Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lawyers Are Driven More By Emotion Than Reason

Let's be honest with ourselves, shall we?

When making hard decisions, do we rely more on reason or emotion?

I said 'be honest'. And I mean it. Search your feelings. Way down. Yes, dig deep into the truth is there, underneath all those layers of bullshit.

More often than not, we make choices based on emotion, not reason.

Not just for small things like what to eat for lunch. But also for big, big decisions. What car to buy. Where to work. Who to date.

In fact, big decisions are more so driven by emotion. After all, big decisions comes from complex problems. And what does our brain does in the face of complexity? It scrambles to unravel it, fails miserably, panics, and ultimately go "F**k this shit, I give up. eeny, meeny, miny, moe...".

"Heads, defendant goes free..."

Lawyers Are Liars

Are certain people more rational than others? Lawyers would like to think so.

But they're not. Lawyers are no better than the average person.

The only difference is that lawyers delude themselves (and others) into believing they're perfectly reasonable beings capable of making rational judgements.

But they're not. They're humans too, and humans are emotional beings.

The only difference is that they try very hard - too hard - to justify their decision by giving 'reasons'.

In other words, lawyers lie a lot - to others, and themselves.

When they say things are 'open to interpretation', what they're really doing is twisting words to fit their own world view of things.

When they draw out their 100-page 'grounds of decision', what they're really doing is coming up with excuses to justify a decision they had made even before they started penning the first page.

When they say they're applying the law to the set of facts, what they're really doing is covering up the real fact that they're making up the law to fit the facts.

Honesty Is The Best Policy

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making decisions based on emotions. Everyone does it. As much as we would like to be rational, our powers of reasoning have limits. And there may be lots of complex problems in the world that cannot be reasoned with.

The difference between a normal person and a lawyer is that a lawyer will never admit that he is swayed by emotion.

Deep inside, they're thinking:

"Witness P1 just seems like a shady jerk. Maybe it's the way he seems so polished in answering questions, as if he's been prepped by lawyers and rehearsing his lines dozens times over. I don't trust him, and what he says about the contract."

"This clause in the letter makes no absolute sense. Look at the font difference. They must've simply copy-pasted from some template. And look at the sambal stains by the side. Ew! Their lawyers must be morons. Let's just ignore this silly clause."

But instead of saying all that, lawyers and judges feel the need to come up with legalistic mumbo-jumbo like 'parol evidence rule' and 'factual matrix construction'. It's unnecessary. It's painful. It's like a parent explaining to a kid that they shouldn't swallow fruit seeds, otherwise a tree will grow on top of their head. Although their intentions are noble, their reasons - to put it plainly - suck.

Is it okay to protect the truth in layers of lies? No, it never is.

Because lies are often used to hide ugly truths.

Batman doesn't waste time with words - for justice should be swift and silent

Fake Reasons

The truth is, lawyers make decisions primarily based on emotions (just like any other human being). Thereafter, they come up with 'reasons' to justify their decision. Such reasons make sense, of course. But they're not the true reasons why they decide the way they did. They're just excuses. They're fake reasons.

It's not just lawyers, of course. Judges are also just as emotional. Don't be misled by their 100-page judgments. They probably got a lowly registrar or lawyer friend to write chunks of it. Even before the case has started, his mind is already made up. The trial from then on is just for show. So that it appears 'legit'.

Deep inside, he's thinking:

"I can't stand his political ideals. Rot in jail, sucker!"

"I know the chap on the right. We go a long way back. I owe him a lot. I better let him win this case then."

Yes, the truth hurts. Justice hurts even more.

Justice rocks!

Human After All

And that's why people distrust lawyers. Try as they might, people can still see through their bullshit.

If only lawyers could stop pretending they're rational beings. If only lawyers could be honest and humble about their own flaws.

But they won't.

Because humans lie. Because humans have ego.

And lawyers are human, after all.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

It's Not Where You Work, But What You Make Out Of Work

It's that time of the year again. Flocks of wide-eyed law students, months away from tossing their hats into the sky, rushing to send CVs out to law firms.

