Some years ago a joke that went the rounds in Cape Town’s professional circles went something like this: what do you call 1000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? And the answer, much appreciated in some circles was, a good start! Why is it that lawyers have picked up this rather unsavoury shark-like reputation and is it justified?
It cannot, however be emphasised strongly enough that attorneys are not all cast in the same mould. There are huge cultural differences between one law firm and another.
Admittedly there are lawyers who are able to capitalise on the emotions of a divorce, pitting husband against wife (and vice versa) and using every trick in the book to obtain the best possible financial result for their clients, often at the expense of the ongoing relationship. Very often, how a case is handled is more important than the inevitable outcome; there is a way to practise law, especially family law, that is reconciliatory, mediatory and which does not do more damage than that which is inherent in the process.
Most people do understand what is right and what is just. The average man or woman prefers justice to vindictiveness and fairness to predatory behaviour. A good attorney will always work towards preventing the long term fallouts that have bedevilled so many family relationships. This does not mean that they will go soft on or compromise their clients claims or that they will step into the role of counsellors or social workers. The right attitude in the lawyer may go a long way to save families (and business partners) from lifelong acrimony and dislike.
To this end, in the training of its candidates and the ongoing training offered to attorneys, the Law society is doing good work in upholding the best values and principles of the law and it is to be commended for this.