As you may have noticed, lawyers tend to be sensitive to whatever non-lawyers say about law. In general. People say the darnedest things, often inaccurate and sometimes inadvertently wise. When I get to New York, perhaps I can get in touch with some screenwriters who can tell me how they do it. Is it research or just (mis)perception of law and lawyers? Yes, we ask this question regularly.
Law and the bible
But perhaps I should consult British screenwriters regarding this following quote. By sheer coincidence I watched part of an episode of ’Midsomer Murders’ a while back on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Now this is one of those very British detectives, so plenty of dialogue. At one point, a detective is sitting across from, I believe it was an accountant. They were discussing some regulations regarding the release of confidential information. And this is where the inadvertent wisdom comes in from the detective:
‘The law is like the bible. You can always find one quote to contradict another.’
No definitive answers; interpretation is the game
If you go back to my earlier favorite quotes, you can surmise why this is one of my favorites. On one level, the detective may sound cynical about the law, but on another level he is just correct. Laws can contradict each other, because application of the law is not a matter of finding truth in law. Like it is not able to always produce justice. The game at which lawyers excel is called interpretation. It is not only that different laws or principles can point towards different position on any given issue. To the detriment of the reputation of lawyers, lawyers excel at squabbling about the proper interpretation of words. If your child corrects you that you said a particular word in the plural a few minutes earlier, instead of the singular now, you know you may have a potential lawyer in the house.
My former boss gave words to my own intuitions about the law. Besides not always – or hardly ever – producing truth or true justice, the application of the law is an argumentative practice. Seeking the right application of law is not a matter of finding truth in law, or the right interpretation of the law. It is about which argument and which interpretation prevails. Of course, those doing the arguing are bound by general principles, the laws of logic, and the underlying purposes of the law itself. And the arguments and interpretations will differ from whatever position one argues. Is it from the perspective of a judge, a governmental legal adviser, an NGO, or even an academic. One’s purpose, one’s desired end-result is different, and therefore the legal arguments and interpretations put forward. So, if your kid likes to argue, not just about words, but about outcomes, you know you may have a potential lawyer in the house. I think I have at least one at home. She thinks life is an argumentative practice.