syndrome
Few of us may be familiar with the famous comedy sketch by a British group, Monty Python, depicting well-known philosophers as footballers on a field. Socrates, Marx, Archimedes, the whole squad. Yes, you guessed right; they wandered aimlessly the entire game. Every proposed move was weighed, challenged, reviewed and discarded. At the end, nobody kicked the ball. Some lawyers are always on the verge of something big: an adventurous merger; a new public lecture-series; a capacity building partnership with some global investor; blah blah blah. Once the idea emerges, it is massively debated and measured in-house. Series of SWOT analyses and feasibility assessments are performed; meanwhile some upstart elsewhere spontaneously acts on his own Eureka moment, and voila! He lands on TV, soaking up endorsements and huge fees. You watch his interviews with an upturned nose, spotting little imperfections in his Initiative. Meanwhile, your own ideas are still undergoing brutal mutilation within the barricades of your project-file, and you remain anonymous.
4. Delayed Gratification
Lawyers must be paid. I support hostility towards free-service requests. But, that next lawyer may be growing big, ironically from delayed payments. Yes, oozing tailored professionalism; you brandish your Scale of Fees to the client on a take or leave basis. That way, you earn no more than you ask. That next lawyer adopts a different approach. “It’s Ok, don’t pay” He tells the broke client who has smart ideas. He rather requests for an equity stake, a Board appointment, a collateral Retainer upon success of the current Deal. Of course, it is a risky approach. You may lose all in the face of a rascally adventurer. But if he strikes gold, he can’t say it’s all mine, when your fees are pending.
5. It May All Be in the Mind...
Who is to say the next man is better? Richer maybe, more famous too. But are your clients happy? Are your primary bills paid? Do you promote the course of Justice? Real satisfaction is intangible. It is not measured by plaques and awards. It is surely not measured by wealth; because making money takes less imagination than being a lawyer.
I think the next man is only as good as you want him to be when he meets you in the fight-arena.
Culled from- “These numerous Ideas I never put to good use” by Massai Okafor