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The Singapore Law Gazette

The Curious Case of the Lawyer, Honour and Good Manners

Earlier this week, an old friend’s mother died after succumbing to dengue at the age of 82. My wife’s auntie passed away peacefully in her sleep a few days later. Wakanda Forever will never be the same as the male lead Chadwick Boseman lost his battle to colon cancer at 42. And dear Harry Elias, a lovely congenial gentleman passed on this month at 83 after an illness.

On Harry, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon was quoted as saying, “He was always genial and always able to bring some cheer into every tense situation. He was scrupulously fair in all his dealings, whether as counsel or as an adjudicator, and in this, he represented some of the best and most important qualities of our profession.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a Facebook tribute that Mr Elias was an icon whose death marked “a passing of a generation“.

Indeed, Harry Elias’ death, as with the death of those from his generation and before, has shown that lawyers these days are sadly a far cry from the likes of Harry et el. There are still some of them in practice and those whom I have had the pleasure to work with have been in practice much, much longer than my 27 years and their conduct in and out of court amplifies the qualities of a noble profession.

Despite much talk about the constant changing landscape of lawyering, primary virtues such as honour and even basic courtesy are sadly lacking. I see and hear about it on a regular basis. Letters, e-mails and even phone calls are peppered with painful, discourteous and rude, toxic content seething on a complete lack of EQ and empathy.  

But isn’t that what lawyers do? Maybe, but surely it doesn’t have to be like that. Are we not much better than that?

We are meant to be an honourable and noble profession but the conduct of many lawyers is anything but. 

Perhaps the best example I can think of, of how we have failed comes from a recent admonishment by a High Court Judge at a number of counsel who, after a hearing had ended, continued to trade venomous correspondence and copied the Court in those correspondences. In his judgment the Judge made reference to those correspondences. “They were rude and provocative letters oozing venom at every turn and achieved nothing but the death by poison of all that is gracious and noble in the craft of advocacy.

Going back to where I started, oh death, which has endeared to me from a very young age. Death does not discriminate as we will surely die, one day. And the question is, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? If you don’t care about that, then I humbly suggest that you should avoid staining the profession or be conferred the privilege and responsibility accorded to legal counsel. The oft quoted (and perhaps tacky) wisdom of Uncle Ben may be quite applicable here: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Very often we hold that power to make a difference. Many are chosen but few are called.

Partner
Clifford Law
E-mail: [email protected]