The Noblest Profession

Sometimes I think the legal profession gets a rough ride. People love to hate lawyers, even though many of us work hard and are decent people. Most firms do some pro bono work, and lawyers can be found on the boards of most charities or good causes.

If Jesus was alive today I am utterly convinced he would be a barrister and solicitor.

Occasionally a rogue lawyer ruins it for others. But for every infamous character who has studied or practised law (e.g. Vlad Lenin, Fidel Castro), there has been a great one (Mohandas Gandhi, Abe Lincoln, Thomas More, David Garrett etc etc).

I always try my best to follow a very clear moral code and do what’s right. But it’s not easy. When I am called upon to make decisions as a lawyer I always ask myself “What would Nelson Mandela do?”. Unfortunately, (to my knowledge) Nelson Mandela when he practised law never tried his hand at patent licensing, product distribution contracts, software licences or IP commercialisation. If he had I’m sure I would have read about it somewhere, because I’m certain he would have had something powerful to say about the extent to which liability for indirect or consequential losses or damages should be capped or excluded.

I also fear that Mr Mandela may have very little insight to offer on the ongoing debate about whether you should define a “Licensed Product” in a patent licence by reference to the claims in the relevant patents, or by using “but for the grant of licence” type infringement language in the definition.

No, Mandela was more concerned about the bigger stuff. Freedom, equality and all that. That’s all very well, and I’m pleased for him, but would we really have any of this freedom carry-on without some overworked lawyer in a back office somewhere stressing about what the contract is going to say?

Do you really think you would be enjoying your comfortable and pleasant existence if I wasn’t stuck at my desk carefully drafting restrictions on the rights of the licensee to reverse engineer, modify, decompile or copy the software?

Oh no, everything should be open source and then we’d all be free from the oppression of the legal system and all the shit that The Man puts on us, and the world would be a happier place blah blah blah. Sure, and I can see the Cossacks dancing across the TV screen even as you imagine this.

You feeble humans will never learn!

The ones in my profession who get the glory are the court lawyers. The litigators. It’s “objection” this and “may it please Your Honour” that. These show ponies are the ones who get all the publicity and all the loose women who hang around the courts, while commercial lawyers like me work hard in relative anonymity to make sure our clients are protected from the terrors of untidy drafting and unwise warranties. Commercial lawyers are deserving of much more respect than they get, because we are the rockstars of the business world, or at least should be. Our time will come, and then we shall see who squirms. Soon my pretties… Soon…

The worldwide cause of lawyers has not been helped in recent days by the revelation that staff from a US law firm have been caught mocking the homeless.

Pictures of the Halloween party of New York firm Steven J. Baum turned up in the New York Times last week, and they showed staff dressed up to look like homeless people. The pictures also showed part of the office decorated to resemble a row of foreclosed homes.

This is bad enough, but it is even worse because the firm in question specialises in mortgage foreclosures and evictions. It’s one thing to do your client’s bidding (and as a lawyer you don’t get to choose what’s right and what’s wrong when you get instructed by a client. That’s our Samurai Code), but another to actively delight in the misery you are contributing to.

The firm in question also has quite a reputation in the legal market for the type of work it does, and not necessarily the sort of reputation a firm would want.

The firm has since apologised, and really what choice did they have? Some people will doubtless say they only apologised because they were caught.

But it doesn’t do wonders for the cause. I’m beginning to fear that the fact I’m a commercial lawyer may detract from my chances of winning next year’s Nobel Peace Prize.