The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Popular Perception and the Regional Lawyer

Jeff Cumberbatch – Columnist, Deputy Dean of UWI, Law Faculty, Chairman of the FCT

“You shall not pervert the justice due to the poor in his lawsuit…”Exodus 23:6

“What is the difference between a lawyer and a mosquito?”

“One is a blood-sucking parasite, the other is an insect.”Anonymous

Frequent instances of disbarment, of defalcation, embezzlement, and of sundry other fraudulent conduct in one jurisdiction or another, inordinate delays at all stages of the process, bungled judicial appointments in Trinidad & Tobago, accusations of exorbitant fees charged to the state in Barbados, and even convictions for conspiracy to murder; these are but some of the items of misconduct listed on the rather lengthy charge sheet of the regional legal profession. Naturally, given our penchant for generalization – “All Jamaicans are…” “All men are …”-, these acts of misfeasance and, in some cases, criminality, have served to tarnish the entire profession so that what should be perceived as a noble and prestigious vocation devoted to the service of mankind in its quest for justice and the rule of law in statal affairs has become in some eyes rather a calling for rogues and those given to sharp practice with the property and financial affairs of others.

Of course, none of this is new. Whether justifiably so or not, people have throughout history viewed the profession with disfavour, to such an extent that the barbs that have been written pertaining to lawyers could fill a small library.

Some have the very highest authority. In Luke 11:45-52, in response to one lawyer’s assertion that in accusing the Pharisees of “loving the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces” and likening them unto unmarked graves that people unwittingly walk over, he had also insulted the lawyers, Jesus responded, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs”.

Much later in his history, Henry VI, Part II, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Dick the Butcher, one of the followers of the anarchist rebel Jack Cade to say, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”, although there is a cogent argument to the effect that this is rather a back-handed compliment to the profession in that it was Cade’s wish to disrupt law and order so that he might become king. Indeed, if we read on, Cade would have had even those such as the Clerk who could read and write put to death by hanging “with his pen and inkhorn about his neck”.

And in his chapter on Defamation, the learned author of Winfield & Jolowicz on Tort (17th edition), when searching for an example to illustrate the rule that the publisher of defamatory information about a group is not ordinarily held liable in defamation to a member of that group, chose, perhaps unintentionally, the dicta of Willes J. in Eastwood v Holmes to the effect that, “If a man wrote that all lawyers were thieves, no particular lawyer could sue him unless there was something to point to the particular individual…”

Members of the legal profession are naturally concerned about their declining public image and are intent on doing something about it. In an article published in Volume 50 of the DePaul Law Review entitled “The Public’s Perception of Attorneys: A time to be Proactive”, Robert Clifford, an attorney-at-law, notes that the image of the lawyer has deteriorated from the fictitious portrayals of television hero Perry Mason or To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch to a stage “where a beer brewery thinks it can improve profits by running commercials depicting lawyers as rodeo cattle”.

He blames the distortion of lawyers’ behaviour on television shows and the movies for having contributed to the mistaken impression that zealous advocacy calls for “rude, aggressive and often dramatic techniques”.

However, while acknowledging that legal professionalism exists today in a milieu filled with conflicts such as fierce competition, time constraints, client pressures, unwieldy rules and the superiority of the bottom line, he advocates that the adversarial nature of law practice should not act as an excuse for incivility but should provide a reason for lawyers to educate the public about what lawyers do and why they act as they do.

He further recommends mentoring, which he describes as something that cannot be taught in law school or instruction in an ethical approach to practice as one way to raise the bar (no pun!)

The Honourable Justice Dennis Morrison QC, the President of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica, has also endorsed the ethical approach to law practice. In a recent address to the Barbados Bar Association, “The Ethical Lawyer –Burnishing the Brand”, his Lordship drew on an extract from one legal scholar who had commented earlier in a similarly titled piece, “The title, the Ethical Lawyer may be viewed by many as a contradiction, a paradox or even an oxymoron. Indeed, the perception amongst the majority of persons is that lawyers are deceitful, manipulative people who are motivated by sheer avarice. The image of the lawyer as a shark or other savage creature is not uncommon…”

Morrison then goes on to recount the transformation of Atticus Finch from the iconic defender of justice and the black accused, Tom Robinson, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” to the cynical segregationist in the harper Lee sequel “Go Set a Watchman” and posits that this mimics the transformation in the public eye in the image of lawyers from that of crusaders for right, symbols of ethical conduct to that of cynical, self seeking predators. He contends that for all those lawyers who believe that most lawyers are hard working professional who strive to uphold the honour and dignity of the profession, this must rank as high among the saddest transformations of our time. I shall continue this discussion in a future essay.

