Lawyers Around the World

August 12, 2011

No one can deny that the face of the legal profession is changing. From the demand for technological efficiency, to the domination of large do-everything law firms, to the declining job market, the legal world is undergoing a major transformation that will doubtlessly produce a very different profession in the next century. In this age of globalization, it is natural that the globalization of law would be one of these new developments. Therefore as lawyers begin to travel across the globe, through a myriad of diverse cultures, traditions, and perceptions, it is interesting to consider what they may find. Will people they encounter embrace them or snub them? Will they receive respect out of admiration? Or out of fear?

In the United States, though stereotypes about "gilded" lawyers do prevail in some circles, the general perception among young people is more romantic than cynical, and more justice oriented than corrupt. Despite decreasing job availability, increasing numbers head to law school each year, prestigious institutions of respect and credibility. Even with the rigor and challenging issues faced daily in their practice, many professionals years later describe those law school years as "the most intellectually exciting" moment of their lives. It is an intellectual stimulation that many seek to replicate many times over in a search for solutions and justice for the plight of their clients. That is not to say that there aren't lawyers in this country whose motives are at times called to question. And that is not to say that the changing landscape in the law, while exciting, isn't also disconcerting at times. But the image of the profession in the United States is still overwhelmingly positive. One still often hears parents speak proudly of their children becoming lawyers or doctors, both being considered noble and rewarding professions filled with those willing to dedicate their lives to helping others.

lawyer_jax.jpg"Lie, cheat, and steal...always," replied Mohammed Alawadhi, an engineering student at Arabian Gulf University when asked what it meant to be a lawyer in Bahrain, a small kingdom nestled beside Saudi Arabia. "They deal with each other to take money from clients and keep postponing the trial...Being a lawyer is a very hard job. I could never do it- my self-conscious could never let me. Because either I become poor or a filthy rich liar," he continued. But what if someone is seriously wronged? Who will fight for them? "Then," he said, "the person is the sheep and the system is the shepherd." In a pole of university-aged Bahraini, most answered that lawyers were "unethical" or "schemers" rather than honest. Only one young man said, "if a person has ethics and fears God, they won't be a liar...many are liars but some have ethics and are not." Overall, it seems that the status of lawyers in Bahrain is discouraging. Young people believe that it is a profession that naturally puts its adherents in morally ambiguous situations, and therefore most people who pursue it must choose to do wrong in order to continue practicing. More prestigious professions in Bahrain, and many other regions of the Middle East, are medicine and engineering.

In Italy, becoming a lawyer is a process that must be started early, and the complicated system is a deterrent for young perspective lawyers. One must first complete the undergraduate law degree for three years, then the graduate degree, then a two year "apprenticeship" during which the student must participate in a minimum of twenty trials per six month period, and finally the student will take the bar exam to see if they can become a lawyer. Lawyers are then regulated on a regional scale. Compared to the idealism inherent in the nature of most lawyers in the United States, Italian lawyers feel far less romantic about their jobs. "It isn't worth studying so many years if you look at the paycheck...In Italy, you have to struggle a lot in the first years of work as a lawyer," explained Davide Zanini, a graduate student in Milan's Università Luigi Bocconi.

Half the world away in Brazil, young people generally see a glint of hope in the law. Sometimes the answer is as simple as linguistics; in Portuguese, the word for the law profession is "direito," which also means "right" or "rights." Lana Aben- Athar, a law student in one of Latin America's most prestigious universities- Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro- will declare that the government and police force of Brazil are inalterably corrupt. She admits that "Order and Progress," the positivist motto sewn into every Brazilian flag, is a statement inapplicable to the country, and that she does not believe it will improve. However, she puts great faith and enthusiasm into her studies; "I love it," she says, "Being a lawyer in Brazil means having the responsibility to protect based on what is fair. We have a Constitution to guide us. The [type of] law that protects the worker is the most popular here...the general opinion about lawyers is that they do an awesome job."

Taking all this into consideration, the changing façade of litigation becomes an even more complex and captivating puzzle. As American lawyers go abroad, perhaps their images will be glorified as monuments at home, banished from China, saluted in South Africa, and ignored in Spain.

For more than 27 years, The Law Offices of Gretchen Myers has represented individuals and families in St. Louis and the surrounding areas who are seriously injured through no fault of their own and need to find justice.