A LIVELIHOOD FOR LAWYERS AND LIARS

Over forty years ago, I started studying to become a Doctor.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d undertaken a 24 hours per day task.  So, that unwelcome interference to my life’s priority (studying the horse racing form) was quickly scrapped.  After a year trying an equally unpalatable option (working for a living), I took my boss’ advice, applied and was (surprisingly) accepted to study law.

I soon discovered this was more my thing.  Why? The doctor thingy was a 24 hours per day job.  To become a lawyer, I needed only study 24 hours per year.  It was, literally, a no-brainer.  A pinch of logic; a dollop of the English language; mix well and voila, a law degree.  Two more years spent at Caymanas Park while solemnly pretending to study convinced the Norman Manley Law School to give me its allegedly practical certification (o/c a Legal Education Certificate).

Since that certification was unqualified and unconditional, I felt emboldened to host a loud, drunken celebration of “emancipation” from studying which included informing many of my former “teachers” exactly what I thought of them.  Then, I found my way to the General Legal Council (GLC) and somehow obtained another unqualified, unconditional official recognition called a Qualifying Certificate.  Those documents, with the anachronistic assistance of a courthouse ceremony known as “The Call to the Bar”, earned me yet another unconditional accreditation (“Practicing Certificate”) and foisted me upon an unsuspecting public as a lawyer.

Since then, on more than thirty occasions, the GLC has insisted only on an annual financial contribution in exchange for which it has unconditionally, unquestioningly renewed my Practicing Certificate.  During that period, I’ve been taught the practice of law by some legends of the profession thus overcoming our formal legal education system’s initial attempts to render me a useless academic.  The annual ritual exchange (cash for renewal) lulled me into what I believed to be a reasonably legitimate expectation this would continue ad infinitum. Or at least until I became tired of snot-nosed children with mother’s milk still dribbling down the sides of their mouths but conditioned by the Law School into believing they knew it all behaving obnoxiously to senior counsel at which time I intended to leave the profession in their anxious little hands.  I foolishly believed that, once I contributed financially as required and avoided breaching any ethical canons, I was entitled to my livelihood.  Imagine my surprise when, some rumour mongering wastrel told me I must return to Law School or be struck off.

Well, shiver me timbers, he turned out to be right.  This new stab at mental enslavement came with the misleading tag “Continuing Legal Professional Development (CLPD)”.  Detailed regulations were passed which no practicing lawyer has the time to read.  A whole new administrative arm was set up to regulate an already over-regulated profession.

My mind immediately harkened back to the much ballyhooed new Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.  I remembered it began with a reminder that “all persons are under a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others recognized in this Chapter,” Now, why’d I think the GLC would have to obey Jamaica’s Constitution like everyone else?  One of the “rights” that “others” must “respect and uphold” is “the protection of property rights as provided in section 15

Section 15 provides that “No property of any description shall be compulsorily taken possession of and no interest in or right over property of any description shall be compulsorily acquired.” Now it’s settled law that “property of any description” includes employment or livelihood so it’s left to some bright young lawyer sufficiently offended by being told his livelihood is forfeit if he doesn’t attend classes, to sue for the return of his livelihood if a court will agree that the GLC’s heavy-handed implementation of this eager-beaver mandate to nurture and re-educate is the equivalent of his livelihood having been “compulsorily taken possession of” or “compulsorily acquired”.  It’s incontestable that subsidiary legislation was used to make CLPD participation compulsory and the sanction for non-participation is the GLC’s withdrawal of the offender’s practicing certificate thus taking from him/her the opportunity to earn a living in the manner he/she’d come to expect.

This isn’t the first time that overbearing regulators have felt an urgency to impose upon lawyers’ practices.  In the name of client protection, some very intrusive accounting rules were recently introduced requiring lawyers to produce a variety of complicated accounts annually and, in extreme cases, to submit their books and files to the GLC (controlled by competing lawyers in the marketplace).  Apparently, legislating fraud or larceny as crimes is considered good enough protection for purchasers of second hand motor vehicles but insufficient to protect clients from dishonest lawyers.  It has occurred to nobody that the simplest way to go about this is to prevent lawyers from keeping clients’ funds.  Nobody appears anxious to bell that cat least of all the GLC chock full as it is of still practicing lawyers. 