Pupillage spots can be competitive. An ugly-looking 'C' on your transcript, a slip of tongue during interview, could well spell rejection. Day and night, you fret endlessly about whether you're good enough to make the cut.

But for strong graduates, it's their choice for the picking. The tables are turned. Senior partners of 20+ years of experience waxing lyrical about the wondrous delights their firm has to offer (nice pay package, steep learning curve, late nights being a rarity, monthly merry-making sessions, etc.), trying hard to impress you instead. If you're in this spot, lucky you.

Then the real question that burns in your mind - bold as it is - would be: "Of all the good firms out there, which should I join?"

"Hmm... who to choose?"

Big Firm versus Small Firm

For most students, the starting point is the whole classic comparison between big firm versus small firm.

I've explained before why their distinction is rather blurry and over-exaggerated, hence shouldn't play much of a driving factor in your decision-making.

But when it came to my own chambering, I was very sure in my mind of joining a big firm. Why so?

My logic was simple: Bigger firms have the inherent advantage of being bigger. This means more options, more room to manoeuvre, more margin of error. At that point of time, I wasn't sure which area of practice I wanted to pursue. And I didn't want to pigeonhole myself in any. I also wasn't sure which boss I would enjoy working for. Big firms guarantee a variety of choices. Like a buffet. And who doesn't love a good buffet?

The Uncertainty Principle

Was I then practising opposite to what I'm now preaching?

Not really. I joined a big firm because of my own sheer uncertainty.

If you're certain about what you want to do and who you want to work for, then you may be justified in joining a small firm. For one, that's where the 'legends' are usually at (not surprisingly, 'legends' tend to branch out on their own). And secondly, even if your ideal boss is at a big firm, it's very rare to get your own choice of master. Certainty only works well with small firms specialising in a niche area (criminal, family, IP, etc.).

However, note that I added the words 'may be justified', because it's a huge caveat.

Ultimately, I believe that we can never be certain about anything, especially the future.

When I say that big firm is not very different from a small firm, it stems from uncertainty. You're never sure if criminal law is your cup of tea. You're never sure that the noble lawyer you read about in the papers is truly as noble in person. You're never sure if the firm has a ridiculous policy of limiting each staff to a single roll of toilet paper per month.

Of course, that doesn't mean certainty is an impossibility. You can gather enough information and experience to attain near certainty. Maybe you've interned in dozens of firms. Maybe your Dad and Uncle are lawyers privy to secrets of the trade unbeknownst to outsiders. Maybe you're a super genius who can predict the future.

But most of us plebeians aren't any of that. So we're never certain about anything, and should stop pretending that we are. Roughly, on average, only a third of pupils get retained or stay on post-chambering; after a year, the survivors will further whittle down by half or more. This shows that >50% graduates get it 'wrong' when choosing a firm to chamber at. (Of course, 'wrong' here is being used loosely, on the assumption that getting it 'right' means finding the ideal workplace, whereas some actually don't plan to stay on long-term anyway.)

As Socrates once said: "The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing".

I joined a big firm not knowing if I would f**k up. But I knew, with some degree of certainty, that even if I did f**k up, it would afford me chances to recover from my f**k-ups.

And as it turned out, I did f**k up.

Even Einstein f**ked up once in a while

You're The Captain Of Your Own Ship

Last weekend, over a lunch conversation, a prominent lawyer (clue: former Bar President) said that practice is "what you make out of it". Well said. My own chambering experience is living proof of it.

Suffice to say, for reasons I do not wish to repeat and honestly don't remember too much anymore, it did not went well. My master and I just didn't click. Maybe we both equally f**ked up. Maybe it was never meant to be. Anyway, that's not the important bit.

The important bit is where I dragged myself out of the hole. I never gave up. I dug my way into the hearts of other bosses who appreciated my skills and quirks. Where there's a will, there's a way.

You just have to push and push, till you get your way. And things will go your way, if you push hard enough.

We're the captain of our own ship. Sink or sail, it's all up to us.

