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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Distinction of the know-it-alls

The more legal the issue, the greater the assumption that lawyers know the events more intimately and can provide some mind-blowing insight.

FROM my experience in Malaysia, despite being the butt of cruel jokes and the frequent nasty things said about lawyers, people actually have an esteemed view of lawyers.

Sure, there are lawyers who betray, lie and place their personal self-interests above that of the client. But the same could be said of human beings in general. You have the good, the bad and the irredeemable. It’s the same with lawyers.

But why do I make such a bold claim? It’s because if you ever have the misfortune of having to confess you are a lawyer at a party or a meal, the likelihood of being assailed by an eclectic and wide-ranging array of queries about all things related and tenuously related to the law is high.

Dangerously high.

Of course, they won’t assault you immediately. They will seek to establish your expertise first before confounding you with their questions.

For example, they would ask me what kind of lawyer I am. They have a vague idea about the distinction between a lawyer who goes to court and one who doesn’t.

They know enough that the former is called a litigator (“oh, go court one lah!”) and the latter is known as a corporate lawyer (“oh, don’t go court one lah!” or “oh, do Sale and Purchase lah!”).

So after they establish that I am a litigator, that I appear in the magistrates court all the way to the Federal Court, that my love lies in standing up and arguing in court, they will then stump me by asking me something far removed from what I do like, “Eh, how long does it take for the strata title to be issued ah?”

Then there are the seemingly simple questions asked which are staggeringly difficult to answer without resorting to a two-hour mono­logue just to establish the applicable law in the area before I can actually answer the crux of the question. Examples of these questions are as follows:

“Eh, MoUs (Memorandums of Under­standing) not binding one right?” or “Can I sue someone to go to jail ah?”

When I was younger and more naive, I would patiently try to explain why their initial impression was wrong before trying to sketch the basic law in that area.

But within three minutes, their eyes would glaze over. After five minutes, they would be unable to sustain the fake reinforced smile. After 10 minutes, I would start wiping the drool from their mouths.

I usually try to stop before that happens. Saliva enzymes do not do wonders for the leather on my shoes.

I sometimes think their heads would explode if I went on blathering for another 30 minutes. That’s assuming I didn’t die of boredom first.

And then there are the current events questions. The questions on these can come from anywhere.

They may ask anything about domestic politics, culture, news reports and, of course, the law, which would naturally take us to questions about international law, treatises and international events as well. And of course, the more legal the issue, the greater the assumption that we know the events more intimately and can provide some mind-blowing insight into the event.

For example, when the Altantuya trial was going on in the High Court, one of the most popular questions asked of us lawyers was, “So, how ah the Altantuya trial?” I wasn’t really following it and so simply replied, “I wasn’t really following it. It’s as they report it in the papers, I should think.”

They won’t like such a reply because they think we’re holding out on them. So they will press further in more confidential and hushed tones, “No lah, seriously. How ah?” as if by doing so, I will let slip some blinding insight into the case or know about some facet about the case that somehow escaped the judge, prosecutor, defence, reporters and public in the gallery and fell into my lap.

I used to get rather exasperated, particularly with the questions I could not answer, because I genuinely want to be of service to the person I am speaking to even though I am under no obligation to do so and he has not deposited his retainer for my answer.

But these days, I think it is flattering. Because it shows that despite how lowly the public think of lawyers generally, they still think quite well of us too.

They still think of us as the know-it-alls.

> Fahri Azzat is a practising LoyarBurok. He has vast experience in some things Loyar and more things Burok. And on the rare occasion people pay him money, he does some legal work for them. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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