This article is written by Raphael and is reproduced with the permission of Raphael.
There is an old running joke that lawyers can’t count. A joke that lawyers themselves embrace in good nature, so much so that many may even believe it to be true.
What load of nonsense! Lawyers should know how to count, and count well. If they don’t, then they suck as lawyers. There are no two ways about it. Previously, when I was in practice, I took meticulous care in breaking down a client’s claim (or claim against my client) into hard numbers. Right now, I get annoyed when external counsels fail to spot anomalies or keep pushing back queries to me, on things that can be detected and resolved by anyone who has basic grasp of logic and mathematics.
This is not a rant against lawyers. Rather, this is a timely, well-intentioned open message to the lawyers (so that they treat their ability to count seriously) and to the layman (so that they be wary of lawyers who don’t).
1. Law is based on logic
1+1=2. That’s mathematics. Drop the numerical digits, and the result will not differ. If I have one apple on my right hand, and another apple in my left, I therefore have two apples. That’s logic.
People often lament that studying law is hard, since it involves heavy memory work. That’s not quite true. Yes, most legal principles are laden with tons of legal authorities (full judgments of previous cases – that can run from 10 to 50 pages on average – written by judges to explain the reasoning behind their decisions). But when you think about it, most legal principles are ultimately based on logic.
Take contract, for instance. If a person breaches a contract, such person must compensate the other person, usually by doing something (such as paying money) to restore the innocent person to the position had the contract been properly performed. If they sign a written contract, then later verbally agree to make changes and act on these changes, neither person will be allowed to go back on their second verbal agreement and insist on the strict terms of the original written contract.
Next, take tort. If you buy a bottle of ginger beer, only to find a dead snail inside, you are entitled to sue the manufacturer. If you enter a supermarket, and the ceiling collapses onto your head, you can sue the owner. In both cases, there is no need for the victims to prove that the manufacturer or the owner neglected to take steps to maintain the safety of their products or premises. The facts speak for themselves. The burden shifts to the defendants to explain why they should not be held responsible.
Take away all the fancy jargons like ‘estoppel’ and ‘res ipsa loquitor’, and law becomes simple to understand. A former boss once told me that where you perceive there is injustice, there is surely a legal authority to address such injustice. That’s how a legal mind ought to function. Start with what you think the legal principle is, then search for the legal authority to support it – and not vice versa. Or in scientific terms – start with a hypothesis, then find the proof.
Complex principles are simply made up of basic principles. Legal solutions are deduced by weighing the facts of the case and legal principles together. It’s not exactly an arithmetic exercise (unless you’re calculating damages), but it’s certainly an exercise grounded on logical thinking.
A great lawyer is a master of logic. A master of logic certainly knows how to count. Work that logical chain backwards, and it follows that a lawyer who doesn’t know how to count well makes a poor lawyer.
2. Law involves probabilities and predictions
In real life, legal issues aren’t exactly like mathematical problems, in that there is not necessarily one right answer to every legal issue (although Ronald Dworkin begs to differ). Take the supermarket example. What if the victim was a burglar who broke into the supermarket in the dead of night? Would it be right for him to demand compensation for his injuries?
The hardest part of a lawyer’s job is not so much to identify the applicable legal principles (for and against his client’s case), but to inform his client with a high degree of confidence, if not certainty, the relative strength of the client’s case. Some lawyers shirk from giving firm answers, often taking refuge behind vague catchphrases like “good, arguable case” and “remote likelihood of liability”.
What do these phrases even mean? Can they not be expressed in raw numbers, like percentages, which everyone can relate to? “No,” lawyers doth protest, “because there are too many variables and permutations”. Fair statement, but isn’t it a lawyer’s job to sift through legal complexities? So what if there are conflicting legal authorities and scarcity of evidence (internal factors), or that the judge is hopelessly incompetent and the opposing party is represented by a sneaky lawyer (external factors)? No matter how many variables are there, probabilities of legal outcomes can always be quantified, if one analysed hard enough.
