Law! What is it Good For?
Gordon Turner

Law! What is it Good For?


Voters Rating 13 / 1000



If you have had dealings with the Law and its professionals, it can’t have escaped your attention that it all seems very odd, possibly annoying, at times. Why do lawyers speak the way do? Is photocopying really as difficult as they make out? Do barristers and solicitors make things worse, not better? And the funny outfits and the delays, are they helping or hindering? People have strong views about the legal profession and they are often quite negative. Gordon, with his beady eye and passion for justice and common sense aims to lift the lid on what really goes on, but also offering ideas as to how lawyers might improve their reputation and advance their client’s needs more effectively.

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We are often encouraged to ‘think out of the box’; well here I am, perched against a wall in a field in Cornwall, a couple of feet away from my tiny new ‘coffin’ tent as the evening breeze blows  froth of a nice pint of Cornish ale. Away from my office, the courts and tribunals, here I am tapping away on my battered laptop, only the seagulls piercing the silence, starting my book Law what is good for? I tried getting this off the ground earlier but the phone kept ringing and frankly, a head full of law is not a particularly creative vessel.  It’s good to stop and think, box or no box. All those clients, judges… stories which come and go but at the time seem so prescient. Lawyers can easily become lost in the detail. What about rolling up all of the experience into some kind of blob? A sculpture that we can wander round and think on. And, no, I have not just imbibed cannabis.  

This is all down to happenstance. On a train back to London, I found myself next to an interesting looking man in a shiny suit who looked a bit like Steve Martin, the American comedian. I was writing a review about a book by another lawyer, an employment judge, and we struck up a conversation, really about how to position my thoughts. In a way, writing the review, made me think about what I think. The writer of the book I was reviewing commented ‘the law seems to attract people with disturbed minds’. This surely deserves a chapter of its own! Anyway, my travelling companion published books and was looking for contributors. We spoke about what I do, but more importantly, what I think about what I do. I have some twenty five years’ experience as a litigator, dealing exclusively in ‘trouble’ of one kind or another. So, of course, I have strong views about people, lawyers and why we argue and why we end up in so many legal disputes. Is it a vicious circle of argy bargy and lawyers milking it for all its worth?

This is not a legal treatise; a detailed analysis of recent development in this or that law. It’s more about what I see, if and how the Law serves, or fails, in its main purpose of sorting things out.  Why it is so frequently seen as dysfunctional? Can we do things differently? I am eager to address  this, because I don’t think lawyers are self-critical enough. There is a disconnection with our self-perception and what the public thinks of us. Hence, when there are cuts to legal aid or access to employment tribunals, it’s all a bit too late. Stereotypes and some painful home truths come home to roost.    

I entered the legal profession, back in ’91 as a trainee in a legal aid practice in East Ham, eager to please. Pumped up with good intentions, naivety and a lack of who knows what, I crashed into the lives of my clients with a law degree, some cufflinks a knowledge of which forms to fill in but, really, no clue at all. It was a steep learning curve, not just from a legal perspective, but in terms of how to influence and persuade, manage vast amounts of detail and, frankly, avoiding having some kind of nervous breakdown.

I have my diary from that time. Six or seven people a day, normally with some story of misery or disappointment. Deportation, homelessness, imprisonment, domestic violence and things like that. It was a real shock to the system and, like many new lawyers in that type of practice, you just crack on, unsupervised, and hope for the best. I had no plan to speak of other than my first instinct; to make copious notes of everything, as though I was some kind of poultice; merely hearing it and penning it down, offering some kind of solution. In the early days of my career, the delicate balance which makes for successful legal outcomes wasn’t even on my radar. Looking back, I can well understand that the legal drills and habits are inadequate on their own. Legal outcomes are more likely to be achieved by sound instincts and empathy than tomes of law reports. I see now that the Law can be a creative force, but so easily, it can be a very destructive, even self-destructive, one.

I want to come off the fence and identify the habits and procedures of lawyers which get in the way of our client’s needs, and those which press the right buttons; something never touched upon, certainly when I trained. It’s a shame that, as a profession, we seem to plod, or even plough, on oblivious to the bigger picture or even the more discrete needs of our clients. I want to head off and absorb some of the negativity and turn that round.

 My aim is to take a good hard look at us lawyers and address the question: Law, what is good for?

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