Sunday, May 29, 2005

Lawyers, Politicians & Conflict of Interest

Have you noticed how many of our politicians are lawyers? Isn’t it odd that so many lawyers are drawn to public life? Imagine, all through the Western world we have lawyers, dressed as politicians, writing our laws. First they work as lawyers and administer the laws. Then they switch to a political role and write our laws. Then they retire from politics and switch back to a lawyers role and start administering the very laws they created. Think about it - we have the same identifiable group of people both writing and administering our laws. Is this not a classic conflict of interest?

Just to be clear, lets take a moment to define “conflict of interest”: As I understand it, a conflict of interest” occurs when someone plays both sides of the fence. You know, when someone has a responsibility to act in the interest of one party while having a reason – perceived or real – for not acting in the parties interest. Like, for example, if a hockey coach played goal for the team his team was opposing. That would be a conflict of interest.

Politicians and lawyers clearly have separate, distinct and, some would argue, conflicting roles in society. Politicians supposedly represent us all and accordingly are supposed to create laws that are in everyone’s interest. Lawyers, on the other hand, have very narrow interests. They represent only those who pay them and seek to use the law in a manner that is advantageous to only themselves and their clients. That's where the conflict comes in: Lawyers are able – either in reality or perceivably – to use the laws they created while serving as politicians to benefit themselves and their colleagues as lawyers.

In my view, anyone practicing law should be disqualified from holding public office. Rather, lawyers should be retained as advisors and permitted only to draft our laws in accordance with the wishes of our duly elected representatives. They should not be allowed to write the very laws that they and their entire industry have a vested professional interest in.

In my perfect world, our Charter and or Constitution would clearly state that lawyers, because of the conflict of interest inherent in the participation of their profession in the administration of our laws, are not permitted to serve as politicians and write our laws. A clear and unbreachable dichotomy would be enshrined in law and we would all live happily ever after.

And then I woke up.

Oh well, it was a nifty dream. Of course, it will never come to be. After all, most of our politicians are lawyers. And they probably really like having the power to both create and administer our laws. I have never read of any lawyers questioning their rights or abilities in this respect and I bet I never will. Anyway, even if enough politicians managed to launch an initiative to exclude lawyers from holding public office, I'm sure that every lawyer's society and association in the nation would be launching legal challenges. And we all know who would be ruling on those challenges: Judges. And we all know what judges are: Lawyers. Round and round and round we go.

I could end this here but, bear with me, I have one more point to make.

In their profession, lawyers - particularly trial lawyers - demonstrate a remarkable moral and ethical detachment from the reality of their personal lives. In fact, their personal values can be the very opposite of those they defend professionally. A trial lawyer can swat her child on the bum for being disobedient and then promptly drive to court and ask a judge to make spanking illegal. A trial lawyer can be pro-choice and yet represent a group that is pro-life. The very nature of their profession requires that their personal values be irrelevant when representing the interests of their clients. While the rest of us struggle to adhere to our personal morals, values and ethics in all aspects of our lives, trial lawyers have created a little world of their own where their personal values are somehow separate and unconnected to who they are professionally.

Is it any wonder that lawyers appear to have difficulty grasping why it is a conflict of interest for them to be politicians? After all, their essence as professionals, their very bread and butter, is based on being able to justify and reconcile the conflict of their personal interests and values with those of their clients. It must not be a huge stretch, then, for them to reconcile and justify the conflict of their role as lawyers with that of their role as politicians.


Blogger dave said...

Are you aware that laboratories are considering the replacement of Norwegian Brown Rats with Lawyers?
1. There are more lawyers than rats.
2. Lab technicians don't get so attached to lawyers.
3. There are some things that a rat wouldn't do.

5:33 PM  

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