Monday, 19 December 2011

The practice of law is viewed by society as being treated by lawyers as a business.

Law so grounded makes justice become possible as through such law the dignity of the individual attain respect and protection.  Lawyers are integral to the working out of the law. Since the ancient times, legal profession was considered a noble profession and those practicing it are respected by the community at large because the rule of law itself is founded on principle of justice, fairness and equity.
The origins of the legal profession can be traced back to Rome. Initially, Roman law allowed individuals to argue cases on behalf of others, however those persons actually were trained not in law but in rhetoric. They were called orators and were not allowed to take fees. Legal profession becomes highly demand when the body of legal knowledge including procedure became too much for the ordinary person to handle. Furthermore, persuasion of the public that they need services only professionals can provide is a signs of the professionalization of lawyers began to appear.
The sad truth is becoming more and more apparent, legal profession has seen a steady decline.  Those who subscribe to the view that professional standards are in decline often regard the degradation of the profession by lawyers into a mere business as a reason for this decline. The view is in line with the observation of Lord Donaldson in which the practice of law is viewed by society as being treated by lawyers as a business. In his forward to The Law, Practice and Conduct of Solicitor, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, former Mater of the Rolls wrote:
“A profession neither deserves to endure, nor will it endure, if it does not adapt to the changing needs of its clients. But equally, a profession neither deserves to endure nor will it endure, if it abandons or compromises the essential characteristics which make it a profession rather than a business”
 There is one interesting situation to illustrate as to why the professional legal practice as viewed by society as being treated by lawyers as a business. A man went to see a lawyer and asked what was his least expensive fee was. “One hundred dollars for three questions” said the lawyer. “Isn’t that an awful lot of money for three question?” asked the man. “Yes” said the lawyer. “What is your final question?” Based on the above illustration, we can conclude that lawyers see their careers as a way to make money. This kind of scenario will tarnish the standard of legal profession as a noble profession in the eyes of society.

In 1986, a Wall Street Journal article already boasted that one out of every nine lawyers is a millionaire, and the rest have an average net worth of one-half million dollars. In addition, a poll showed that almost one-half of the lawyers chose law because its income potential appealed to them but only 21 percent wanted to see justice done and 23 percent had a desire to improve society. The truth is more unbearable when in reality we can see that lawyers are more concerned with making profits than to uphold the interest of justice.

Perception of lawyers towards business
First of all, we need to scrutinize on perception of lawyers towards business. Money driven is one of the core factor that make legal practitioner treated legal profession as a business. It has been said that “no profession offers a surer path to affluence and influence” than the legal one. Hence, a large numbers of lawyers believe that the life they have chosen is the best one because it offers opportunities for wealth and prestige. Some lawyers will offer services to clients when it can benefit them. Here, it portrays that their personal interest gain higher weight than their own moral character. On the other hand, there is an intense pressure on the part of the lawyers to increase their service charge so that it will be in line with today’s living expense.

Perception of layman towards legal profession
Negative perception by society that the legal profession has been treated by lawyers as a business had become widespread phenomenon. The phenomenon can be evidenced by high records of public distrust in many countries. This kind of condition is caused by the publicly display of the actual reality of the legal profession and it highly debated issue among society as to the real objective of legal profession.

 On the part of the layman, many of them avoid going to lawyers because they do believe that lawyers charge too much. This is due to the fact that recently, it is not unusual to hear lawyers receiving a large sum of fees, especially in large class action suits. There is a trend in a society that more money needs to be paid when hiring tops lawyers. Besides, the public authors are also bringing one of the core and crucial reason in deviating the people’s idea regarding lawyers and compromising them to the extent that would tarnish the lawyer’s reputation. As been mentioned above, that is some factors that tarnish a good and respectable reputation of legal profession in the eyes of society.

The lawyer has a duty to protect the society within the set of law enacted and indeed to uphold the justice as the law cannot administer itself. Mainly, counsel has two duties in which duty to court and duty to client. There is a conflict of interest in regard to the duty of counsel. As an officer of the court, a counsel owes a duty to the court than to the client. In respect of counsel duty to client, it is important to highlighted contention by Lord Denning in order to understand that legal profession is not just a profession to gain wealth. Lord Denning of the view that every counsel for an accused man must spare no effort to defend no matter how much public opinion is against the man,  no matter how distasteful is the task, no matter how inconvenient to himself, and no matter how small a fee. If all counsel put a greater weight on depicting the duties of the counsel to the court then it will ensures that the wheels of justice continues to function smoothly.

