Lawyer-ing: The Work of Angels or Demons?


Before I attempt to answer this question, let me first remind you of some of the famous lawyers in history:

  • Gaius Julius Caesar the famous Roman general and dictator started his career as a lawyer.
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero the famous Roman orator and philosopher was a lawyer.
  • Ibn Rushd known in the West as Averroes the Andalusian philosopher was trained in law and worked as a judge.
  • Oliver Cromwell the Lord Protector of England following the English Civil war was trained as a lawyer.
  • Montesquieu (Charles-Luis de Secondat) the French philosopher was a lawyer.
  • MaximilienRobespierre the radical Jacobian revolutionary during the French Revolution was a lawyer.
  • Georges Danton a leading figure in the French revolution was also a lawyer.
  • Jeremy Bentham regarded as the father of utilitarianism in philosophy was a lawyer.
  • Abraham Lincoln perhaps the most famous president of the United States was a lawyer.
  • Valdimir Ilyich Lenin the architect of the Bolshevik coup d’état in 1917 which led to the establishment of the Soviet Union had a law degree.
  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a lawyer.
  • Nelson Mandela was a lawyer.
  • Saad Zaghloul the key figure in the Egyptian 1919 revolution was a lawyer.
  • Mostafa El Nahhas the head of the Wafd Party in the 1930s and Prime Minister when the officers took over power in Egypt in 1952 was a lawyer.

On the Demonic side we have people saying the following:

“The first thing we do, lets kill all the lawyers”

“If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.”

“He saw a lawyer killing a viper on a dunghill hard by his own stable; And the Devil smiled, for it put him in mind of Cain and his brother Abel.”


On the Angelic side we have:

“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win”

“Law is nothing else but the best reason of wise men applied for ages to the transactions and business of mankind.”

“safeguarding the rights of others is the most noble and beautiful end of a human being.”

I can safely say with a high degree ofconfidence, after 30 years of lawyering, that our work is neither the work of angels nor is it the work of demons.

If I may quote from Friedrich Nietzsche we are ‘Human, All Too Human’, Nietzsche perhaps rightly says:

“All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

Why are we conflicted about the social value of lawyering? Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of the system that lawyers are trained to design, operate and sometimes even dismantle through revolution. This is by definition a system of ‘soft parameters’ and not one with ‘hard fixed parameters’. Take physics as a science. We can say without risk of contradiction that gravity operates in Russia in the same way it operates in Mozambique. The force of gravity acting on a falling object will be the same F=MA. The acceleration is constant 32ft/sec squared.

Can we say the same about the concept of freedom or justice? In my point of view not at all.  The legal system is a human construct designed and operated to regulate and control the relationships between people in a given society. I will not delve into too much philosophy of law, suffice it to say here that no system that deals with abstract notions such as justice, freedom, crime etc. can be ruled by hard logic. Questions in this type of system always lie in the domain of what in modern times is known as “fuzzy logic”. True and false no longer apply, only partial truth, a range between completely true and completely false.

No wonder that lawyer-ing, the vocation of law, where fuzzy logic rules, can never be totally angelic nor can it be totally demonic. Lawyers derive their power from the uncertainty of law. People naturally resent this uncertainty and accordingly they resent their dependence on lawyers to steer them through this murky and obscure domain of abstract values and ideas. Do not underestimate this power. A lawyer defending an accused in a murder case may be successful, with the accused being set free, or may fail, with the accused being hanged. This is serious stuff indeed.

Did I confuse you, perhaps posing difficult questions rather than answering them? I do hope so. What I can tell you in terms of advice from an ‘old hand’, is simply understand the shortcomings of what we deal with as lawyers. Do not idealize the law or the legal system, for they are never ideal. Always, look at both sides of a dispute or an issue. Practice your profession with integrity and with diligence. You must always remember that your primary duty is to your client and his/her rights. However, this must never be at the expense of your inner values and what you, and not necessarily others, believe to be ethical behavior. If you maintain these simple guidelines, you stand a better chance of being on the side of the angels.

May the Force be with you.

Khaled El Shalakany

Senior Managing Partner, Shalakny Law Firm

Eng. (Cairo), PM Dip. (AUC), LL.B. (Toronto), LL.M. (Cambridge),

Ph.D. (Barrington), FCIArb.

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