I recently observed ten years of practice at the Barbados Bar and simultaneously celebrated the calling to the same Bar of my younger sister. As was asked of me in 2005 and even when I announced my intention to study law while trying to decide whether I would go to Barbados Community College or sixth form in the summer of 1998, my sister was asked, “What are you going to do? There are too many lawyers!”, “Can’t you do something else?”.
These are all too common questions, along with being approached with, “So when I get into trouble I know who I can call!” (usually said with much gusto). My response is always, “I can tell you who to call” and just leave it there. Maybe it’s a standard “lawyer joke” but I’m tired of it and it also shows John Public’s ignorance of the profession and its ability to adapt to changing times.
My classmates in the past ten years have been incredibly successful and are evidence that you do not have to practice in traditional areas, although that category of practitioner is still very much needed. We are sole practitioners, associates or partners in large firms or in house counsel at various companies. We represent entertainers, our governments, lecture, draft legislation and lead NGOs. We are trade negotiators and create policy at multilateral institutions. We have become politicians, artists and writers. We are not restricted to society’s traditional idea of the Attorney-at-Law.
Yes, 50 Attorneys were admitted to practice this year, as opposed to 19 in 2005 and admittedly over the past few years, some newly called Attorneys have experienced difficulty finding a job which will allow them to pay bills and eat on a consistent basis. However, life is not easy and becoming an Attorney does not automatically gain you entry into the lifestyle that you have seen on television. The current environment demands that you either become an entrepreneur (e.g. a sole practitioner or consultant with a legal background), further your studies or generally become more innovative in your firm, company or organisation.
You may have to fall a number of times before you can stand firmly on the ground and that’s ok. All experiences, good or bad, teach us something. You do not fully understand until you have experienced the joy of achievement or the gut wrenching feeling of acknowledging that you have made and then and having to remedy an error. Let the experience with the boss from hell teach you how to deal with difficult situations and people with whom your spirit does not meet. Do not let it break you.
It is our duty as Junior and mid practice Attorneys to learn as much as we can but also to seek new opportunities and areas of practice and make them our own. What was interesting this year, is that the Chief Justice did not ask this new group of lawyers as had been done year after year to practice criminal law. He encouraged those who were newly called to practice to have a look at alternative dispute resolution (‘ADR’), which, if it works well, has the potential to reduce the backlog of cases which has been plaguing the system for many years.
I am sure that new criminal law practitioners would be welcomed but ADR, particularly mediation, conciliation and arbitration are fast growing areas which are waiting for new blood. We have no choice but to be aware of and learn the ropes of new practice areas and innovations because if we don’t, we will be left behind.
Our generation of practitioners has heard it all, apparently we “just cut and paste words onto a new document and ask you to sign”, “are thieves”, “lazy”, etc. A few bad apples can be picked out and removed from the tub without injury to the others. Let us show the public by our actions that we are honest and care about those whom we serve.
Most if not all of us have experienced working into the night and wee hours of the morning preparing for a matter, whether the matter is contentious or non-contentious. Or hearing the annoyance of loved ones who cannot understand that we are simply too tired to function on a Friday night after a long week.
My colleagues who are litigators have access to a physical plant which may be practically outfitted with all the modern comforts but are still at the mercy of an archaic system. I and others who are in the corporate arena many times have to battle with full voicemail services and some humans in the public service who refuse to provide definitive information or even their names if asked for advice. It is not an easy road.
It is not all bad however, as we have learnt some of the best lessons and met some of the most interesting and knowledgeable people along the way. What I love about the legal profession in 2015 is that there is more room to be yourself as an Attorney. While we may have to wear our robes and bands to make certain court appearances and we still hold fast to some traditions, which I think is fine (was glad when we got rid of the wigs though, lol), we are more free to express ourselves without reproach.
To my classmates from around the Caribbean and beyond, congratulations. Let us continue to work hard in the best interest of our clients, governments, countries and region. Continue to lobby for change in the systems and practices which restrict us. Do not back down in your efforts. Learning never stops. Be open minded and help those who are junior to you.
To the newly called Attorneys of 2015, you may not begin your practice in the area you hoped to. Use that time as a learning experience. If you can, gain experience outside of Barbados, it will do you a world of good. You can learn much from legal secretaries, clerks and assistants. They know much more than you do when it comes to the practical way of getting the job done, treat them with respect. Never stop learning.
To both groups. Enjoy life and make the most of it.