There's an article in the news today (Sky News) which seems to be saying that Andrew Greene (a lawyer who was friends with Jordan Belfort, the subject of Martin Scorsese's recent movie The Wolf of Wall Street), is suing the Paramount Pictures film studios for damaging his reputation. He is seeking $25 million.
It's interesting, really. From what the article suggests, this man was never arrested or charged with any criminal offences in relation to the goings-on that form the plot of the film, and to be fair, I haven't even seen the film yet. But it's not his predicament that bothers me. Anyone who feels wronged by someone has a right of access to the courts. A right to seek justice.
The question of whether the thing that a person seeks is in fact justice, is of course, for the court to decide. What we as individuals believe to be justice, isn't always the same as what the judges think. And because we reap all the benefits of a democratic society, where we delegate the operations of justice to others, then we have to work with the system. Sure, there are rights of appeal. But the administration of justice is for the folk who study and train and work within this system for years.
What bothers me more about this article, which I read on Yahoo!, was the public comments section below it.
Reading the public comments is a masochistic pleasure of mine. It's something I know will anger and annoy me for hours afterwards. It's something I know will grind me down with despair. The mindless ignorance of some people depresses the hell out of me, yet I can't help but scroll down to that festering pool of hate and misinformation just to peek anyway.
To summarise, the general gist of the majority of opinions on the comments section was that lawyers are greedy, crooked motherfuckers who manipulate the system for their own benefit.
And to be fair to them (the baying masses, that is), lawyers probably don't need to charge as much as they do for private-paying clients. They probably are over-priced and make access to justice in the absence of legal aid a whole lot harder for poorer people.
But all the accusations of dishonesty and crookedness, I can't agree with.
In all my time working in criminal defence law, I only ever heard of one or two buggers behaving badly. And even a few is enough to smear the reputation of the others. The ones who are hard-working and ethical and passionate about representing people to the best of their ability.
Because the fact is, that despite my personal opinions about the lawyers I came into contact with on a daily basis, my professional opinion about them never faltered. I met some extremely good lawyers. Some very clever people who were articulate, quick-witted and compassionate about the difficulties their clients were experiencing...and, to be perfectly honest, not just their clients. Behind every client there is often a concerned family.
The legal system is what it is. The argument I get bored shitless with hearing, of whether criminals should be given legal representation is a separate argument, but just remember this: when you're innocent, or when you have a valid explanation and no-one's listening, then legal representation fucking matters.
The problem isn't that lawyers don't give a shit, because they do. I know they do, I've seen it with my own eyes and I've been there giving a shit too.
The problem is that the government have consistently been making it so hard for lawyers to make a living that they are probably being forced to make what work they do get profitable. That's what I think. And let's face it, everyone is entitled to earn a living. In so many other sectors, we support the fact that workers are being diddled. The medical profession, the education profession. Police, fire-fighters.
When it's lawyers, we think of greed and we think of corruption. But the fact is, many of us can't fight our own complex legal issues in court without them. We wouldn't stand a chance. When our legal rights are threatened, that's what we need lawyers for. And anyway, we'd soon start frothing at the mouth if an army of several thousand lawyers suddenly quit and signed up for Jobseekers Allowance.
Legal aid is almost impossible to get in matrimonial cases now. It's not so easy to get in child-related cases. Criminal legal aid is constantly being bashed and eroded and the effect is not that 'those crooked bastard lawyers' are finally getting what they deserve.
The effect is that society is getting exactly what it doesn't deserve.
It is being denied access to justice.