THE “GOOD” LAWYER AND THE REMAKING OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM
It is often said that a lawyer is as good as his case. There is probably a general merit in that saying including its role in comforting losing parties, but I would rather say that a good lawyer is as good as the legal system within which he practices. I use the word “good” with reference to a lawyer with caution, as “good” is such an elusive word and is often erroneously substituted in the minds of clients to mean “smart”; but a smart lawyer is not necessarily a good one. Many smart Lawyers have proven to be not-so-good lawyers by the way they conduct themselves and handle cases - and it takes way more than being smart to be a good lawyer. The same is the case for experience in practice, which is a valuable advantage, but does not necessarily make a lawyer good.
I will attempt to describe a good lawyer as one who has a vast understanding of the law and where to find it in the books, a good listener, conducts himself professionally and above all makes good judgments that will maximize possible results for his clients. While there are many lawyers, it does not take rocket science for the savvy client to identify where to put his/her money in order to receive quality legal advice and representation. The Biblical postulation that “many are called but few are chosen” is as good for the legal profession as it is for entry into Heaven. Suffice it to say that quality is not cheap and less expensive can prove to be more expensive when it comes to the choice of a lawyer.
In the light of the above, it is certainly doubtful what good can be harnessed from a good lawyer if the legal system is perceived to be dysfunctional and lacks transparency, certainty and predictability. The legal system ought to provide the ideal environment for the lawyer to ply his trade with fair amount of certainty and confidence. The lawyer should be able to make promises to his clients with a fair amount of confidence and reasonable judgment, which he can deliver upon by doing his very best without losing face to his clients, irrespective of the outcome of his case.
To that end, legal system should be the backbone of the law and the courts the most important institution of a free society. For that reason, when people turn to the courts, it is their expectation that lawyers, judges and other judicial personnel act with ethics, transparency and honesty. If however the public is under the perennial impression that those who are given this sacred responsibility are dishonest, the justice system will lack spine, thereby leaving the law incapable of functioning properly and society will degenerate into chaos and lawlessness. For this reason, I have no doubts that the President’s promise to tackle and curb lawlessness will hardly succeed, as it is the confidence that citizens have in the transparent and predictable application of the law that will urge them to be law abiding and live up to the expectations placed on them.
Where the justice system is reliably functional, cases are brought to court with the anticipation that they are expeditiously dealt with so as to reach speedy logical conclusion and the litigants await the remedies that the courts provide with anxiety and nervous expectation. When however cases are not concluded with speed and transparency, litigants are likely to get frustrated, disillusioned and lose faith in the overall ability of the courts to dispense justice. While the fair and equitable outcome of cases ought to be the desired public good of the judicial system, the speed at which they are done should therefore be of utmost importance.
While there remains the need to overhaul our laws to make them expedient to the changing dynamics of time, good laws and good lawyers will be useless if the just and fair application of the law continues to be regarded as more of the exception than the rule. It is certainly demoralizing to a practicing lawyer to have at the back of his mind that money prevails over justice or that political influence speaks louder than the best drafted legislation. Justice can only be said to be best served when it brings about the best possible outcome of a dispute for both parties irrespective of who wins or loses. If we are to establish ourselves as a beacon of law and order within the context of the free country we pride ourselves to be living in, we must ensure that fairness and justice prevail over other interests - and lawyers must be ready to stand for this - and if need be, have the courage to down their wigs to have it.
Having practiced in all the Superior Courts of Judicature of Sierra Leone including the Supreme Court, I do not share the view that our problem is the paucity of availability of personnel or indeed the lack of qualified judges. Most Members of the Bench have demonstrated astute knowledge of the law. It is submitted that it is more of a dysfunctional system all-round in terms of the level of interference with their work, the unsatisfactory reward they receive for their services (the thought of good reward makes labour sweeter), the interest-driven clogging of their conscience by those who ought to guarantee their independence, and above all the limited availability of resources and facilities that enhance their output that are jointly and severally affecting their work and, perhaps, make them fall short of public expectations. But this has to change as the best place to fight corruption and other inimical malaises that serve as impediments to our socio-economic progress is in court and all must lead to it. The body of laws and the resources that are being used to administer it will remain a waste of time and resources if those protecting it continue to be perceived as corrupt or are subject to executive direction and various invisible handcuffs whilst they discharge their very sacred duties.
It will be asking too much if it is expected that the public should assist Lawyers and judges in the fight to keep the profession honourable – the least that can be given back to them for all the special status the Profession enjoys is that each man be given his due according to law. Every lawyer and judge is supposed to be an intellectual and intellectualism calls for self-examination and the willingness to act upon that which our minds feed our pens and mouths. It will therefore be helpful to plunge deep down into the sanctum sanctorum of our beliefs, responsibilities and strengths to reflect on our individual and collective roles in the shaping of public opinion of us. Such introspection should help us resurface with the spirit of renascence and embolden us to stand against injustice in line with the oaths we all took when being “Called”. Doing this, will make every citizen to continue to value his lawyer and not view him with suspicion.
While we reflect on all the above with the hope of maintaining, if not restoring the good of the profession, let it be on our minds that lawyers are only capable of reaching their full potentials when the Rule of Law thrives, society is peaceful and the supporting institutions, especially the judiciary, function honestly, transparently, efficiently and predictably. If these are not forthcoming, unfortunately, the good lawyer will remain as good as the system in which he practices.
© Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. is a Senior Partner in the Law Firm Kaifala, Conteh & Co., Top Floor, 81 Pademba Road, Freetown; He holds the joint LLM (Master of Laws) in Law & Economics from the School of Law and the School of Economics and Finance at Queen Mary University of London. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org