As there is a need to protect the good name of legal practitioner, so the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978 were formulated. These rules were made pursuant to Section 77 of the Legal Profession Act 1976 which empowers the Bar Council to make rules regulating the professional practice, etiquette, conduct and discipline of advocates and solicitors. Thus, the implementation of this kind of Rules may gain respect and confidence by the society in term of the highest possible degree of ethical conduct. So long as its practitioners are guided by these principles, the law will continue to be a noble profession. This is its greatness and its strength, which permit of no compromise.

As a matter of fact, there are some measures taken in order to maintain the dignity of legal profession. Negative perception towards lawyers must be denied.  The onus is on the lawyers to prove to the society that they carry out their duty as a lawyer not because of pursuing wealth alone but to provide services to those in need of justice. In addition, justice should be a main track or main focus of each legal practitioner while discharging their duties and put the interest of people in need more than their self-interest. By doing this, it will enhance the standard of legal profession.

Being learned in law, it is not sufficient to use this knowledge in furtherance of pure materialistic benefits. Lawyers are expected to do voluntary works as lawyers are always free to form voluntary association to helps people in need of their service. In order to realize this kind of objective, a Legal Aid Centre has been established. This centre is wholly financed by the Malaysian Bar as it is in accordance with the objective of the Malaysian Bar to protect and assist the public in all matters touching ancillary or incidental to the law. Malaysian Bar has initiated many programmes to assist the impecunious and ensure that members of the public are not deprived of their legal rights due to financial constraints. Besides that, lawyers have a duty to educate the public of their legal rights by organizing many talks especially in poverty stricken areas in bid to educate the community of their legal rights.

All in all, the measures taken are expected to be able to remove all the negative perceptions of society towards professional legal practice and thus maintain the legal profession as a noble profession.

 As far as we are concerned, formal education in the law does not prepare lawyers for the moral challenges of the profession. Many universities do not have Professional Ethics as a compulsory subject but rather as an elective subject. It would be evident from the discussion above that ethics play an important role in the life and practice of a legal practitioner. As far as we are observed, all the negative perception is due to the lack of awareness about the Legal Ethics.

Before moving further, we need to address the important of ethics to the practice of law. This is because lawyers are integral to the working out of the law and the Rule of Law itself is founded on principle of justice, fairness and equity. Lawyers are professional and this is why issues of ethical responsibility are an inherent part of the legal profession. Lawyers with moral values will gain confidence of the community.

If lawyers were trained early on legal ethics, this will give a good impact on the part of the lawyers to uphold the fairness and justice so that legal profession is maintained as a noble profession.

All in all, legal practitioner is the one who should rectify the situation to the society before it gets back worse. Thus, an effort has to be taken to reduce negative publicity receives by the legal profession.  In my personal opinion, I would suggest that there should be a clear cut line for fees in order to avoid fraud or excessive billing practices among lawyers. On this regard, a power enforcement must be taken by the Bar Council in remedifying the current situation where it is how to the public perception that legal profession being treated by lawyers as a business. As a step in countering the issue raised, the respected Bar Council should standardize the fees and should come with effective and standardize form of billing. Thus, each state shall consider one method to measure billing practices in order to limit both the size of damage and lawyers fees.

As far as we are concerned, Malaysia had certain guidelines for the fees for litigious matters as envisaged in the Rule 11 of the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978. Even though Malaysia had certain guideline as stated above, but it is more proper to have specific fees been standardize or certain formula been created to fixed the fees according to the market standard. If this solution or idea had been implemented the public should enjoy the fruit for example, the standardized formula would be the full stop for overcharging cases.
 Furthermore, effort make to the inclusion of the subject of legal ethics can change people's perception because many of the problems stem from moral value. Last but not least, a lawyer should do more than just occupy a profession for self interest but they need to serve to the public. To do so effectively lawyers need to be trustworthy men of untarnished reputation.

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