Whenever queried by a client, I have never held back from expressing my estimation on the success rate of a case. Either I specify a number (60%) or at the very least, a narrow range (60%-70%). If the case is complex – say, it involves five issues – and if the client really wants to know, I could even go a step further and predict which way the judge will rule on all five issues. That’s how meticulous and confident I can be.
Not all my predictions turn out to be accurate, of course. Nevertheless, I do make many more right calls than wrong ones. A few of my superiors have remarked that I have a good sense of judgment and intuition. Occasionally, they even frame their strategies loosely based on my predictions.
A great lawyer dares to make bold predictions on legal outcomes. After all, what every client really wants to know is not what the law is, but what does he stand to win or lose.
3. Law is about managing risk and client expectations
Law is not built on absolute formulas and fixed variables. There is always information hidden from us, and outcomes happening beyond our control. No legal solution is completely free from the element of risk.
Risk – now, that’s a concept that everyone understands. To the layman, law is merely a means, not an end by itself. There is a host of legal instruments created specifically for the purpose of risk-management, such as mortgage (managing the risk of a debtor defaulting) and insurance (managing the risk of one falling sick or injured).
For example, take a simple contract of goods. Your client is the buyer. He pays a deposit to the foreign seller. The seller fails to deliver the goods, and absconds with the deposit. Your client is livid. He instructs you to sue the seller. But you advise him not to sue, write-off the loss, and move on with life – your preliminary detective work revealed that the seller is a shell company devoid of any assets. Your opinion does little to placate him. “Is there no way the law can help me recover my money?” he rages.
Actually, there is. Or rather, there was. For this transaction gone bad, it’s a bit too late. But for future transactions, there are a few legal devices that could be used to avert this from happening again. The easiest way is not to pay a deposit, and agree on cash-on-delivery (COD) terms. Or instead of a deposit, your client could have provided the seller a letter of credit (LC) issued by a bank which undertakes to pay the seller only if the conditions of the contract are fulfilled. Of course, there are drawbacks – the seller may hike up the price for COD transactions, procuring an LC would incur additional cost.
It is not enough for a lawyer to identify risks, but also to compare and quantify them. Saying that risk-management is not within your expertise is poor excuse. Lawyers are expected to have multi-disciplinary skills. A lawyer is mindful of practical matters – the effectiveness of foreign courts to enforce judgments, the reliability of trustees or stakeholders handling your client’s assets, and the behaviourial traits of your client’s counter-parties. Through a mixture of common sense and experience, a lawyer must warn his client of all possible pitfalls on a specific matter, flagging key areas with varying levels of risk (e.g. green, yellow or red).
A great lawyer is able to see the multiple facets to a legal problem, and not just the legal technical facet. He appraises his client of legal risks in practical and economic terms, and recommends cost-effective solutions to minimise those risks.
Beyond The Law
Why are lawyers so averse to numbers, probabilities and risks? Perhaps it’s because lawyers, by their very nature, tend to be perfectionist. They fear the unknown, and hate to lose and be proven wrong.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fortune favours the brave. Win some, lose some. That’s life. Lawyers should not be afraid to take chances in making bold predictions and strong recommendations. If one is truly sound in logic, one will eventually make more right calls than wrong ones, and help more clients prosper than suffer. After all, according to the law of large numbers, results of random events will even out close to average expected value over the course of numerous attempts. If you’re good, statistics will be on your side.
So lawyers, please stop thinking that you don’t need to count, and start learning how to count. The better you count, the more your clients will count on you.
For the first time, I will be sharing with you in a LIVE ONLINE webinar series
Topic: What Can You Do With A Law Degree? An Overview Of The Career Paths In The Malaysian Legal Industry.
Date & Time: Saturday, November 16, 2013 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Fees: Free of Charge (FOC)
Registration Link: http://foundermethod.com/eddie-law/
Venue: It’s online and it’s a LIVE interactive session
Supporting Devices: Any laptops or mobile devices as long as you have wifi connection. For mobile devices, please download the “gotomeeting” application.
I am a lawyer and have been in both private practice and in-house.
