Woe unto us, lawyers » Manila Bulletin News

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By Grace M. Pulido Tan

Grace M. Pulido Tan

So said Jesus in Luke 11:52 — “for you have taken away the key of knowledge.”

It is truly a sad and pitiful condemnation of the profession I have practiced for the last 35 years, a profession that many seek with vigor inspite of extreme sleep deprivation and continuing rigorous, punishing study. Isn’t it the most celebrated profession in the Philippines, with festive Bar exam send-offs and headline making results? Certainly, a personal and family pride that eclipses any other profession.

Yet, it is perhaps also the most derided. Remember all the lawyer jokes? A lot of them are actually pithy satires of reality. As Jesus said, lawyers in his time “have taken away the key of knowledge.” Biblical scholars have explained this to mean that lawyers then claimed a monopoly of the power to interpret but obscured and destroyed the true meaning of the laws through “false instructions, wearisome minuteness, a dishonest and demoralising casuistry, and fantastic legends,” thereby keeping the people in ignorance or otherwise filling them with strong prejudices.

There goes the great power of lawyers to influence human conduct and the course of nations simply by the very nature of who they are and what they do. Law and lawyering suffuse and impact every human activity. As Fred Rodell said in Woe Unto You Lawyers, “it is the lawyers who run our civilization for us – our governments, our business, our private lives.”

The impact of a lawyer is easily palpable, observed and experienced. The spoken word is his tool, the concrete expression of how he perceives the law in and of any given situation or circumstance. Every word he utterse – whether in the exercise of his profession as such or otherwise – can create a spark and affect the behavior and decisions of others. The same goes for his personal conduct; it cannot be his business alone. Being presumed to be learned in the law, he is consequently presumed to act in accordance with law.

The lawyer’s power to influence and shape human conduct is clearly an awesome responsibility that must be wielded and discharged with great circumspection and probity. But lawyers, as Lawrence Lessig in Free Culture observes, “rarely test their power, or the power they promote, against this simple pragmatic question: will it do good?” I know why: because what is “good” is, to begin with, THE very issue in most cases. Good for whom, good for what? Good for now, good for another time?

In the usual course, the answer to these questions is driven by the interest of whom the lawyer represents or seeks to promote. Fine, because our professional ethics demand so. There are times, however, when the interest of a greater good must prevail, when principle and ideals must not be sacrificed before pagan gods if authentic justice were to be secured. Lines need to be drawn sometimes, somewhere, somehow.

This is the challenge that a lawyers’ group from my prayer community, the Ligaya ng Panginoon, has bravely taken – to help young lawyers navigate the murky practice of law and be at all times, in the words of St. Thomas More, God’s faithful servant… first. Kudos, and God bless!

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