Tuesday, 8 June 2010


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My mind’s made up; I am going back to litigation! I was at one of those ‘Legal’ conferences where the only thing that kept you awake was the very struggle to keep your eyes open amidst the bland, jargon-ridden chunks of verbosity. The massive attendance showed the extents lawyers can go, to get a good sleep. In my quest for more animate diversion, I picked up the programme of events again; puckering my brows in studied concentration for the benefit of the present speaker whose eyes for some uncanny reason always fell on me. The programme promised more hours of speeches and roundtable discussions ahead, nightmare! But wait, one item stood out of the long list of dreary events, directly aligned to Lunch. (Talk of peas in a pod) It was also the simplest term on the entire document: NETWORKING…hmmm…

Unconsciously, my eyes skimmed the crowd to gauge the prospects along that line. Directly beside me was a bunch of oldies in ill tailored jackets, scribbling away and nodding furiously in turns at the speaker’s every monotone. I had blanked them out entirely when they broke into a noisy argument before the start of the event, referring to exact subsections of the constitution complete with paraphrases of judicial decisions with respect to the culpability or otherwise of a certain cradle-snatching senator. It was too late to switch seats, so I carried my cross. 
Craning my neck a little more to the left, I scanned the entire venue past some gum chewing bulky female seniors, and a prematurely balding personage who had unashamedly surrendered to the more alluring tunes of Morpheus, until my eyes rested on wow! (So they still craft lawyers this good?) Four well-attired, cute young ladies. They were looking on with bored looks and I immediately felt some kindred spirit…we definitely shared a common network.
The longest three hours in my life finally limped to an end and the MC who packed an incredible array of arid jokes announced the glorious duo: ‘Lunch and Networking!’ 

I must have pushed myself through to the exit away from the stifling legal air as the varied aroma of lunch wafted through. (I’m still stuck in this profession probably just because lawyers have never failed to dine and wine right.) However, gluttony was not my sole motivation this time; I also strove to sit on the same table with people whose appearances (and chit-chat) will go down well with the dishes, I therefore steered clear of the fat, the old and the male!
I made a show of queuing up with the rest, but all the while combing the tables…over there, two Senior Advocates pumping their hands furiously, no way! One of them had earlier made a joke about a separate buffet to be reserved for the gents of the inner bar. SANs…don’t they just make you silk!
Thankfully, I espied the dames again, hmmm…good smiles to go with the gleaming ensemble, I wasn’t missing that. I stalked and stalked, until I got to their table. Tables were laid for ten people, so I had adequate easement. Immediately the good ladies sat down, I made my grand appearance. I will not bore you with details of my moulded-to-a perfect-fit Canali suit and classy pocket hanky tailored in consonance with my tie. Ok, the shoes had seen better days, but fortunately the ladies were apparently not the sort to look down on people as they kept their glances above the table cloth. ‘Please is that seat taken?’ I couldn’t believe I was able to conjure that velvety baritone from my voice box. 

I have never been an expert on women, but damn me if I did not see general flickers of interest on their eyebrows. I ate silently for some minutes listening to their polished exchanges, (food never digested better), trying to decide the ideal manner to inroad into their conversation. From their gist I found out they were colleagues, on internship from Law School. I could tell the dizzying effect my introduction would have on their green horns: I am attached to the Conflict Resolution Unit of an International Corporate Practice focused on borderless negotiations…but the opportunity never came as three breezy young (male!) lawyers pulled out seats and sat with us.
They introduced themselves and proceeded to shake the ladies’ hands!…I gasped and turned, expecting to see the ladies recoil at this classless display, considering that I, their longer acquaintance, had done the gentlemanly thing of waiting patiently… (Albeit unsuccessfully) for that physical honour. But to my horror, the girls warmly returned the greeting, all smiles. Within the minute, the table became a flurry of arguments and one-liners, and these invaders monopolized every subject. One of the girls couldn’t help gushing ‘Hilarious! This table was so dull before you guys joined, it now feels like there are lawyers here, what area of practice are you guys into…?’ I was deserted…even before the last course.

