I have always had a certain idea of what the legal profession is and such idea and passion has been magnified ever since I started focusing on international economic law.
Every lawyer worth the name sees the legal profession - and indubitably himself - in light of Thomas More's characterization in A Man for All Seasons, Al Pacino's idealistic lawyer in ... And Justice For All, or Jeremy Northam's brilliant and sedate barrister in The Winslow Boy. There has or always is that picture kept in every one of us of justifying our membership in the profession by doing what the profession was designed to do, which is - as succintly put in The Winslow Boy: that right be done. Most often that concept of right is identified with helping the poor, the downtrodden, the helpless. Thus, Northam's plea near the end of The Winslow Boy has always brought a special resonance through the years and serves as a call to most lawyers: "you shall not side with the great against the powerless."
Indeed. That is why it is almost heartbreaking to see the state of the legal practice in recent times. Although to say "in recent times" may be carrying it too far. For one could always say or think that the present state of the legal profession is but an extension of the practice as it has accumulated through the years. Not to discuss the practice in terms of the corruption that everybody talks about, publicly abhorred but oftentimes privately encouraged. One only need to look at the state of intellectual mastery and discipline exhibited by the lawyers of today.
Lawyering now seems to have been relegated to a matter of flashiness, of presentation, of marketability. Of blackberries and laptops, of designer suits and fashionable parties. Gone seemingly are the days when the law has been described "as a lonely passion", of the rumpled solitary individual buried beneath his files and his books. At least in the olden days, despite the corruption that even then has been complained of, eloquence was apparent. Today, even that has gone. I have had students who could talk your ears off in highly voluble and fashionably phrased conversation but who could not create, in speech or in writing, a decently coherent, in style and substance, piece of argumentation. These lawyers could talk to you of shoes by Manolo Blahnik, the latest trends in pop psychology, their takes on deconstruction by Derida but could not - in class or in practice - summon the appropriate craftsmanship necessary to defend their clients' interest in court that would be upheld if were left in the light of day.
One reason perhaps is that our society is so generously forgiving. Personal flaws, weaknesses, and failures are readily understood and accepted. While such may be good for the benefit of the individual concerned they do not redound to the good of society as a whole and the future of our country. The need to better oneself is not there, goaded undoubtedly by the lack of its demand.
Which leads me to think of this field that I utterly love and that is international economic law. I could go on and on, talking of its intellectual depth and breadth, its elegance and sophistication, combining as it does an understanding of private domestic law, public international law, economics, government, and diplomacy. At the least.
But this incredibly beautiful field is also demanding and, more to the point, unforgiving. If you do not work, study, think on the level required then your country suffers. Not merely an individual client or corporation but the country. Simple as that. Consequences that happen, are real, public, and substantial.
No friendly judge or clerk of court to cajole or befriend, no appeal to a "friendlier" court, no invocation to the opposing lawyer regarding the brotherhood of the profession, nobody to bribe and nobody to charm. It is a field that does not suffer fools and its cases are those that you wouldn't want to lose. One only has to talk to our coconut farmers, rice farmers, unemployed machinists, etc. to see why.
It is, however, for all these reasons that I love the subject. Its purity and sureness of purpose. It is lawyering as it was meant to be. Demanding as it is fulfilling.
Another and even greater reason is something I shall leave for further discussion at a different time but, for the moment, suffice to say that IEL is also a field of law that, done properly and given enough time, could contribute immensely to making this country what it should be: competitive, prosperous, and meritocratic.