Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Fantasy Writer and Lawyer: Oxymoron or Perfectly Natural?

A significant number of people have remarked it’s an unusual combination to be both a lawyer and a fantasy writer. Others, who perhaps have more firsthand experience with the field of law, think it’s perfectly natural. 

Some of you may have now jumped to the conclusion that lawyers always deal with fantasies because lawyer means liar. Believe me; I’ve heard all the clich├ęs. I enjoy a good lawyer joke. In fact I admit to being partial to this one:
An Engineer died and went to see St. Peter.

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in,’ says St. Peter.

The engineer instead goes to hell where conditions are atrocious. After a while, the engineer started to make improvements. He added an escalator, running water, and after a couple of months even air conditioning. Of course eventually God heard about the changes down below. God phoned up the devil and explained that a mistake had been made and the engineer would have to be moved up to heaven.

“No, I don’t think so,” says the devil.

"This is your last chance. Send that engineer up here or I'll sue you!"

The devil laughed "Ha, where are you going to find a lawyer?"
But as funny as the good jokes are, the tired old misconceptions wear thin real fast. And it is a common misconception that lawyers are liars. 

I’m not going to go into the role lawyers play in the justice system except to say lawyers are officers of the court. A lawyer’s first duty is to the court, even before their duty to the client. A good lawyer doesn’t lie and a good lawyer won’t behave dishonestly in the defence of a client. I won’t say there aren’t lawyers out there who do neither of those things. The point is they’re not supposed to and there are plenty who maintain that standard. I have personally refused to act for clients who lied to me about their activities in breach of the law. Last year I tried to fire a client who wanted me to act in a way I considered unethical. Fortunately – or unfortunately – the client saw the error of his ways (after only three abortive attempts by me to fire him!).

So what is the connection between fantasy and lawyers? It’s not that lawyers are creating the fantasies, oh no. It’s the clients who come to us with their fantasies! If you were so inclined you would have endless inspiration. If nothing else, the profession leaves you with a good sense of human creativity. 

Terry Brooks - lawyer and fantasy writer
My personal favourite was not a client of mine but was described to me by a colleague. This client used what she called the ‘heart of heart’ tests. If he believed in his heart of heart that the company wasn’t doing anything wrong, then they could go ahead and do it – even if strictly speaking it was breaching some law. I expect a lot of things were OK in his hearts of hearts! I sympathise with my colleague. Keeping that client on the straight and narrow was a full-time job!

A client of mine came to me seeking an appointment to a regulator-sanctioned position. It requires the person to be of good fame and character. I won’t tell you his name, but let’s call him John Smith. When I asked him about his industry experience (in selling life insurance, no less) he proudly declared he was the number one seller. While John waxed lyrical about his achievements I privately considered how the regulator might view someone who achieved high sales at the expense of his clients. 

Shortly afterwards I saw an advertisement for an air conditioner. It said something to the effect of ‘We make the most air conditioners’. I immediately thought of my client, John. Having more of them doesn’t make your product better! The fantasy that it does I now call the ‘John Smith school of thought’. 

I have had any number of other deluded clients. Clients who think they don’t have a conflict of interest when they are remunerated by the insurer to advise the insured. Clients who think regulators give a sh*t about their high-flying but totally irrelevant qualifications. Clients who think we overcharge (ha! They should see what they charge at the big-end of town).  Clients who think it’s OK to say one thing and do another. Clients who think I can magically divine their intention or facts about their business and I should just work in isolation without ever pestering them. Clients who think I can do things by yesterday or by 5pm today when they ask at 4pm. 

I got news for them. That ain’t fact. That’s fantasy.
In fact, here is a list of 8 lawyers who became science fiction or fantasy writers. I even only knew of one of them! But there are others floating around, I’ve read a few ‘About the Author’ blurbs for authors who were or had been lawyers. 

So there you have it. Law and fantasy are not all that incompatible after all, although on my most trying days I certainly wish they were!

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Ross Quintana said...

Nice post, I have had many clients in my real estate career who lived in fantasy worlds and it was genarally my job to bring them back to the real world since they weren't interested in fantasy dollars.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Oh yes, isn't that a fun job - being the one to burst the bubble! It tends to make the client quite tense. People can get quite stroppy when they have their fantasies taken away. It creates a 'shoot the messenger' type attitude.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Oh yes, isn't that a fun job - being the one to burst the bubble! It tends to make the client quite tense. People can get quite stroppy when they have their fantasies taken away. It creates a 'shoot the messenger' type attitude.

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