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Tuesday 19 February 2019
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Greedy lawyers, the untouchable criminals

As I have repeated in my articles; the real criminals in Trinidad and Tobago wear suits and uniforms to work.

They are seemingly untouchable.

No government ever goes after corrupt officers in the protective services, nor do they attempt to purge the legal system of rapacious lawyers. There are too many people who hide behind the prestigious occupation known as “The Legal Profession” to engage in the most dishonest practices, at the expense of innocent, unassuming citizens seeking justice.

Now, during his feature address at the recent bar admission ceremony, Justice James Aboud urged newly admitted attorneys to resist cupidity. Probably most apropos, as our new government is still attempting to unravel the issues surrounding the 12-million dollar bill submitted by seven attorneys for doing almost nothing.

I commend Justice Aboud for making such bold statements in what was definitely a riveting speech. And if only a few of those fledgling attorneys take his advice, the legal profession would definitely be, even if only temporarily, saved from its descent into the maelstrom of venality. However, this vision is quixotic; hardly likely to happen in our lifetime.

Seriously, let’s not wallow in delusion; there is widespread antipathy towards lawyers, generally because of what many people deem to be greed. Lawyers are viewed as money-hungry con-artists, who prey on society, and unfortunately, it’s more than a view; it is an accurate encapsulation of many lawyers. A lot of people have either personally encountered a rapacious lawyer, or know someone who has; the anecdotes are endless.

Nevertheless, what Justice Aboud did not factor in when advising the legal neophytes is the fact that they have worked and will continue to work under and with senior attorneys for the rest of their careers. The unsettling thing though is that some of these senior attorneys have mastered the art of crookedness and, it will be very difficult for a junior to be taken under the wings of a senior who falls into this category and not be influenced by their unscrupulous practices.

The crooked lawyers I speak of are the ones who take matters when they know that there is little or no reasonable prospect of success, which is a common occurrence at the Ministry of Labour Conciliation Unit / Industrial Court. Or the ones who drag matters on for years (sometimes conspiring with the opposing lawyer), collecting an appearance fee each time.

And of course, there are the knavish lawyers who take money from clients and neglect to do the work (properly or at all), fail to file documents (at all, or on time), miss hearing dates and then make excuses for their inefficiencies.

Naturally, when these things result in a matter being dismissed, only the client loses. And then, any recompense for this incompetence will see the client having to drag the attorney in front of the Disciplinary Committee by themselves without representation because there’s a code: lawyers don’t go after lawyers.

Where’s the Law Association you ask? Oh, they’re too busy collecting the minimum of $700-per-annum subscription from each practising attorney, as the bar admissions steadily increase.

It is hard to demand quality over quantity when one does the calculations. It’s also difficult to get quality lawyers from a law school whose curriculum is sorely lacking in practical preparation and an in-service training requirement that is not vetted, monitored or has any sort of quality assurance. Considering the aforementioned, when one evaluates all these concerns, it is clear to see that the legal professionals cause the issues with our legal system.

We seem to bury our heads in the sand in this country. Nobody wants to admit that the delays, the backlogs, and the miscarriages of justice are largely due to inept legal professionals.

Disappointingly, too many judges condone delinquency and dilatory manoeuvres from lawyers. Some lawyers walk into court unprepared and the judge readily grants an adjournment, and the client pays. These are things that must be stamped out because the only person who suffers is the client.

But at the most basic level of this greed is the fact that there are too many people entering the profession for the wrong reason(s); some for the high esteem and honourable reputation attached to the legal profession, and others do it for what they see as a lucrative trade. And if you’re a police officer, studying law will get you an extra $3,000 on top of your salary.

In this country, where power is measured in dollars, no one dares tackle such insidious problems.

While other countries disbar lawyers for any offence that brings the profession into disrepute, we perpetuate the belief that lawyers are untouchable. At the end of the day, regardless of what branch of government we examine, s e l f ishnes s and greed are at the root of all of our problems.

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