5 years ago, i.e. in 2008, I started eLawyer.com.my and I have been helping lawyers to secure better jobs until today.
Drawing from my experience as a private practitioner and later as an in-house counsel, I have successfully placed lawyers with numerous firms and corporations, including but not limited to pupils, legal assistant, partners, legal executives, legal managers and head of legal.
Throughout the years in the legal recruitment business, I received many queries asking for legal career advice, such as the following:
“I am keen to do law after SPM, but how is it like to be a lawyer? What subjects should I pay attention to during my secondary school?”
“How much does a lawyer earns?”
“Which law school should I go to?”
“What are the career options or paths if I take up law or legal related studies?”
“I failed my Certificate in Legal Practice Exam (CLP). What are my career options?”
“After practising for 2 to 3 years, I am not sure if I still want to continue lawyering”
“What are my options if I leave private practice?” “What should I take note of for an interview?”
“How can I make my CV more presentable?”
Various questions come from different groups of people who ask me what are the career options or path that will be best for their future.
Some are SPM students that are uncertain whether law is right for them …
Some are fresh graduates of law school …
Some are young lawyers still working in law firms but are feeling lost in their career …
Some are mid-level lawyers but want to make a career move or change of working environment …
Some are senior lawyers who would like to slow down their career pace…
I tried to answer all their questions by phone, email or sometimes even face-to-face communication but it’s just bits and pieces of information that I am able to provide whenever time permits … If you wish to find out the COMPLETE OVERVIEW of what are the legal career market, career options, career path, interview tips and opportunities the legal industry has to offer, please do not miss out my webinar at the below date and time.
Register and interact LIVE with me … I am here to assist you in your legal career. I will try my best to address as many of your queries as possible.
Do you feel like your income is always not enough to cover your expenses? You just couldn’t save enough money in your bank account. Well, I started notice the importance of financial planning 5 years ago after attended a seminar. Throughout these years, I started to read on financial planning related books and talking to people who have good track-records in this respect.
Though I must admit that I am not an expert and I know very little about financial planning or wealth management, but I always believe in few notions, e.g. “live within your means”, “set financial goals” and “be a smart consumer”.
In view of being a smart consumer, recently there is a website, iMoney.my which focus on providing financial information to people like me, so that people are more well-informed about financial products.
I find this website useful and below are my observations after visiting the website:
1. Information on various financial products – this covers car loan, personal loan, housing loan, credit cards, fixed deposit, insurance and money others. All these products relate to almost everyone of us as you are bound to use any of them.
2. Time saving – the comparison of various financial institutions offers save my time to do market research on a particular financial product. After visiting the website, I just came to realize that I am not getting the best FD interest rate from my current bank and in fact, Bank Rakyat is offering 4% per annum of FD interestrate.
3. Financial tips – you can also find good articles about various financial planning/management tips.
4. Good legal compliance – the website seems in compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which is a relatively new law governing the manners of collection, usage, disclosure, storing, transferring, deletion of personnel data. Though the PDPA has been passed by our parliament but the enforcement date has yet to be confirmed. Another good practice is that I realize is that the webmaster respect your privacy and does not correct your email or any of your personal data whenever not necessary.
5. Response time – after visiting the website, I also came to realize that in fact, my current credit card provider does not give me the best cash rebate based on my spending habits, hence, I applied for another credit card via this website. However, I found the response time was not satisfactory as based on their FAQ clause 13, the response time should be within 24 hours of the next business day after receiving users’ inquiries , but after waited for 2 business days I still did not hear from them. Thereafter, I decided to email their customer service and I received an almost immediate call from their end to apologize of not reverting to me earlier due to system technical issues. Overall the experience of using their services was still a pleasant one.
I want to congratulate the team behind this website (though I do not know them personally) to have successfully putting up a very useful and informative first of its kind financial website in Malaysia and across the region. I can imagine the challenges that they might face when dealing with so many difference financial institutions.
Last week, I contributed an article to the Star’s Putik Lada column. It is a bi-weekly column of the Bar’s National Young Lawyers Committee featuring articles and viewpoints of young lawyers from across the country.
