Lawyers' paradise directive

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There are around one million lawyers in Europe. If they all lived together in a single country, it would be more populous than three other EU member states (Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta). And of course the country’s name would be Paradise. I understand that the European Commission is ready to publish its lawyers’ paradise directive, to bring this new state into being.

It leads me to reflect on whether you will be able at a glance to tell its citizens apart from those of other countries. Sometimes it is obvious from looks or accent whether someone is a Swede or a Greek. But many people fall in the muddled in-between. What about the future citizens of Paradise? They will tend to be more middle class and prosperous (but not all - there are lawyers in Spain and Italy who struggle to make a living because there are so many of them, and doubtless some legal aid lawyers in the UK fall in the same category). The gender balance will still not be equal: yes, roughly equal among the younger citizens, but the elderly will be more likely to be male. There will not be many immigrants in the population (including EU-born children of citizens born outside the EU).

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The lawyer-citizens will share the sense of exceptionalism that defines all nations. We Brits are born to rule; France is the centre of the universe; Japan is unique; America sneezes and the world catches a cold. I have been in many discussions with lawyers - indeed I have spent most of my working life surrounded by lawyers from all over the world - and the exceptionalism of the sense of the lawyer’s mission is a defining quality. (It has been punctured for me, though, by having spent time with groups of other professionals - doctors or vets, for instance - who also think themselves exceptional. Can we all be exceptional?)

Paradise will be a country where rule of law and human rights will be top of the agenda. The red tops’ headlines will not be about the latest reality TV star or talent show contestant, but the court triumph of a human rights lawyer in revealing clothing. We know from the political shenanigans in professional organisations that lawyers behave no better than anyone else in a democratic setting. But they are more interested in good behaviour than others: they talk about it more, and they often suffer for it, as we see in the abuses committed against lawyers around the world merely for acting for their clients. So overall I expect it to be a just - if self-congratulatory - place to live.

As I have noted before, it will not be a country with a great artistic inheritance. For some reason, lawyers do not go on to become great painters or writers, let alone musicians. It will not be good at sports, either. But it will produce politicians and actors by the bucketload. The politicians will soon abandon any content from their law courses (see Thatcher and Blair), and the actors will appear in plays written by people from outside their own country.

Lawyers obviously often share the stereotypical qualities of the nations from which they originate. So, British lawyers are generally pragmatic, and French lawyers take a philosophical approach. Is there, though, a lawyers’ character which overcomes national conditioning in the opposite direction? If we assume that lawyers are in love with words and speaking, do Finnish lawyers overcome their supposed national characteristic of silence and burst into argument at all possible times? We will only find out when the EU directive has been in force for some time.

Will lawyers get on with other lawyers - or will this be the most dissatisfied nation on earth, maybe leading to civil war? The incoming president of the American Bar Association has been in happy professional partnership with her lawyer-husband for decades, and I have met others in the same category. There are many all-lawyer marriages, even if the spouses do not work together. So the outlook is good.

Roll on the lawyers’ paradise directive, I say. Let the experiment begin!

Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents about one million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs

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