To be continued…

Advertisements

Tags: ,

18 Comments on “The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Popular Perception and the Regional Lawyer”

  1. Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger June 18, 2017 at 8:21 AM #

    “What is the difference between a lawyer and a mosquito?”

    “One is a blood-sucking parasite, the other is an insect.” –Anonymous

    This joke ust wont go away…lol

    Like

  2. Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger June 18, 2017 at 8:27 AM #

    Ah don’t know what to say….lol

    “The title, the Ethical Lawyer may be viewed by many as a contradiction, a paradox or even an oxymoron. Indeed, the perception amongst the majority of persons is that lawyers are deceitful, manipulative people who are motivated by sheer avarice. The image of the lawyer as a shark or other savage creature is not uncommon…”

    Like

  3. Alvin Cummins June 18, 2017 at 8:30 AM #

    Jeff,
    As usual you surpass. “…for all those lawyers who believe that most lawyers are hard working professional who strive to uphold the honour and dignity of the profession, this must rank as high among the saddest transformations of our time”
    In my book “The Royal Palms Are Dying”, these are the Royal Palms of long ago who have been perceived as such by the populace. The lack of respect exhibited, now, in general shows how close to death these Royal Palms are.

    Like

  4. Bush Tea June 18, 2017 at 8:30 AM #

    @ Jeff
    ….and you say all this to say what…?

    That the lawyers in Barbados are a pack of albino-centric, blood-sucking, dishonest, lazy and inefficient brass bowls?
    That they are typified by a clearly retarded PM; a court-declared thief as Speaker; and a a government chief legal advisor who charges $1.5M (from a government utility under your watch) for attending meetings?

    If lawyers generally are disgusting, then our local variety are totally reprehensible.

    As man, should you not disassociate your good self from these scoundrels?
    Hopefully that will be the focus of your part 2.

    Like

  5. Dompey June 18, 2017 at 8:59 AM #

    It is laughable to even conceive that the movies have to some extent besmeared the image of those in the legal fraternity, when the evidence is in support of their conduct which has contributed to the undoing of those in this profession.

    Like

  6. Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger June 18, 2017 at 9:19 AM #

    What have you done with the real Dompey.

    Like

  7. Bernard Codrington. June 18, 2017 at 9:35 AM #

    WW&C 9:19 AM

    Shut your mouth before the real Dompey reappears. We like the mock one. He is brighter.

    Like

  8. millertheanunnaki June 18, 2017 at 10:24 AM #

    @ Jeff Cumberbatch:
    “….he had also insulted the lawyers, Jesus responded, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

    Who are you or any ‘Christian-minded’ Bajan to question the veracity of your god and saviour Jesus Christ?

    If Yeshua said those things about lawyers then, ipso facto, they must be true.

    Moreover, there are too many ‘homegrown’ lawyers who easily fit the description which Master Jesus applied to that profession. Just look at the few examples cited by Bush Tea to appreciate the height and depth of the cancerous infection that ‘profession’ has wrought on the body politic of Barbados.

    Check and see that nearly every massive fraud or scam to swindle or bilk the taxpayers has at its strategic core some legal luminary mostly associated with the political administration in the seat of governance at the time.

    You are faced with a massively ‘horny’ dilemma here:
    Either see them as honest upright competent professionals like yourself (since to every rule there must be an exception) or as the children of the devil and cursed by Jesus for their ‘professional and personal transgressions.

    Like

  9. Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger June 18, 2017 at 10:37 AM #

    Bernard…hahaha.

    Like

  10. Jeff Cumberbatch June 18, 2017 at 10:56 AM #

    *If lawyers generally are disgusting, then our local variety are totally reprehensible.

    As man, should you not disassociate your good self from these scoundrels?
    Hopefully that will be the focus of your part 2.*

    @ Bush Tea, thanks for the indirect compliment but I am stuck with this calling, having spent more than some lifetimes in it. Incidentally, my part 2 concentrates on how we can somehow pull back the profession from the current morass of negative public perception.

    Like

  11. Jeff Cumberbatch June 18, 2017 at 11:08 AM #

    *If Yeshua said those things about lawyers then, ipso facto, they must be true.

