In order to truly understand a situation or problem, one needs to immerse oneself in it, learning as much as possible, while being careful to let go of old ways of seeing. In Theory U, this is referred to as stage 1 – observe, observe, observe.
Today I have 2 observations about the sad state of law.
One is from Seth Godin’s post today Learning leadership from Congress, in which he discusses the bleak state of leadership in Congress and says “Worth noting that 47% of those in Congress (House and Senate) are millionaires–an even greater percentage than those that are lawyers.” Yes, it is an indictment upon the profession that such a significant number of those leading the United States astray are from legal backgrounds. I’m not pointing fingers – I just don’t have the figures available for Parliament in South Africa to do a comparison. Nonetheless, to labour the point, I have an image of all these idealistic young lawyers at law school in the US eagerly learning about the forefathers signing the Declaration of Independence and brave individuals like Rosa Parks (the woman who, way back in 1955, refused to give up her seat for a white person on a public bus and which eventually led to the laws of segregation on public buses being changed). And then fast-forward – these once – idealistic lawyers are sitting in Congress passing all sorts of laws violating basic rights, in order to preserve the wealth of a few at the expense of the many. Ensconced safely in their mirrored law firm eyries, they hardly ever look down in their all-consuming obsession to bill more hours to make it to the top. If they do happen to look down, those far beneath them on the street appear as small as ants. What do they matter?
The second sad thing was a T-shirt I noticed on a black labourer digging next to a road when I was running earlier. It was from some legal subscription service and had a slogan something like “no lawyer, no power, call 3746559359 to ensure your rights are protected”.
I spent some time looking into these services last year and by and large my view is they are there to rip people off. Like the premise of a medical aid scheme, they aim to have as many subscribers as possible paying the monthly fee they can barely afford, and then try and pay out as little as possible. The exclusion list is ridiculous but written in legalese which it is clear the target market of these initiatives would never be able to understand. Perhaps one or two of these are honourable businesses which really do provide a mechanism for justice by enabling those who could never afford a private lawyer, to fight a legal claim with R100 000 worth of legal fees. I know a guy who runs one of these – I shall not comment on the integrity of his business because I really don’t understand enough. However, I can safely say that there are many such schemes out there that are complete rip-offs preying on the vulnerable and it makes me sick.
My mother’s gardener came to ask for my help a few years ago – all his friends were signing up lawyers and he asked if I would be his lawyer and how much he had to pay me every month. Only through this conversation did I realise how he had been misled – he had no specific legal problem but had been informed you had to pay a lawyer every month to get him on your side in case you later needed him.
In my endeavour to understand the bad rap and shark jokes, I mention these two things. Yet my focus remains on all those lawyers out there who are conscientious caring citizens, committed to helping others, and those who are smart and just trying to earn a living and would be grateful for an opportunity to operate more consciously and bring deeper integrity to their work. I’m finding ways to make this possible – watch this space.