Makes me smile…

The image that people have of lawyers is usually determined by coincidences. This may be a personal experience with their own lawyer or that of the counterparty. But even more will the image be determined by the relatively small group of lawyers who get publicity.

A. Pitlo (Evolutie in het privaatrecht, [Evolution in private law] Groningen: H.D. Tjeenk Willink 1972, p. 102) speaks with regard to certain lawyers about the ‘half-intellect’ that by intellectualism must succeed in being kept up towards the masses. Publications that are extremely critical of lawyers can date from any time and the first ones already from before ancient Rome. In this connection François Rabelais (1494-1553) should also be mentioned and (more or less in his footsteps) Honoré Daumier (1808-1879). The cartoons of Daumier in the series ‘Les gens de justice’ are well-known everywhere.

Napoleon, known for instance from the Code Napoléon, thought that his Acts were clear and unambiguous. According to him lawyers were superfluous. For that matter it is evident that Napoleon was wrong when he indicated that lawyers could better be laid off because his Codes were so unambiguous and clear that no lawyer would have to be instructed. As we know it did not prevent his downfall.

J.A. Brundage (The Medieval Origins of the Legal Profession; Canonists, Civilians and Courts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, p. 477) wrote that as the professional group of lawyers became more prominent and more successful, criticism also increased:

Theologians, merchants, preachers, popes and poets complained that lawyers were bloodsuckers, hypocrites, sacrilegious, foul-mouthed, devious, deceitful, treacherous, proud and arrogant.

Some say that lawyers need courageous imagination… Courage in a different sense is in any event shown by the lawyer who died on 18 April 2010 Allard Voûte (A. Voûte, Recht op eigen wijze [Law in your own way], Amsterdam: Loyens & Loeff 2000, p. 94-95). When he was working one evening in the weekend for a client to prepare a stock exchange raid and his client appeared to have sent an important fax to a fax machine in a site hut instead of to him, he took a crowbar and went to that site hut to break open the door. This was unsuccessful but instead he was picked up by the police and after having obtained the consent from the owner of the site hut the police then went with a locksmith to this hut and succeeded in opening the door. However, this type of personal courage will not always be appreciated in law.

Why do some people think that being a ‘lawyer’ is the best profession, or better still: the most beautiful vocation? Why did Katadreuffe in Bordewijk’s Karakter [Character] stake everything on becoming a lawyer? Do they not know the story, true or untrue, that played in the first half of the second millennium? The lawyers from that time required a patron saint. They delegated Saint Yvo (1253-1303) to travel from Brittany to Rome, more in particular the Lateranum, in order to apply for this patron saint to His Holiness. The request was honoured on the understanding that Yvo could choose one of the statues erected on the square but only after he was blindfolded. Under loud encouragement of the prelates present he made his way until in the end he came to a halt. He placed his hand on a statue and declared that he had made his choice. His blindfold was removed and to the amusement of all spectators he appeared to have chosen a statue of the devil. Deeply sad he returned as you understand empty-handed to Brittany to die there soon after. In the end Saint Yvo, who as a professional practitioner serves as an example for many, was canonized by Pope Clemens VI. His epitaph contributed to the fact that Saint Yvo would from then on be the patron saint of lawyers. What did this epitaph read? Sanctus Yvo erat Brito, Advocatus et non latro. Res miranda populo [Saint Yvo was a Breton; a lawyer but not a thief. Something the people were surprised about].

The exact image people have of lawyers is difficult to establish and will no doubt differ from country to country, perhaps from region to region or even from bario (neighbourhood) to bario. If we have to depend on the jokes which have been made about lawyers for many centuries, the worst must be feared. But it is definitely inaccurate to think that all lawyers, or even a considerable majority of them, earn ‘big money’, drive around in luxurious sports cars or limousines, own many houses, are vain or rabulist (a shady lawyer, a cunning advocate and a law twister). That image does not do justice to all those who like many others work hard and honestly, but just live an ‘ordinary’ life or even go through life ‘without means’. Living in Curaçao we know just as well how a minority can determine the image of the whole group. But preconceptions, which are the case with regard to forming an image of lawyers, show a certain persistence.

Have fun!

Karel Frielink
(28 December 2015)


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