“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” – William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene II.
Taken out of context for decades, this often misinterpreted Shakespearean quote somehow summarizes societies’ views on the legal profession: a necessary evil. Well, maybe not “necessary” but evil for sure! Lawyers are typically feared, yet their presence fills individuals and companies alike with a sense of security.
The real intent behind the quote is to praise lawyers given the fact that the suggestion of killing them would further the villain’s goals: plotting a coup through aiding the rebel to overthrow the “government” by eliminating those who stand in the way of anarchy and chaos, those so-called “guardians of independent thinking” and perhaps even the “gatekeepers” i.e lawyers. When properly understood within the context of the author’s play, the quoted line is actually a compliment to the profession.
Lawyers are often perceived as deceivers instead of protectors of the truth, defenders of the weak and disadvantaged, and upholders of the spirit of the laws. Since lawyers are sometimes compelled to operate in grey areas, dealing with controversial matters and highly sensitive and critical situations which can affect individuals and societies alike, they are sometimes viewed as manipulating the laws, doing “whatever it takes” to win a case or close a deal.
This negative public perception is not solely confined to trial lawyers, litigators and corporate lawyers, it also affects in-house legal counsels. In fact, in the corporate world, who hasn’t heard the dreadful five words: “have you checked with legal?” The discomfort comes from the fact that having an agreement reviewed by the legal department of the respective parties could, at times, delay the process of having said agreement executed, thus postponing the kick-off of the project. The reason behind such misconception is rooted in the divergent nature of the departments and respective teams in a given organization. While teams are business-driven thriving to grow the firm’s portfolios in addition to nurturing and maintaining fruitful professional relationships for the firm’s advancement and prosperity, the legal department acts as a support function, assessing potential risks and protecting the greater interest of the organization.
While at first glance it might appear that the legal function might be at odds with the rest of the departments, it should be noted that by working together, the business driven-team and the risk and legal department teams balance each other out to reach sound, fit and appropriate decisions. This joint collaboration is crucial as when a firm tends to be risk-averse, it misses out on great opportunities to grow. Therefore, taking all appropriate and necessary risks – be them operating, financial, market-based or strategic – will ensure that the firm is and will be a business leader in a highly competitive market which we are operating in whilst at the same time protecting its interest by properly managing those risks.
At the end of the day, when all goes wrong, your last line of defense – or better yet your ultimate line of defense is the lawyer acting as your agent helping you in pursuing lawful goals by lawful means: either defending you in a court of law or protecting and expanding your interests. Personally, I believe that there is no greater reward than being a lawyer: it is who I am; not merely a job that you clock out of after-hours and on weekends. You never stop being a lawyer, it is who you are 24/7, securing your clients’ interests and helping them navigate through difficult situations. Not so evil after all…
By: Lea Abi Nader, legal, Deloitte Middle East
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