Tag Archives: commoditisation

Stepping Up to the Plate: an adventure of a modern lawyer Part III

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.”

Stepping Up to the Plate: an adventure of a modern lawyer Part II

Setting out on my quest again, I reach a building. It has the dismal look of a factory, yet the sign says “Bodge it & Screw ‘Em Legal Services (Pies and Pasties a speciality). I enter and move, unnoticed, through room after room of people, dully intoning, “your matter has become too complex and a solicitor must now advise you. Please note that our charges will increase exponentially.” I hurry on but can’t avoid seeing that their faces are all the same, features slightly blurry, as if they were manufactured. There is no individuality and no passion on their faces or in their voices. They are automatons processing case file after case file with no interest in their outcomes. I shudder. This could be my future if I don’t step up to the plate. A future full of procedures, monotony. A future where talent and imagination are stifled in favour of form filling. A future where clients are no longer people to have conversations with but file numbers to process. My sense of urgency increases. I must succeed in my quest! I walk on and come to a brightly lit room, lined with filing cabinets, and hear a new voice.

“Where’s your stamp?” he squeaks.

I turn and see a small creature with multicoloured neon fur, “My?”

“Stamp, your stamp that says who your parents are.”

Bemused, I can’t think of a response.

“Look,” he says, pointing to his bum, “your stamp”.

Embarrassed, I look closely, past the tufts of fur, and see it. His Certified Copy stamp, with two signatures.

“Well…I don’t have one.”

“Then how do people know where you came from. You’re nobody without your stamp!”

Somehow, I just know that all of the people I’ve seen so far in this building have stamps and that all of their stamps look the same.

“I don’t have a stamp. I come from a far off land where nobody is stamped and no person is the same as the next. I came to seek a plate to rescue my people. If I step up on it, they will be saved.”

A look of fierce concentration appears on the little creature’s face. Then, “Does your plate have a stamp,” he asks with an expression bordering on sly.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I haven’t seen the plate. Nobody can describe it for me. All I know is that I must find the plate and step up to it.”
At this, he appears to lose interest and turns away to his drawers of records.

“Excuse me,” I interrupt. “I don’t suppose the plate could be filed in your cabinets?”

He snorts. “I do not misfile anything. My cabinets are perfectly ordered. You have no stamp, you couldn’t understand.” With a snippy toss of his head, he walks away.

There is nothing more for me in this place. I walk on out of the building and come out into a dark, bleak landscape. I blink. How long was I inside? As I peer out at this strange new land, I think I see a spark of light. With hope, I stare at the point where it had been. Eventually, it comes again and I start towards it, only to be stopped in my tracks by a whispering voice.

“Justice?” I ask.

“No,” comes the soft reply, “I am Ethics, her sister. Tell me, how does she fare?”

Uncomfortable, I stare out into the dark. Eventually, I say the only thing I can.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid she is very ill.”

“I feared as much.”

Just a wraith herself, yet there is something more substantial to Ethics than her sister. I find myself asking her how this came to be.

“My future is bound up with yours and others like you. Lawyers. I feel the same shifting currents, see the same predators but they can’t come for me or for you until my sister is sufficiently weakened. She protects us, you see.”

The sad creature I had seen could barely protect herself. Glancing at her, I realise Ethics knows that. A light sparks again. Before I can take another step, Ethics’ voice grows harsher.

“Stop,” she cries, a rasping, ragged shout. “You mustn’t.”

“But if there are people, they may know where the plate I seek can be found.”

“No longer people,” she looks on the lights with pity, “no longer.”

“Then who…”

“They sought the plate before you. When they came to this place they were caught by the monster of the bog, a terrible creature formed from the souls of home secretaries and justice secretaries who willingly gave them up in return for the power they sought. It is a young creature, only two decades old, but it grows ever stronger as each successive government builds on the actions of the last.”

I feel a shiver of revulsion pass through me as I think of the souls that had gone to create and sustain such a creature. I watch as another light glows and slowly dies away. Turning back to Ethics, I ask with trepidation, “how did they die?”