‘What else do lawyers do?’ grinned the most odious of the toxic trio, a lanky fellow called Wale. ‘We go to court’
I had to interject here ‘Come on, you guys have to be joking, we all know that’s archaic thinking, Law has grow beyond the courts. I’ve never been in one myself…’
‘Go and sit down, my friend’ another countered, ‘That is what you so-called corporate lawyers deceive yourselves with. Listen, the teacher’s place is in school, the lawyer’s in court, period!’ I could feel the blood pounding on my face at this nursery logic, but, relax it! The girls had to see who the better man was.
‘I disagree’ I forced the bile down. ‘The contemporary world is more business minded; we are even leaving the courts for arbitration. Where does that leave you guys with your lengthy pleadings, affidavits and motions?’ I took another five minutes to educate them on how the International Conflict Resolution sphere was the next best thing and how our firm was a pace setter… until bursts of derisive merriment cut me short.
‘Our point exactly!’ screamed the third of the pack. ‘Contemporary world, International pace-setting, blah blah blahimpressive phrases that corporate lawyers deploy to conceal their cowardice in the face of real cerebral battleLitigation is the ultimate test of your legal abilities. We did not major in business negotiations; we are trained gladiators for the intriguing clash of legal minds in the temples of justice. Why do we have senior advocates, not senior solicitors? The law doesn’t solicit. As far as Mother Justice is concerned, we are her legitimate children, corporate lawyers are strays…’

‘Rubbish’, I snarled trying to drown the sudden applause coming from the girls. ‘It is not true at all! You litigation hustlers are the ones that routinely insult the profession, with your unsought solicitations. The comfort zone of outdated courts shield you from the real world…you hide behind adjournments and preliminary objections as an excuse for a life of barely disguised idleness, spitting sections of laws you memorize more out of sheer habit than any independent thought process…’
‘And I suppose independent thought process means indiscriminate downloading of precedent books in drafting agreements, sipping coffee and biscuits in airy rooms while confusing poor business owners with untested legal opinions in the form of ‘corporate advice?’ Wale was enraged now. The equivalent of a Senior Advocate in corporate practice is the Company Secretary, and then what does the company secretary even do, apart from filling in templates from the Corporate Affairs Commission?...You know that you are not worthy to wear the wig and the gown, it scares the guts out of you… (Wait let me finish!) Can you face a judge? In your business you are counsel and judge at the same time, and your clients don’t know any better
Every day, in front of our clients, we pass through intensive intellectual scrutiny from the astute Bench and come out better lawyers, dedicated to the time long intendment of the legal profession…advocating for justice within the specified ambit.  You talk of being in conflict resolution, without force of law? Let the day come that the court’s powers are completely ousted in any agreement and I will eat my wig- which by the way, will grow silken in just a few more years. And all the attendant privileges that accrue to a worthy son of the learned vocation shall remain elusive to you as long as you continue betraying our hallowed tenets on the altar of immediate financial gratification.’ He turned to the increasingly enraptured ladies. ‘Never trust them, with their oily suaveness; see how he silently sat here all along, mind full of scheming. Typical corporate shark I tell you! It took honest, open-faced folks like us to make you start enjoying your lunch. Frankness is our key word! Real Lawyers are real men…corporate lawyers are sissy!’

‘The girls were nodding vigorously now in hypnotic worship. ‘Real lawyers are real men…wow!’ I heard one whisper to her friends with a dazed expression, as the three men drew out their call-cards which the girls scrambled to grab. ‘Give us a call anytime, legal action always speaks louder than words…’

The bell signaling the end-of lunch/networking chimed, and the tables emptied. I stared at my hands… I had grabbed their call-cards as well. (Sometimes i just hate myself!)


First published in Thisday Newspapers: June 8, 2010