Historically, professionals from three areas have dominated most cultures— the Church, medicine, and law. For centuries, these three professions were considered a noble calling, incomparable to any other profession or trade.
However, law remained the most respected as they were the most public of figures, which is evidenced by the fact that some of the most influential and respected people in the world have been lawyers: Fidel Castro, Gandhi, Mandela, Michelle and Barack Obama, et al.
Also, in TT, four of our five Presidents and three of our six Prime Ministers have been lawyers, with a fourth being a paralegal. However, these past leaders were/are the last of a dying breed.
As opposed to the high moral standing expected of priests, and the medical Hippocratic Oath, lawyers have no ancient creed, but have traditionally accepted the notion that certain conduct should be prohibited. Unfortunately, the last two decades has seen the legal profession become contaminated with the spirit of commerce and financial gain, instead of the administration of justice. It seems now that most lawyers are motivated by avarice, thereby forfeiting the respect and admiration enjoyed in past generations. Fascinated by TV’s exaggerated portrayal of the legal profession’s lucrativeness, studying law in TT now seems to mostly attract Sybarites.
Part of the waning quality of the profession comes from the declining educational requirement for becoming a lawyer. It’s an incontrovertible fact that a fundamental contributor to the quality of an educational institution is the entry level of its students, which is why the best universities are the most difficult to gain entry into.
TT has seen an accretion of institutions offering the University of London’s (UoL) distance-learning Legum Baccalaureus (LL.B.), with indigent educational entry requirements. Even entry into the UoL’s programme in the UK itself has a stricter standard. As the home of prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, British education is considered by many to be superior to other countries, due to a myriad of rigid quality assurance agencies and systems. The problem here, though, is that those quality assurance agencies are only concerned with the quality being offered within the UK, so UoL’s practice here is beyond their jurisdiction. I’m still struggling to understand the purpose of the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) in terms of quality assurance, and I don’t expect the Law Association to have an issue with this because the owners of these law institutions are long standing colleagues.
On par with UK standards, UoL requires A-levels for entry into the LL.B. programme, but in order to capitalise on their British prestige that so many students are attracted to, the financial motivation, and in an attempt to circumvent British quality requirements, the institution introduced a “Diploma in Law”, which should essentially be a pre-law programme before commencing the LL.B. However, the “diploma” is the first year of the LL.B., which is done alongside the other A-level students who gained “direct” entry into the LL.B. programme. How is this even possible? Entry into the diploma programme requires a minimum of five CXC passes, with only English-A being compulsory and no specific grades needed. Realistically, a person with five grade 3s at the CXC level can gain entry to do an LL.B. — calling it a diploma does not change anything.
So now we have hundreds of lawyers joining the ranks every year. I was only able to obtain figures from 2013, where 253 lawyers gained admission to the bar, carrying the total to 3,836. In contrast, at the end of 2000, there were 1,953 lawyers, with 73 admissions for the year. These days it seems like everyone is studying law; the elitism is no longer there. In fact, a visit to any of the UoL distance-learning institutions will show that numerous police officers in their 40s and 50s are on study-leave preparing to enter the legal profession as a retirement job.
The public’s mistrust of lawyers is an objective sign of the profession’s decline.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Public opinion is everything. With public opinion, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”
No one can question the fact that the TT public has no confidence in the legal system, which has a lot to do with the conduct of lawyers. Just look at the questionable decisions made by lawyers on a daily basis; probably the most notable being the “misstep” by our esteemed Attorney General with the SoE in 2011. Mention “lawyer” to the man on the street and the immediate retort is “yuh mean liar!?”
Many lawyers today aren’t leaders in the community or defenders and seekers of justice; they’re opportunistic wolves in sheep’s clothing.