The role of lawyers in our society – a critical analysis
প্রকাশিত হয়েছে : ১০:০১:৫৮,অপরাহ্ন ২৫ ফেব্রুয়ারি ২০২০
Cllr Barrister Nazir Ahmed
Qualified lawyers in England and Wales include both Solicitors and Barristers regulated by the Solicitors Regulations Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) respectively. Lawyers are also called by different names in other jurisdictions, for example, they are called Advocate in Scotland and Attorney-at-Law in the USA. Lawyers play an essential and crucial role within our society. They possess specialist knowledge, skills and trainings. This article aims to discuss the services that lawyers provide to our society and in turn whether they receive fair and proportionate privileges.
Lawyers are conscious and learned citizens of our society. They generally promote rule of law and independence of judiciary, protect human rights and ensure that justice is done. They are considered as the Officers of the Court. While they represent at the court (performing advocacy role) their main duty is to assist the courts so that the courts can reach to the fair and proper conclusion and resolution of the disputed matters. In the UK, unlike in many European jurisdictions where civil law (as opposed to common law) is practised, we have adversarial system where the judges play passive but impartial and independent roles. It is the lawyers who do all the hard works in researching and preparing for putting forward the cases for/on behalf of their clients.
Essentially, the law is part and parcel of one’s daily life and lawyers are trained to support people through the legal process if they face legal problems. Lawyers provide advice and assistance in many aspects, such as, buying and selling a home, buying and selling a business or writing a will etc. A lawyer also helps in relation to divorce, family proceedings, children issue, employment issue, civil litigation, criminal matters so on and so forth. A lawyer would be able to give advice in order for the legal issues to be solved. For our legal system being based on common law as opposed to codified Civil Codes, an individual may find legal cases to be complicated, time-consuming and frustrating. If there is a legal problem, a lawyer can explain various legal provisions and how to apply those provisions to the current situations arisen. Lawyers have competency in drafting and thus they frequently draft leases, wills, agreements, corporation documents, statutory declarations, witness statements, skeleton arguments, affidavits and other legal documents.
It is the primary duty of lawyers to act in the best interest of their clients. Lawyers are expected to explain the law to their clients as well as explore different options on how to solve the legal problems without needing to go to court. Going to the court and commencing civil litigation are the last resort. In fact, lawyers are put under legal obligation to consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before advising on civil litigation. Lawyer will give legal advice but they will not make the decisions for the clients. Lawyers advise their clients on different branches of law, both civil and criminal. If instructed in civil matters, they sue others on behalf of their clients or defend them if their clients are sued by others. In criminal matters, they defend their clients if the Crown prosecutes them. Even the Crown [Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) nominated by lawyers prosecute the criminal cases] engages or employs lawyers in order to prosecute the accused or even defends the Crown in court in civil matters (such as, Judicial Review). Lawyers’ advocacy works involve representing their clients right from the lower tier of the courts (such as, Tribunals, Magistrates Court, County Court) to the highest tier (such as, the Supreme Court).
Lawyers-clients relationship is considered a special relationship. Lawyers advise their clients under professional privilege. Their advices to clients remain confidential. Once a lawyer advises or represents a client, the same lawyer cannot advise or represent this client’s rival due the long established principle of conflict of interest. Trust and faith on lawyers are very important. Lawyers are said to have fiduciary relationship which very few in other profession have in our society. Lawyers are expected to follow the laws and rules with the letters and spirits – they not allowed to break the law. If a lawyer decides to go against the rules or codes to be followed, such as disclosing lawyer-client discussions, they may face a severe sanction and, in such an event, this may lead a lawyer to lose his licence (practicing certificate). This is because lawyers are held to/seen to be observing a much higher standards as officers of the court.
Without lawyers, almost all of us would be living in an unfair world with decisions made unethically and unjustly. We cannot imagine a society without lawyers. In civil matters, lawyers work hard to put forward their clients’ case in the best possible way. In the criminal matters, they play an outstanding role to save innocent people from being convicted. Without lawyers many innocent people would have gone to prison. Even when accused are charged for criminal offence and there are clear evidence against those accused, the lawyers make sure that their clients get due process and fair trial. If their clients are convicted by the competent court of law, the lawyers again put forward all of their mitigating circumstances and ensures that they get sentences and punishments proportionately according to their offences.
Apart from private practice, lawyers play an important role in other areas and sectors. Judges are predominantly appointed from lawyers. The government of the day employs lawyers in their key departments for legal assistance. Local authorities employ many lawyers to ensure that their statutory duties are complied with fully and are defended if they are sued by residents or companies they have had contract with. Lawyers discharge some important functions in statutory, constitutional, autonomous, semi-autonomous bodies, such as Boundary Commission, regulatory Ombudsman, Electoral Commission, different statutory Inquiry Commissions etc. Furthermore, many lawyers, both individually and from law firms/chambers, provide important services to the society through their pro bono legal advice and assistance/representation. Corporate lawyers and top law firms also provide this as part of their corporate social responsibility.
From the above discussion, it can be argued that the lawyers, no doubt, provide invaluable services to the society and, while providing valuable services to the society, lawyers appear to be receiving appropriate and fair privileges. They charge appropriate fees for their legal services. They often even charge comparatively high professional fees, sometimes incomparable with any other professions, for example, some QCs charges £900.00 per hour! When employed, lawyers’ salaries are in no way lower than other professionals. In private practice, lawyers’ fees are paid by their clients. If the clients are legally aidable, then lawyers’ fees are paid by the legal aid authority. Lawyers, as a class, seem to be well off than other classes of professionals, such as teachers, social workers, nurses etc.
