Why do lawyers represent their clients? Insights into the legal profession
“So you want to be a lawyer? Will you defend me when I kill somebody?”
The above statement represents the societal-wide misconception about what lawyers do. Many see lawyers as the scum of the world who deserve a bullet in the head. When you type ‘lawyers are’ in a google search, the predictive algorithm will shock you. We cannot blame society for that hate. American tv drama, media reports, and perceptions have affected how everyone views lawyers. Yet, you will rarely meet a parent who does not want their children to become lawyers. In today’s interpreter, we will explain why lawyers defend their clients despite accusations of criminal conduct.
However, before we analyze the issue, we must understand the legal profession’s nature.
Why is the law called a profession?
There are very few specialities that enjoy the profession classification, and this is not by accident. When someone is a member of a profession, they receive a higher calling compared to the rest. The profession’s nature expects them to meet very high academic and moral standards. Moreso, they are bound by strict rules that govern their admission and operation within the profession. In fact, during the early periods in the United Kingdom, peasant children would not join the legal profession. The position has since changed, but the rules on admission and practice still exist. Thus, we classify the law as a profession due to:
- the strict academic requirements,
- the requirement to follow rigorous legal and ethical standards and
- the regulation of the practice by strict practice regulations.
Others have also argued that the law is a calling like religion. Thus, there is an expectation for lawyers to serve the public.
Given that the law as a profession is subject to a calling, it behoves us upon lawyers to represent our clients zealously and diligently. This analysis brings us to the cab-rank rule.
The cab-rank rule
This rule obligates advocates to accept briefs, which they are competent to handle unless they have a good reason not to. It traces its origin to the UK where a taxi driver in front of the line had to pick up the passenger requesting a ride.
The cab-rank rule is highlighted in our law under Article 50 of the Constitution. It provides that every accused person has the right to legal representation and must be informed of the right. Consequently, advocates must represent their clients to the best of their abilities unless they have a good reason not to. One commentator opined that:*
“An advocate, by the sacred duty which he owes his client, knows in the discharge of that office but one person in the world – the client and none other. To save the client by all expedient means, to protect the client at all hazards and costs to all others and among others to himself, is the highest and most unquestioned of his duties; and he must not regard the alarm, the suffering, the torment, the destruction which he may bring on any other. Nay, separating even the duties of a patriot from those of an advocate and casting them if need be to the wind, he must go on reckless of the consequences, if his fate it should unhappily be to involve his country in confusion for his client’s protection.”*Lord Brougham in Queen Caroline’s defence.
We will examine the words “unless they have a good reason not to” later in this text.
Innocence until proven guilty
Turning to the introductory paragraph, do we defend criminals? Every person has this question. Unfortunately, our clients are not criminals but are suspects even if they confess to you. Under the law, every person has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Why is this so? Closely tied is the burden and standard of proof under the Evidence Act. The obligation to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt lies with the prosecution. This burden requires the prosecution to present evidence that shows the committal of an offence and convince the judge that the accused committed a crime. This burden involves submitting a set of facts, subjecting them to Evidence law and assessing their probative value. Should the prosecution succeed in doing this, the ball is placed on the defence’s side to refute the prosecution’s claim. If the defence succeeds, then the prosecution secures a conviction, and vice versa is true.
Why then subject the accused to all these while you can convict him without going to jail?
The answer is easy: the function of law which is to regulate social conduct. If we were to allow the public to crucify any alleged offender without subjecting them to the legal system, then we would have anarchy. We admit that the system has delays, but the justice system is the best bet we have to prevent anarchy.
Does it mean lawyers have no choice?
The cab-rank rule does not mean lawyers have to accept all briefs. Under the cab-rank rule, lawyers can reject briefs if they have a good reason to. For example, a lawyer may decline a brief if there will be a conflict of interest or if the lawyer lacks the skill and knowledge to handle a brief. Let me expound. The law is diverse and has several speciality areas such as tax law and intellectual property. If a lawyer is qualified but is not averse to such practice areas, they may reject such a brief.
We will continue to subject lawyers to unnecessary hate, which is undeserved unless society appreciates their roles. Yes, we understand that there are unsavoury characters within the profession, but disciplinary mechanisms exist to deal with them. Secondly, remember that the law is diverse and includes other niche areas such as tax law.
Please note that lawyers are crucial, and courts last year quashed the decision to delist them as essential service providers. Be sure to engage one, and they shall order your affairs.
Coming up on The Interpreter: Why do we save dying businesses?
The pandemic affected the operations of many companies. Some survived the onslaught, others died, and others were offered a life raft known as insolvency law. In the Interpreter next week, we will answer why the law offers a second chance to dying businesses. Stay tuned.