Reason versus Intuition

In the end, all our decision-making comes down to both reason and intuition.

Still not sure where to chamber? Fine, here are two simple steps, and you're done:

Step 1: Make a shortlist of firms, note down what you know about them, compare their pros and cons. Stare at it, mull over it. Take as much as time as you need to analyse. This is where reason comes in.

Step 2: Destroy your notes. Delete the file, tear the paper apart, just don't look at it anymore. Close your eyes, think hard. Make your choice, and stick to it. This is where intuition comes in.

My own final shortlist narrowed to two big law firms. Both were just as good. Very little separated them. Which did I choose? And why?

I joined the one my intuition leaned towards. No reason why. After listening to my head, I just followed my heart. And that's all there is to it.

Did my intuition get it right? Well, I did f**k up with my first boss. But then I recovered. Anyway, who cares? The whole point of intuition is not to reason with it, before or after. Things worked out because I made the best out of the situation. And that's all that really matters.

Bonus tip: Don't work for the guy in black

You Reap What You Sow

Practice is what you make out it.

What you give, is what you get.

So stop worrying about where you're working at, and who you're working for. Wherever and whoever that is, just the make the best out of it.

For no matter how bad things out to be, you'll always come out good if you give it your best shot.

Monday, May 1, 2017

If Practice Is Harder Than Its Worth, Then Quit

The last time, I humble-bragged about practice being easy. It generated a lot of buzz, so I thought it's worth keeping the buzz, well, buzzing.

The loudest buzz I got was from people having the opposite problem: that they find practice hard.

It's okay. Practice can be both easy and hard, at different times, different places.

But when practice gets too easy or too hard, the outcome is the same: it's time to leave.

Coldplay puts it best

Is It Worth It?

Nothing ever comes easy in life. We all face hardships at every turn of our lives. And we need to work towards overcome them, and not give up at the first sign of trouble.

But you need to draw the line between bucking up and giving up, somewhere.

So where is that somewhere?

If what you're doing isn't worth the trouble anymore, then stop it.

Don't quit because your goal is hard to reach.

Instead, quit only when your goal - even if achieved - rewards you less than the effort you invested in it.

So what matters is not just the difficulty of attaining your goal, but how much that goal really means to you.

Start by measuring the value of your goal, by asking yourself: What's the best case scenario?

Next, quantify the work required to achieve that goal, by asking: How much do I need to put in to get this shit done?

Finally, compare the two, side by side.

If the volume of your work exceeds the value of your goal, then yes, quit by all means!

Time to quit

Image courtesy from

The Losing Formula

Why do people stick to jobs they hate? Why don't people know when to quit?

People can go wrong in two ways.

First, by underestimating the difficulty of our work. There are times when the internal and external forces are just stacked against us. We're not superhuman. We need to accept that there are some challenges beyond our abilities to overcome, no matter how hard we try. If you can't stand the waiting in court for hours, then maybe litigation isn't for you. If you're suffering every day at work, and such suffering is near terminal and curable only by a miraculous turn of events, then you know you've hit an impenetrable brick wall. Yes, it sucks to give up on your dreams due to reasons beyond your control, but that's life. Just move on to your other goals in life.

Secondly (less obviously but more importantly), by overestimating the rewards of our goal. Many things in life look prettier in our minds than in reality. TV can be deceiving, our seniors don't tell the whole truth. Law students get all excited about suiting up and delivering dramatic speeches in court defending hapless folks, only to find themselves buried in bundles of documents and fending off calls and emails from irate clients once they actually start practising. Yes, your hard work may still pay for the fast cars, Prada bags and Euro trips. But such rewards may not be enough to compensate for suffering for 5-6 days a week in a shitty, joyless job.

(Actually, you can go wrong in a third way: by both underestimating the difficulty of your work and overestimating the rewards of your goal. Then you're really screwed.)

This guy is screwed

Work It If It's Worth It

Stay or leave?

To answer that, just keep this simple mantra in mind:

Work it if it's worth it.

And if it isn't, then quit.