The lawyers receive other special privileges in our society, for example, as earlier mentioned, they are considered as officers of the court. In fact, qualified lawyers (i.e. Solicitors and Barristers) are Commissioners for Oaths. As such, they can administer oaths, affidavits and statutory declarations. They can be witnesses of will, probate and other specified documents, and certify person and document in special occasions, i.e., countersign for the passport matters. With appropriate and/or additional trainings, lawyers can do mediation and arbitration in the society to bring a “win-win” outcome which litigations, being contentious, can never bring. Lawyers command high respect, honour and dignity in the society.
Satisfaction is one of the main privileges a lawyer can receive. Lawyers are professionally helping their clients in getting justice and receiving positive outcome is one of the clients’ natural satisfying feelings to lawyers. This is because the litigation process is so deep, stressful, complex and lengthy. Many hours and days are spent by the lawyers in ensuring that the lawyers and the clients themselves are in advantageous positions. Individuals could have given up, but lawyers continue to work endless hours to ensure the best possible outcomes and remedies within the law. This can even happen to when clients receive mere quality legal advice, for this can save clients from unnecessary trouble or enable the clients to know/understand their legal positions and merit of their case. There is a saying “well begum is half done.” There is another proverb “A stitch on time saves nine.” Thus, lawyers’ quality advice through their specialist knowledge and skills make the clients well began and well prepared and save nine stitches even if they have to go on to litigation.
Lawyers can get recognition through clients’ satisfaction. Gaining recognition from clients and potential clients is very advantageous for lawyers as it will boost concerned lawyers’ status in the society and help them achieve more. A satisfied client can bring multiple clients to the lawyers. This silent advertisement is very positive to lawyers, both professionally and commercially.
However, it can be counter argued that although the lawyers do provides valuable service to the society, they do not get fair and proportionate privileges. Lawyers earn comparatively little in their initial years. A normal university leaving graduate can straightway start a job in the region of £20,000 pa or £25,000 pa salary. A lawyer needs to pass three stages to qualify. There are: Academic Stage (law degree or equivalent), Vocational Stage and Training Stage. After completing all these three Stages, most lawyers are unlikely to start their employment with a salary in the region of £25,000 pa. Lawyers in the largest and medium size firms and chambers may earn satisfactory salary and income, but most of those in the small firms and sole practitioners earn comparatively lower. Some QCs may command high fees, such as £900.00 per hour, as mentioned above, this is very tiny proportion and certainly not the case to majority of lawyers.
Furthermore, although lawyers advise their client under the doctrine of professional privileges, these privileges are not unlimited. In fact, these privileges are qualified. Also the principles of confidentiality are not unlimited either. These are all subject to the courts’ order. The court can order for disclosure and rule that no such privileges exist. Although if clients are legally aidable, legal aid authority can pay lawyers for their legal services to the clients, legal aid has been severely restricted over the years. In many cases (such as most of the immigration cases, divorce and civil litigation etc), there is no legal aid available. It is true that lawyers command high respect, honour and dignity in the society but again the level of respect, honour and dignity are not same to all – these very. Some get more respect and can command higher fees than others. This probably depends on competence, personality, profile, long experience and reputation.
Although lawyers do provide many valuable traits to the society, they are often overworked. According to a research (Thomas Conelly, Research: Over 90% of young lawyers are suffering from work-related stress, 2017), “more than 90% of young lawyers have felt under too much emotional or mental pressure” at work in the past month.” This suggests that many young lawyers are overworking which causes a huge negative outcome on their mental health. Having a good headspace ensures that lawyers are able to work efficiently as well as have a good mentality outside of work too. The above research also mentions that “the data showed that 65% blame their high workload.” When lawyers are providing legal service for their clients, they have a deadline to work towards and this may require a lot of work to be done in a short time. This causes unwanted stress and may even cause lawyers to make serious mistakes in their workload which may change the fate of the cases.
It can also be argued that although many lawyers are hardworking, reliable and dependable, some may not meet these requirements of being a respectable lawyer. As mentioned by Staci Zaretsky (Staci Zaretsky, Lawyers: The Most Despised Profession in America, 2013): “Society has hated lawyers since the dawn of time. The law is a profession that often gets little respect, in part because the bad tends to overshadow the good.” It can be counter argued that for few bad or incompetent lawyers, the whole profession and hundreds of thousands of lawyers cannot be blamed. For poor and inadequate service, a complaint can duly be made to the concerned regulatory (i.e. Legal Ombudsman) body of the lawyers.
In conclusion, in the light of the above discussion, it can safely be said that lawyers play a huge and dynamic role in providing valuable service to the society and they, in turn, are privileged fairly and appropriately in many circumstances. Lawyers speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. They contribute hugely to making a fairer and just society. Without lawyers, society would have been unjust, unruly and uncivilised. Lawyers enjoy many privileges for the hard work they do and the invaluable services they provide to the society. But there is always room for improvement given the nature of the legal practice continues to grow and develop in a positive direction.
Cllr Barrister Nazir Ahmed FRSA FCIArb
LLB Hons. (London), LLM (London), Barrister-at-Law (Lincoln’s Inn)
Lawyer, Writer, Analyst and Deputy Chair (Deputy Speaker) of London Borough of Newham.