As a law student, there is a lot you’ll hear about lawyers in general and the legal profession, the majority of which are false. A lot of what you’ll hear about lawyers nowadays spawns from the media and the seemingly inability of the populace to understand the nature of the lawyers work. We’ve taken the time to list of few of these popular misconceptions.
(1) Are lawyer’s liars?
By no means! If you are a law student you should be hearing this for the umpteenth time perhaps. It is a popular jibe that law students have so repeatedly heard until it has become an axiom. As an impressionable first year law student I so often heard this statement of lawyers being all liars both from friends and roommates in school that I nearly lost interest in law. Like most persons, I desired an honest living and did not want to be someone who would eke out a living peddling lies. Besides, I still wanted to go to heaven. It didn’t help me either that I had come by a magazine that ran the headline “lawyers from hell”. That nearly did it for me. It took me awhile to fully understand how the law really worked, how that influenced the way lawyers thought.
Non-lawyers in general tend to see things in black and white. In their eyes, an act is either right or wrong and by that fact becomes the basis of legality or illegality. Often they confuse law with morality and just when they see the machinery of justice taking a different turn, they suspect foul play.
The perception among non-lawyers is that once something has been deemed immoral, the law should step in and penalize. But since the law recognizes the difficulties that could arise in enforcing public morality (as no two people will hold the same views on what is socially acceptable) the lawfulness of an act has been solely limited to the written law. If the act in question has been defined by law to be a crime and its punishment prescribed only then can the law step in to inflict sanction otherwise it will attract no sanction however morally reprehensible the act may be. That would explain why under Nigerian laws, adultery though immoral is not an offense since it has not been recognized by the law to be such.
With this same token, the act of a man who willfully passes by a drowning child though morally appalling in itself does not invite any legal sanction since by law, he owes no parental obligation to the child to rescue it. This is precisely the way lawyer’s view facts that the non-lawyers may not and exactly why lawyers are said to be liars. It ridicules the non-lawyers sense of justice that such a man would be allowed to go scot-free.
As further proof that lawyers are not the “liars” they are imagined to be, the legal profession holds lawyers to the highest ethical standards. If they ever go against these standards, it could become grounds of professional misconduct leading to disbarment. A lawyer is forbidden from manifesting falsehood. If he tells a lie on oath, that is perjury (a serious offense in law), pressures his witnesses into telling lies in court and is suborning (a graver offense).
(2) Are lawyer’s Gentlemen?
If you have ever been within the hallowed temple of justice and seen the machinery of justice in motion, you could be forgiven for thinking lawyers were more warriors than gentlemen. Ours is an adversarial system of justice where lawyers are enjoined to swoop down their opponents in courts like hawks. In their representation of clients in the courthouse, lawyer’s go at each other before an impartial umpire until one is adjudged to be the winner. Such a contest rarely makes room for the “soft”. Lawyers are to always act tough and aggressive. Be anything less and you’ll attract the ire of your clients. But when outside the courtroom, every lawyer is a gentleman of the bar. We exude esprit de corps and like comrades we’ll stand up for each other. Take for instance the threat of the NBA to boycott courts in Nigeria over the arrest of Judges by the DSS. That is standing up.
(3) Do all law graduates have specialty in law?
This one is for our law newbies. I feel awkward sometimes when someone comes to me and asks “so which area of law are you specialized in”. almost all law undergraduate programs impart knowledge of the general principles of law, although some law students may take electives in areas of law that gives them specialized knowledge of those subjects but that doesn’t make them specialists in those areas, In Nigeria, law students graduate after a 5 year undergraduate program to become barristers upon seating the bar exams at the Nigerian law schools. But never once do they graduate as criminal or civil lawyers. They are general legal practitioners but if however they want to specialize in any specific area of law, they can either do so in practice or at a more advanced level of study.
(4) Do lawyers have social lives?
We assume you are one of those outgoing types now contemplating a career in law, one that seems to involve a secluded living in the libraries way from all things social. Lawyers study to be sure (how else could they have earned the appellation of being “learned”) but that is not to say they don’t have a social existence. We socialize to an extent at bar organized events and dinner parties and we know just when to unplug from work to attend to our social lives. There is room enough in the profession to accommodate your sanguinary tendencies. You can even be a publicist or PR.
(5) Are lawyers arrogant?
This is stereotype number two for lawyers and law students. To find out just how rife and deep it runs even among other non-law undergraduates you only need visit university campuses and hostels where the perception is that lawyers are an arrogant bunch. After all, our claim of being the “only learned profession” among other professions of the moment equates arrogance. It’s almost a lost cause to try to sway this perception of the public about lawyers unless of course we are willing to forswear our claim of learnedness. People should give us all the benefit of the doubt and assess us on our merits without subscribing to deep-seated biases about lawyers. They must afford us our right to a fair hearing.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.