Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The Good Lawyer

Businessweek's Idea No. 23 is called "Don't Kill All the Trial Lawyers" written by Mike France. His thesis in this article is given that regulators and politicians have failed in their duty to protect the investing public from corporate crooks, it is up to the lawyers to put the hurt on corporate miscreants.

Reading this article made me realize how powerful the legal profession is in society. While the lawyers have contributed much to the corporate mess that the US is experiencing nowadays, it is also the lawyers who have the power to put some order into it. That is why history has this sort of love-hate relationship with lawyers. Nowadays, it is on the love side because the lawyers are the ones pushing corporate America to reform (what with the hundred of class action suits being filed left and right and the threatening millions of damages). But people seem to have forgotten that it was also the lawyers (along with the executives and accountants) who conceived and implemented the grand scale fraud in the Enron scam.

Why is this so? In the Ateneo Law School where I studied, there was an attempt to teach law along with Christian values. They thought this was possible by adding some one unit subjects like Theology and the Law and Social Philosophy to the regular law curriculum. The academic thinking is that the law is merely a technical tool, which is value free. Thus, value education should be separately taught through a separate subject.

The idea had some sense. Unfortunately, there was an open resentment to it because the one-unit subjects were eating up the students' time for the law subjects that students believed were more important. Further, the professors could not teach values on a one-hour a week format. I do not know what happened to the Ateneo after that but I know what happened to me.

In my almost seven years of practice three things I've learned as a lawyer trying to make sense of chaotic legal order:

1. A lawyer cannot be rigid about his values.

The Philippine system is so corrupt that if one were to be strict about his values, he'll never accomplish anything. One of these days, some values have to waiver. To achieve legal purposes, one favor or another that will compromise one's value has to be made. That's how it is.

2. A lawyer should know the limits of compromise.

There is a hierarchy of values and lawyers must always make sure that this hierarchy of what is more important is firm in their minds. For example, I am willing to part with some cash just so my case would be set early in the court calendar, but I am not willing to pay a judge for my client to win. That is where I draw the line. The logic is simple; my client will have no use for me if my case is always at the bottom of the heap. I owe the client that much to make sure my case gets priority. But I am not going to pay someone to win. I don’t play that way.

3. Hope.

How can one tell that he has compromised too little or too much? No one can tell. Very often in making the moral decisions that have the interplay of the two principles above, the lawyer will be faced with a dilemma. Failure, morally and financially, is a nagging fear. A lawyer's only salvation is his hope that he is doing the right thing.

Relating the principles above calls to mind the story of St. Thomas More. A successful lawyer in his time, his biographers took note of his practical shrewdness and his being responsible for, among others, the banning of heretical books and the execution of authors who had heretical beliefs. But Thomas found occasion to draw his limits when he was made to choose between loyalty to his king or his God. The stakes were high. King Henry VIII wanted to validate his second marriage to Anne Boleyn. To complete the King's desire to do this, he needed Thomas to take the Oath of Supremacy which meant that the King of England was supreme in the Church of England. More's dilemma was to take the oath that would have repudiated papal supremacy over the Church of England or mince the words of the oath to please King Henry VIII and retain his power and wealth like what the rest of England did. But to Thomas, what was being asked from him was more than just an oath but a repudiation of his own conscience and the truth. All Thomas had to do to retain this power and glory was to profess the King of England as the head of the Catholic Church in England. But to Thomas the obvious fact was that only the Bishop of Rome had the sacred mandate from Christ Himself to run the Church, through succession of Peter. Thomas knew as fact that only God could appoint the head of His Church and this had already been done once, there could not be two heads. Thus, he refused to take the oath. To him, this one oath that the King wanted him to make did not have a price. The King convicted him of treason and had him beheaded.

St. Thomas More is considered the patron saint of all lawyers. Reading and writing about him makes me proud to be a lawyer. The Ateneo simply should have taught us the life of St. Thomas More and it would have solved the problem of values education in law school. Values in lawyering? St. Thomas More's last words said all that was needed to be said, "The King's good servant, but God's first."

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