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The Singapore Law Gazette

Legal and Human

I have just started watching the legal drama Suits. In one episode, rookie associate Mike Ross questions his boss, Harvey Hecter on why he cannot be caring, kind and yet be a good lawyer. In another scene, the female managing partner of the top New York law firm that Mike works in tells him that they look for tough lawyers and not soft and naive ones.

The first scene resonates with me as I have always wondered why we cannot be pleasant and friendly lawyers. There are not very many “nice” lawyers in the profession. In my 23 years in the legal profession, I have seen too many “tough” lawyers. I wonder what made them become the way they are. How do they regard themselves? What are they like to their family and friends?

Many opposing counsel are just not very pleasant. What happened to brethrens of law? Should they behave in this manner just because the rest of us are on the opposite side? Are we good lawyers just by being as tough and litigious as Harvey? Can one be pleasant, civil and friendly and not treat the case as if it is their own personal matter?

I am not impressed by such lawyers. I have friends in the Bar who epitomise positive values and yet are excellent lawyers. They have my respect and admiration. Sadly, we do not have enough of such lawyers in the profession.

Lawyers are also humans and we need to act as humans with emotions. I was told once that litigation hardens lawyers. It will, if we allow it to. Or perhaps, are we products of the Singapore system?

The young lawyers who enter the profession are like Mike – friendly, gentle and kind. The rigour of practice often surprises them. Those who cannot accept or adapt to the changes leave the profession. Others toughen up, and may lose something of themselves and become hardened lawyers.

Working with opposing counsel is an interesting study of the differences in human nature. We can learn what types of behaviour work and the kinds that we should stay away from. Being impatient and short tempered, I am in awe of and try to emulate the even tempered and cool lawyers. There is also a vast difference between male and female lawyers. Female lawyers are equal to male lawyers and sometimes may even be better at lawyering than men. At the risk of being labelled a chauvinist, my view is that some unique feminine qualities may become lost in female lawyers.

Though many say I am still gentle and kind, I feel that law practice has changed me. I have lost some softer parts of my personality. Running my own law firm, I have found that some clients take your kindness for granted. Although our legal system is leaning more towards alternative dispute resolution, some clients still prefer tough dispute lawyers. To run a viable practice, we are forced to be competitive and chase after the shrinking work pie. We compete to stand out from fellow lawyers.

Although our professional and personal lives are separate, there is nevertheless a cross influence and we cannot be two separate individuals. There is a clear conflict between wanting to be good and being pleasant lawyers. We can choose who we want to be and face the world. There will always be Mikes and Harveys in the profession. Cross breeds of Mike and Harvey would be ideal in the profession.