I stand alone now. Waiting and more than a little afraid. I see a creature moving towards me, more rapidly than a thing of its bulk should be able to. The air is full of the sound of it squelching towards me. It truly is a horror to behold, its features shift with dizzying speed from Howard to Straw, Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Reid, Smith, Johnson, May, Ken Clarke, Grayling. Indeed, all of them at once but my mind recoils from the sight.
“You are surplus to requirements in a civilised society” it declares. “We protect the people. We keep them safe. The state serves all fairly and punishes justly. The people know this and reject your meddling.”
Somewhere, deep inside, I scream defiance but, standing in front of the monster I cower. I suddenly feel ashamed. What if it’s true. What if people don’t want human rights and civil liberties. What if they don’t want help when the state abuses them? What if we, the lawyers, are the meddlers and not the foul beast before me. I waver, while a bitter little voice inside whispers, “what if they get the government they deserve”.
The monster continues to boom its propaganda. It speaks of being tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, tells me that prison works, that bobbies on the beat are all we need, that ASBOs will save the nation. It talks of prison overcrowding, prison boats moored off our shores and prison closures. Terrorists against whom nothing is proven, curfews, electronic tagging, CCTV, surveillance. Binge drinking, public disorder, protests, riots. The death of family values, a compensation culture, unnecessary human rights and the fairness of legal aid cuts. It rages “only we hold the solutions”.
Suddenly there is silence. I feel something build in the air around us.
“Consumerism, competition, choice, commoditisation. If you accept these things, you may live.”
“But,” I hesitate and take a breath, “but I don’t believe those things benefit clients. External investment makes us beholden to third parties who care for nothing but their own dividends. We will cease to be a profession. Standards will slip if we are forced to pile them high and sell them cheap. Eventually, only six law firms will remain and they will be despised by everyone; most of all, by their own staff. They will offer temporary cuts in prices but, once they consolidate their position, they will lose the incentive to offer reasonable rates. They will, in short, charge more than people like me would ever dare to!”
Shaking with rage, mouth dry and just a little terrified I continue. “My obligations are to the court, the rule of law and to my clients.”
I hear a whooshing in my ears, fear I might faint. When I look back at the spot where the monster stood it’s gone, replaced by something no less terrifying but considerably more reassuring. Ghosts of senior judges stand before me. Not wanting my first words to be gibberish, I hold my tongue.
“You are safe,” they say as one.
“The plate?” I manage to say.
“We’re sorry. There is no plate.”
“But, but this is an adventure. It doesn’t work like that. I defeated the monster. I should get the plate. I need it.”
“There is no plate. Stop and think for a moment. You were told to step up to the plate. Finding no meaning in that directive, you came here. You came seeking the truth, not the plate.”
“But I can’t go back empty handed. I can’t accept my working life is being directed by a meaningless management mantra.”
Collectively, they sigh. “Then we’re afraid that, even though you love Justice and Ethics there is no place for you in the modern law firm.”