I wanted to share how important it is to have passion for what you do. Hopefully the message still comes across whether you are in legal practice or just working in general.
A passion that keeps them in practice
Legal practice is never boring. The law is ever-evolving. It forces you to keep learning the latest legal developments as well as to update yourself on the current affairs in the relevant industries.
A FEW months ago, I was moderating a session at the Young Lawyers Convention 2011 on the working conditions of young lawyers.
With me were three Speakers with different levels of seniority at the Bar.
In that session, questions were posed by various lawyers highlighting their perspective on the practice and concerns on issues such as long working hours and low pay.
Midway through that lively discussion, a question was posed to the four of us on what motivated us to still stay on in practice. The first Speaker spoke of the thrill of litigation and being up on his feet in court. He described that feeling as almost intoxicating and that continued to spur him on in practice.
Another Speaker shared his perspective on how he enjoyed being able to manage a matter from start to finish and he enjoyed the sense of satisfaction in being able to assist his client on legal matters.
The third Speaker talked of enjoying the intellectual challenge of practising law and the joy of still read- ing and learning the law.
I then spoke on how I could relate to each and every aspect highlighted by the Speakers.
I expanded on my personal experience which I will share in this article.
Firstly, I touched on how I had ended up doing law.
Unlike a number of lawyers I know, I never had a deep yearning to study law when I was in secondary school or college. Without quite knowing what I should study in university, I settled for doing a law degree since I thought it would give me a good foundation to go into other fields if I wished to.
While doing my law degree, I enjoyed studying the subjects but my desire to become a lawyer only crystalised when I sat for the English Bar. With the Bar’s practical training, I then knew I wanted to be a litigator as I wanted to put forward arguments in court.
When I returned to Kuala Lumpur, I sought out a pupillage position to do litigation. I ended up starting my legal career at a law firm which was a very good fit for me. By chance, I ended up practising litigation in an area of law – that of company law – which I had no knowledge of at the beginning.
But it has since become a subject I am very interested in and passionate about.
Legal practice is not easy. Similar to the experiences shared by the other lawyers at that working conditions session, I have gone through periods of late nights and working on weekends which are almost de regiueur in the legal profession.
I have been frustrated with the delay in court proceedings and I have also many times felt aggrieved about low salaries. However, a lot of that frustration melts away once I set foot in the courtroom.
All the long hours somehow pay off when I am able to put forward my legal arguments in court or when I am on my feet cross-examining a key witness at a trial.
There is an adrenaline rush of submitting in court and that sense of satisfaction of having argued a good case.
Legal practice is never boring. The law is ever-evolving. It forces you to keep learning the latest legal developments as well as to update yourself on the current affairs in the relevant industries.
What I shared with the audience that day was that if they were unable to relate to any of the narratives shared by the speakers and I on why we were still in practice, then it may be a sign that some form of change is needed.
Maybe a change in the law firm they are working in, perhaps a move into setting up their own law practice or even a switch in the area of law they were practising.
Without passion for what you are doing, it is difficult to soldier on in practice since the profession demands so much out of you.
Long hours are a necessity in order to hone our skills and irregular working hours are the norm since we are answerable to the demands of our client.
With a tinge of pessimism or realism (depending on how you look at it), legal practice in Malaysia is also not going to make you incredibly rich and I do not expect to draw an astronomically high pay.
So to last in the profession, I would think we need to enjoy what we are doing.
There is a saying that once you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life.
This brings back into focus the question posed from the floor that day – Why am I still in practice?
It is because I am still passionate about the work I do.
Disclaimer:Eddie Law is currently not involved in legal practise.This Site is provided for your information only to help you understand some of your legal rights. It should not be relied on as legal advice because it is not a substitute for an in person consultation with a lawyer. Nothing transmitted to or from this Site constitutes the establishment of an lawyer-client relationship between you or any lawyer. Eddie Law shall not be liable for any lost suffered by you as a result of relying on the information herein.