The practice of law and iel

I 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 succinctly put in The Winslow Boy: that right be done. Usually that concept of right is identified with helping the poor, the downtrodden, the helpless. Thus, Northam's character’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 needs to look at the state of intellectual mastery and discipline exhibited by a number of lawyers (and law students) today.

Lawyering now seems to be relegated to a matter of flashiness, presentation, of glibness and 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 and purpose was apparent. Today, even that has gone. I have had students who could talk your ears off in highly voluble and fashionably phrased social conversations 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 and becoming more and more so to the point of unreasonableness. 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 purity, 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. It does not suffer fools well. If you do not work, study, think in the level required then your country suffers. Not merely an individual client or corporation but the country. Simple as that. One only has to talk to our coconut or rice farmers and unemployed factory or garments workers. Furthermore, unlike in local jurisdictions, where allegations of “friendly” judges or courts go around, international economic law is a field that generally wouldn’t suffer such charges and wouldn’t work with such shortcuts.

It is for all these reasons that I love the field. It is lawyering as it was meant to be. Incidentally, international trade itself, by its very nature, would require one to be systematic, cold, detached, patient, strategic in thinking, and highly rational. It also requires strong and effective institutional structures, where decision making is based on a formal and set process, where institutional memory (a must) is developed and kept, and where accountability is clearly identified. Lack of accountability in our government officers is wrong and encourages sloppy thinking. Our recent experience in a trade treaty is a demonstration of that.

In any event, IEL is a beautiful 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.