My question is met with silence.

“Please,” I try again.

“The monster will speak to you. It will lure you with promises of safety and security. For many that is enough. It pacifies them because they so want to believe. Remember from whence the monster came. It will be convincing. You will want to believe but you must not. Remember me. Remember Justice. Perhaps you can do it.”

Then, she is gone.

Part III

Stepping Up to the Plate: an adventure of a modern lawyer Part I

I have my treasure map, some tea & biscuits and an enchanted black suit. Now, I’m off to find a plate I don’t know what the plate looks like. Is it Wedgwood? Royal Doulton? Denby, perhaps? Or a more modern plate sold by a TV chef to a credulous public who believe the TV chef fairy will make their store bought stir in sauces more tasty. It could even be a cracked second off a market stall. I don’t know. I only know that lawyer-kind won’t be safe until I step up to the mythical plate. Mine not to ask “why don’t you do it? You’re paid more.” I set forth on my adventure with my meagre supplies, just a special stapler, an HB pencil and the pens cadged from my secretary to defend myself, and step into a forest. All around me, sheaves of paper hang from branches. Puzzled, I look around. Paper shouldn’t grow on trees.

“No” a whispering voice says. “Every document you shred comes here to live when you no longer need its words.”

I turn slowly but nobody’s there.

“Who are you”, I ask, trembling slightly.

“I am Justice” she sadly replies.

“But why can’t I see you?” I can, just barely, make out a misty figure outlined against a discarded Land Registry plan.

“I’m fading”.

She is a mere wisp on the breeze now. Lost in my thoughts, reflecting on the health of Justice I walk on into a valley.  A stream runs through the centre of the valley and I make my way towards it..”What’s that?” I wonder, peering at the water. Coins line the bottom of the stream. I hear a noise and look to see a metal creature standing a few feet away. It towers over me and I stand very still as it sniffs the air.

“Is there money in your pockets?”

“No,” I stammer.

It surges forward, grabbing me and shaking. Head cocked, it looks quizzically at me. “How can this be? You are a lawyer are you not? Your pockets should be full.”

“Please…I’m just a seeker of the plate. I must step up to it. My people need me”

“Harrumph. Be on your way then. There is no more pitiful sight to me than a lawyer with empty pockets…unless I am the one emptying them of course. Although, there is an alternative to the plate, you know. You could enter a union with me. If you work harder than you ever had before, I will take a mere 50% of coins from your pockets in future.”

“But,” I mumble, “why would I do that?”

“I can protect you,”

“From what?”

“Why from the forces of consumerism of course. Your kind will wither and die without my protection.”

“Thank you for your offer,” I politely reply, concerned lest I anger him, “but I set out to seek the plate and that is what I will do. I don’t know what will happen when I find the plate and step up to it. I know that it may involve sacrificing myself but it’s the only way to rescue my people. I am the only one who can do this, so it is foretold.”

His grin is a glittering, grisly sight to behold but he says nothing more.

I walk on and all seems peaceful. Paper rustles in the trees and tiny volumes of law reports flutter over flowers reminiscent of my own doodles. What a thing! As I look more closely I see other grey spots among the trees, other doodles come to rest in this world, discarded by lawyers as unwelcome distractions from the business of the day. A bird, with a magnificent plumage sits in a tree, glaring at me.

“Who are you and what is your business here,” it rattles off from an intimidating beak.

“I am here to seek the plate and, when I find it, I must step up to it. Could you possibly assist me?”

“Assist? Nothing is free in this world, as well you know. Your kind,” it declares, “nearly hunted me to extinction, you with your quill pens and painfully long documents.”

“But we don’t now.”

“No,” it concedes, “not now, but you can hardly expect me to come to your assistance. It is the law of the jungle, my dear. Once, you were the predators and we were your prey. Now, times have changed and you are hunted. You are hunted by a predator more dangerous than you can comprehend. Not smarter, no not that. But leaner and more aggressive and with a far superior ability to blend into its environment. No. You cannot expect help from me”.

And, without another word, the Quill was gone.

Part II