    Moreover, there are too many ‘homegrown’ lawyers who easily fit the description which Master Jesus applied to that profession. Just look at the few examples cited by Bush Tea to appreciate the height and depth of the cancerous infection that ‘profession’ has wrought on the body politic of Barbados.*

    @ Miller…Surely Yeshua was not generalizing but was in fact speaking contemporaneously. After all, you would agree that desegregated education in the US, the woman’s right to an abortion, the right to call the President or Prime Minister an idiot in public and the ability to challenge an unlawful arrest with a writ of Habeas Corpus, to name a few, are all owed to lawyers.

    Like

  12. millertheanunnaki June 18, 2017 at 12:12 PM #

    @ Jeff Cumberbatch June 18, 2017 at 11:08 AM

    Couldn’t agree with you more!

    As you realize, the miller often ‘writes’ as if he is speaking tongue-in-cheek not only to play the devil’s advocate but also to extract the best intellectual juices to concentrate the mind to form the cream of the argument or debate.

    But you have to appreciate that had it not for the same Yeshua men would be stoning women today for adultery or demand that their ‘fertile’ womenfolk put away (or locked up like quarantined infected people) for nine days during their monthly “issue”.

    Now let us see how much your former charges- so well trained in the law(s)of natural justice and human rights- can show their appreciation of your hard work and ‘belief’ in their abilities to appreciate a moral right from a legal wrong.

    Let them show their mettle by lobbying for the decimalization of marijuana (a natural plant ‘created’ by the same Yeshua’s heavenly father) and the right to marry a person of the same gender if marriage is truly based on brotherly and sisterly love.

    You might just be surprised how positively quickly the moral stakes of these discredited professionals might just rise in the eyes of the youth of today.

    Like

  13. Sargeant June 18, 2017 at 12:18 PM #

    It would be interesting to know the nature of any feedback that Jeff receives from his legal brethren. Do they abhor the harsh spotlight that he casts upon them or do they appreciate that a fellow traveler with a solid reputation is willing to advocate on their behalf?

    I hope Part 2 includes some recommendation that a Disciplinary Committee with some teeth and including lay members of the public be established to make decisions on probity about their interactions with the general public.

    What Disciplinary system currently in existence isn’t working and hasn’t for a long time.

    Like

  14. Jeff Cumberbatch June 18, 2017 at 12:42 PM #

    For weeks, we have been wondering about the lawyers. What suits would they file? Would they have standing? Could they have any impact? Saturday, the lawyers showed up. Bigly. And happily, for America, the courts are still independent, and largely allergic to “alternative facts.” This is a country where the law matters and the Constitution endures. And it’s also a country in which hordes of lawyers just showed up at airports to defend detained travelers ensnared under Donald Trump’s lawless and unconstitutional Muslim ban. -Slate Magazine, January 2017

    Like

  15. Pachamama June 18, 2017 at 1:05 PM #

    @ Jeff Cumberbatch

    Slate’s depiction is an overly romantic view of empire.

    When one chooses to fly certain flags all types of resources seem to appear. There is never any lack thereof when certain political agendas are in play.

    It is the same country where if you can’t afford a lawyer you could spend years in jail, pretrial, or be forced to cop a plea with some low rate public defender, who like some in Barbados really work with the DPP.

    It is the same country which makes it a constitutional obligation to pursue arms struggle to remove dictators and tyrants. And any number of judges, lawyers will also line up behind that as well.

    Like

  16. Vincent Haynes June 18, 2017 at 1:42 PM #

    Part 1 has underscored what we see and know about most members of the legal fraternity in Bim.

    ….we await Part 2 with bated breath as to how best to turn the entire legal system of our
    country around.

    …I have no doubt that most of them left the University imbued with the zeal of Atticus,very much like the new young civil servant but very early on,one presumes faced with our delinquent system they follow the behaviour pattern of their elders.

    …Looks like Part 2 needs to be broadened to show us how to legally turn our entire system of governance around.

    Like

  17. Simple Simon June 19, 2017 at 12:36 PM #

    Dear Professor Cumberbatch:

    I like your essay. Thank you.

    Like

  18. Simple Simon June 19, 2017 at 12:39 PM #

    And a sweet one from Thomas Jefferson “It is the trade of lawyers to question everything, yield nothing, and to talk by the hour.”

    Like

Join in the discussion, you never know how expressing your view may make a difference.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: