Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Tis One Long, Happy Christmas without the Law...? (How the Lawyer stole Christmas)

Credit: Google Images

The Law is full of crap. I can get around any Law you may write. The Law can get twisted out of shape to serve a wicked civilization. The rich can escape the law and sometimes even the poor get lucky. Some Lawyers treat the law they way pimps treat their women. Judges sell the Law, Courts betray it.
All true. But remember this. We have nothing better that works. There is no better way we can make a social contract with our fellow human beings.
-          Mario Puzo: The Fourth K

It is Christmas Eve. The excitement is doubled this year because the world did not end after all. Of course, I maintained an intellectual front through it all, publicly. All day you would hear me volubly dismissing the global concerns as the sensation-cloaked ignorance of modern-day media. But when I got home, I would take fearful peeks into the NASA website and pray with a racing heart.

So here we are, sharing that traditional bottle of wine. We, being the small group of boisterous lawyer-friends that I am usually stuck with this season. As always, we joked and bantered about the professional hazards of the fading year: The psyche battles with clients; the ego tussle with seniors, the pending coup against all SANs; time and wine dulling the edges off the less savoury stories.

Eventually, the conversation naturally steered to the government, the shoddy efforts so far and the remoteness of possible solutions. Of course, it sobered us all up. Beneath the merry laughter and demonstrated fellow-feeling; the guards-down mood of Christmas merely represented another easy channel for man to steal, even more easily from his neighbour.

Prices soar, illogically. Ok, maybe it is nothing personal, just cold economics. But it sure rings a contradictory note in the face of much touted goodwill and love-fuelled giving. Fuel queues stretch for miles, housing agonized travellers. And the station attendant smiles warm greetings to the sweating driver who pays the extra fee for expedited service. But we love it all, the mad rush homewards; to show off, to gloat, to indulge; at the next man’s fiscal or mental expense.

In line with the changed mood of the table; I decided to share a story I had kept to myself all this while. It happened in my first few years of Law practice. The Firm’s client had bought a piece of land and paid in full. Upon moves to take possession, it was revealed that the vendor had availed false papers. Somebody else had better title, and my client was hung out to dry. Of course, the vendor’s phones had long become unreachable.

I had more energy in those days, and I moved, fast. I recall it was Christmas season. We tracked and  traced the vendor through every dinghy nook of Lagos. Precisely on December 22nd, we discovered his hide-out. Oh well, if you can describe a detached duplex flanked by glittering wheels as a hide-out.
We pounced mercilessly. Yes, one of those rare times when Police is really your friend. The young wife and chubby infants wailed themselves hoarse. The gentleman begged, knelt and cajoled. I insisted. There were frenetic phone-calls, an undertaking, a criminal charge, accelerated recovery. The process triggered off a chain reaction and the dude was ruined for keeps.

My principal roundly commended me. But I could not shake off the wretched feeling. The Client’s insisted pay-off tasted like blood money. This was the best Christmas gift a Lawyer could possibly give: cruelty.

I have since grown used to the reputation: The furtive glances of tenants whenever I came visiting at Christmas. The message in the greeting cards I bore surely contradicted the Client’s instructions- a reviewed rent.  We are singled out as spoilsports. In a bubble of sparkling wine; the world will rather smile and sing through the sham and pain of it all. They need no nagging reminders to toe the straight and narrow line. Christmas preaches forgiveness; but the lawyer seeks justice (read; revenge).  Christmas is colourful and sprightly. The lawyer is dour and sober.

But the Lawyer is losing the battle, no doubt. The concept of Law as a distinct Discipline fast fades away. These days, the lawyer must specialize in the specific business areas of his client. And since he cannot exactly measure up to the expertise of the business owner; he plays second fiddle. Very soon, big corporate decisions will happen without any bit of legal intervention. I overhear already that soon, in Nigeria, Companies would be incorporated by lay persons. Already, every agreement impliedly ousts the courts. They prefer mediation. Even arbitration is dying off. The world hates the judicial flavour.

Lands will be sold, Wills drafted and read, with at best, passive intervention of lawyers. Citizens may negotiate directly with law enforcement without some nosy prude insisting on procedural conformity. Surely, everyday will soon become Christmas.

Emasculated, the Law will take the rear-seat and gape impotently at the unchecked and untamed celebrations. The Government will also rest easier. They will take up glossy pages in Newspapers announcing a joyous partnership with the citizenry. Absence of lawyers means an absence of petitions and litigation. And absence of litigation is in itself prima facie proof of a satisfied populace. Leadership ratings will soar. Santa has hearkened to the most sublime wishes.

Even these may all come to pass. And the world will still not end. We will continue the wait, heeding or defying rumours and prophecies. We will always look forward to that eventual end of the globe. And therein lies the irony. From whence the globe came, or where it is headed; no one knows yet. But of man’s transitory passage through it, we have had centuries of knowledge. Yet man still waits for the world to end.
...But it is already ended the day the Law dies.


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