Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The High-tech Lawyer: an Oxymoron

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Not a few Lawyers (and Judges) look at the persistent incursion of modern technology in our unique lives and wish that the whole rubbish will fast-track on a self destruct mode and burn itself out entirely! The age-long mystery of our profession is fast being deleted. These days, a random lay man inserts a phrase on Google search for five minutes and proceeds to engage you in a discourse on interlocutory injunctions. 
Tragically, he may even come up with better points, complete with international jurisdictional comparisons! So much then for the decade of legal training, largely spent lugging tower-high ancient texts. The ultimate reward of the Bar, which consists exclusively of holding sway with words and befuddling awestruck lesser minds, painfully slips off our grasp. Now, as if these irritations are not enough, some members of our own flock have even gone ahead to brand themselves IT Lawyers!

I think this puts Justice Onwuzurumba’s wrath earlier this morning in its proper context.
We were in court enduring his particularly tremulous monotone, while our respective clients literally slept on their various rights.  Then a loud beep! That unmistakable ping signaling a Blackberry notification. The accompanying silence was deafening, as the bespectacled eyes of M’Lord were instantly lit with raging flames. ‘That was a phone that rang, wasn’t it?’ he drawled with glacial calm. We all sat mute, except of course for the few SANs that looked back with theatrically shocked expressions at this sacrilege from the Bar’s pedestrian section. They proceeded to mutter their disapproval but M’Lord screamed them down, (storms certainly have their bright spots) repeating his question in a more Siberian intonation. 
Surely, the ice in his voice must have been the cause of such terrible quivering in every young lawyer in the room. ‘I will not hesitate to dock the lot of you for contempt, if the owner of the device that just disturbed my court is not immediately brought to my notice’. Who could question his powers to wield such a stick, considering that current legislation on contempt is as long (or short) as the Judge’s temper. Well, everyone was spared testing that possibility as a trembling young wig staggered up and in a strangled voice admitted guilt in a flurry of bows. So much for having a Bold .

M’Lord fixed him with a stare and motioned him towards the bench.
‘You dare to keep your phone on in my court?!’(If the circumstances were friendlier, it would have been reassuring to know that his Lordship’s voice was capable of some form of animation after all.)
‘Yes my Lord, I mean, sorry my Lord’ Mr. all-a-quiver blurted out.
‘You RECEIVE phone calls while I sit!!!
‘No my Lord, I would do no such thing my Lord, it was merely my Facebook notification, my Lord…’
‘And that means…?’
“My client, sir…your Lordship…I just received notification on my Blackberry that my client has sent in a list of documents relevant to the present suit sir…my Lord, sir.’
‘I see.’ M’Lord let drop a wry smile. ‘You are able to browse with your phone?’
Unsure of the import of the query, the poor counsel could only nod weakly. The rest of the lawyers sucked in their breaths, dreading to exhale. The old Justice never failed to suffer fools. Whether he did so gladly, his perpetually dour visage would never reveal.

‘A young wig and already grown so irreverent of the law to go on Facebook while my court holds!’
‘No my Lord, I was not on the network… I just received notification when he sent it…Regrettably I forgot to switch it on silent mode.’ (There was suddenly a subtle scent of soiled pants)
‘Listen to how much of a serious lawyer you paint yourself to be.’ The Justice hissed. ‘You build your case from a social network?’
‘No my Lord, what he posted me on Facebook is a link that leads to another web page where I can get the materials’ It must have been the flames in his eyes, but I noticed that here, His Lordship’s face grew slightly beclouded.
‘You see…’ He swung a rigid fore-finger at the court. ‘I keep saying it, the standard is falling! Every day it is falling! In our time we stayed awake devouring volumes of books. Books, well researched and written by verifiable professionals. These days you all flee to the internet bringing in quotes from dubious sources. The law has never been a profession of convenience; it requires the most painstaking efforts. What do we have now? A situation where a man professed to the nobility of it all chooses to bring the junk of a teenage past-time into our temple!’

‘But My Lord…’ the counsel began, but a collective gasp instantly smothered the rest of his protest.
‘And the impudence! He talks back at me! He feels so ahead-of-the-times, he forgets his place! Let me tell you, I was a lawyer for 20 years before ascending to the Bench, where I have conscientiously given another 25 years to this profession. I have seen technologies come and go, each seeking to outdo the other in rattling the law. But here we have stood firmly against the bandwagon effect, the few amendments to our laws being unnecessary concessions by alarmist legislators. You sit here, an untested greenhorn feeling technology savvy and bristling with flimsy modernity…The law is not a modern profession! It is the most ancient and conservative of orders. We have no need for the likes of you, and I will not fail to precipitate your ignonimous route to the exit. All cases for today are hereby stood down, and counsel shall immediately proceed to the dock to satisfy this court with reasons why he should not suffer a conviction for contempt in my court!
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In cases like this, the camaraderie of lawyers is exceptional. Pleas and entreaties…Chastisement and reproach were fervently recommended over the shame of conviction. My Lord, mercy… he is just a first offender...and the noose eventually lifted over the counsel’s neck.

I was initially shocked by the Judge’s negative passion, not that one expects civil treatment from a person bent on creating a criminal. But on further reflection, I guess he did what he should. He performed his role, the Law’s defender against the impetuous kicks of technology. If the law compromises just a bit, the wave of further revolutionary intrusions would be limitless.  
Well, for the time being, I breathe easier, having only been deprived the use of my Blackberry as a lesser punishment. But for as long as I live, I will keep trying to unravel the silent plea behind the judge’s anger as I stood before him.

In the meanwhile, let’s go post a new comment on Facebook: TODAY, I WAS ALMOST CONVICTED FOR CONTEMPT!


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