It’s absolutely unnecessary for any lawyer to keep money that’s not his but what I call the “rinsing rights” are just too attractive for any practicing lawyer to propose this simple alternative.  Goodman’s Law: Don’t ask if it’s about the money.  It’s always about the money! 

At least the mischief the accounting rules are trying to cure is plain to see.  But this unfair attempt to hijack my livelihood (CLPD) is another kettle of rotten fish altogether.  It would seem less offensive if future Law Faculty applicants were asked to sign consenting to this as a prelude to their being accepted.  The GLC would then be forced to grandfather in those already in the system.  Eventually, as the grandfathers leave by attrition, all practicing lawyers would be subject to mandatory CLPD which, especially if reasonable and varied alternative methods of keeping up are offered, wouldn’t offend anybody’s sense of fairness.  This would significantly reduce immediate inflows into the GLC’s coffers but patience would, in the long term, ensure greater income and less complaint.  Surely this isn’t yet another example of Goodman’s Law? Surely the GLC is as anxious to get it right as are members of the profession to be treated fairly?

But, since I’m not averse to trying something new and since the name included the word “continuing” I decided to give it a chance to prove true to its name rather than resorting to knee-jerk opposition.  So, interrupting fee earning work, off I went to the first seminar eager to catch up on what I had missed since graduating from Law School 34 years ago.  Instead, amazement followed shock.  First, I was required to pay $4,000 to attend one session.   “Isn’t it mandatory?” I asked querulously. “Suppose I can’t afford this?”  “It’s in the regulations” was the curt response.  I took several deep breaths; reminded myself of Goodman’s Law; borrowed the necessaries from The Old Ball and Chain; paid up; and was granted entry to the Institute of Jamaica to learn something new. 

There was a packed house.  Curious practitioners from near and far, including the sick, lame, lazy and infirm, were herded in and then subjected to a hysterically funny cattle call (“roll” call; subsequently abandoned for a more civilised registration system).  Then, we suffered through an academic lecture about Barristers and Solicitors in 19th century England.  No new developments could be located with a search warrant.   By my rough estimate, the GLC raked in over $500,000 that day.

                   “Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day.
Heaven help the white man if he turns his back away.
Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl.
Heaven help us all.

Then I was told I must attend at least six sessions per annum.  When I mentally totted up the huge sums expected annually into the GLC’s coffers from what looked to me like legal extortion, the result boggled my mind.

                   “Heaven help us all; help us all.                                                                          Heaven help us all, help us all.
Heaven help us, Lord, hear our call when we call.

But official promises of improvement induced me to try again.  At my third “seminar”, we were addressed on “client welfare” by a chap with a foreign accent who promised not to quote any local examples lest he should embarrass practicing lawyers who couldn’t respond.  Immediately, he relied on several local examples of what he said was improper conduct by some other Jamaican lawyer.  Academic “exercises” very reminiscent of my Law School days and totally irrelevant to real life were presented for discussion.  Then he distinguished between his experiences in England and those “down here”.  At that point, my behaviour already having gradually deteriorated to the threat level “disruptive”, I tried unsuccessfully to locate a stone or bottle to throw at him.

                   “Now I lay me down, before I go to sleep,
in a troubled world, I pray the Lord to keep,                                     keep hatred from the mighty
and the mighty from the small.
Heaven help us all.
”          

Soon, I expect to be prevented from practicing.  Apparently, it’s felt senior Jamaican practitioners don’t understand the basic fundamentals of practice.  I say this because, after three deadly boring sessions, I’m yet to hear one single new development in the law which could justify the use of the word “continuing” to describe this ostensible attack on my livelihood and my family’s welfare.  Also, there’s no justification for the equally unfair, exorbitant and unaccounted-for fee to participate in a “mandatory” procedure without convenient alternative. 

If I hear once more it’s a worldwide phenomenon, I’ll scream.  Were I a Washington practitioner, I’d be able to attend webinars (seminars on the internet) from the comfort of my home.  My contributions to legal scholarship would be acknowledged.  In Jamaica, I’ve submitted two of my articles on revolutionary new ways to look at Jamaican law for assessment for CPLD credits.  Months later, not even an acknowledgment of receipt has been sent.

In Jamaica, what could be a valuable improvement to the legal profession has been made to appear to be a greedy, money-grubbing fiasco adding nothing to what’s already in place.  Goodman’s Law strikes again.

Heaven help us all.

Peace and Love

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