Why Lawyers Are Like Lobsters (and other lessons on surviving in the law)

Why Lawyers Are Like Lobsters (by Marcus Elliott, LexisNexis NZ Ltd, Wellington, 2016) is an often amusing and always highly readable collection of essays and articles about the law and legal practice.

Why Lawyers Are Lke Lobsters

The collection has been collated into fourteen categories, the titles of which give the flavour of the book. They include: “How to be a lawyer without hating yourself very much”, “The law firm: utopia or myopia”, “In defence of things that are often unfairly maligned, criticised or the subject of general angst in the practice of law”, “Ethical unethics” and, the final part, “Lawyers and love”.

The author tells us in his “Disclaimer, Indemnity and Release From All Liability” (prudently inserted at the beginning of the book) that by reading the book “you will not only survive in the law but you will be a happy, healthy, wealthy, successful, socially responsible lawyer”. But “if none of this happens the author will not be liable for any loss or damage which you may suffer”. In particular, “By purchasing this book you agree to release me from all and any liability and to indemnify me for everything”.

My lawyer’s training kicks in here, for clearly the rule of construction contra proferentem will apply (it is essential in writing anything about the law to use Latin tags wherever possible). I did not purchase the book: it was given to me for the purpose of a review. So the exclusion does not apply to me. But, happily for the author, I am not thinking of suing him.

Let us look at some of the articles and essays. Part One (How to be a lawyer etc) contains a number of entertaining pieces. They include Socrates taxing a lawyer sitting in a café on New Year’s Day about his ambitions for the year ahead and what he actually does; a bulldog lawyer who “bares teeth, slobbers on letters and shows no respect for others” explaining the virtues of a vigorously vigorous defence; the author’s candidacy for best least annoying barrister of the year (so-called on the basis that working night and day for one client involves annoying and neglecting 10 or more others); and the superhero lawyer with special supernatural powers, battling one antagonist after another.

Part Two (How to survive the perils of practice) is equally entertaining, while it also, dare one say, contains some underlying truths. So “Winners, losers and imposters” recognises that “deep down, many lawyers are aware that their expensive advice is, in a way, an educated guess”.

Again, “When I told you I was wrong, I was wrong” explains that whether you are right or wrong in the law doesn’t depend on what you say but on what position you occupy. “The lawyer’s inferno” charts the lawyer’s unstoppable descent into ever-increasing pain, not unlike the path described by Dante in the Inferno where the protagonist descends step by step into Hell.

“The seven principles of highly successful mistake-making” applies such principles as “Love error”, “Make it big”, “Do it as often as possible” and, crucially, “Relax and enjoy it” to the typical law firm. The principles ensure that one will then be free from the fear of mistakes and free to try absolutely anything. And, as the author observes, “how will you find out whether you can fly if you don’t throw yourself off a cliff?”

A word about the piece giving the book its title. Lawyers are like lobsters because the task of a judge in extracting coherence, precision and brevity from a lawyer is comparable to the task of a chef in boiling or partially boiling a lobster. Those seeking further elucidation must read the book.

Dipping into some of the other parts, we find, inter alia (note Latin tag again), the minutes of a meeting of partners extracted from a defective shredder by an aggrieved former employee posing as a shredder repairman, the benefits to the human race of time sheets, a defence of the use of puffery in marketing by lawyers, developing haiku law in place of a law degree, the total fool’s quick guide to unethics prepared for the International Society of Unethical Lawyers, and the many opportunities for profit for the Scrooge-like Christmas Lawyer, sitting in his office on Christmas Eve waiting for the phone to ring.

Not everything is aimed to be amusing. Part Nine (Daring advocates and bold advocacy) includes some excellent advice to lawyers about the effective use of words and the importance of brevity and clarity.

It also tells some very interesting stories, such as the career crisis suffered by Edward Marshall Hall after he crossed the first Viscount Northcliffe, and the poor advocacy of Robert Jackson, the lead American prosecutor at Nuremburg, when cross-examining Hermann Goering.

Part Twelve (Lawyers and Life) starts with the author’s experience when sitting in a café in Christchurch at the time when the earthquake of 22 February 2011 struck, killing 185 people. The description of this catastrophe rather stands apart from the rest of the book.

The widely varied articles and essays collected together in the book are all entertaining and/or interesting in their different ways. Many are very funny. Some are more successful than others but I liked them all.

Professor Todd, who kindly wrote this review, has written extensively about the law of torts and the law of contract. In a new departure he also has written Leading Cases in Song (2013), a light-hearted rewriting of some leading decisions of the courts as songs, with music and illustrations. Many of the songs have been recorded, with singers from the Canterbury Opera Club, and are available online or as a CD. For more information see www.leadingcasesinsong.com.  

Why Lawyers Are Like Lobsters (and other lessons on surviving in the law) is available to purchase from the ADLS bookstore.

Price: $43.48 plus GST ($50.00 incl. GST)*

Price for ADLS Members: $39.13 plus GST ($45.00 incl. GST)*

(* + Postage and packaging)

Click here to purchase this book, or contact the ADLS bookstore by phone: 09 306 5740, fax: 09 306 5741 or email: thestore@adls.org.nz

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