Above all, we must do no harm

October 16, 2022

I had a very vivid and terrible dream last week. It was in fact a truly dystopian nightmare and no fun at all.

I dreamt that I was an enabler for a legal profession that had properly fucked up justice, fucked up any meaningful sense of ethics and fucked up saving the planet. Lawyers had become facsimile lobbyists and plausible apologists for those destroying the planet. We had become a profession that had swapped professional independence for arch indifference and found an ally in sophistry to cloak our eyes from the crimes of our clients.

In my dream I was at a Hollywood-esque awards ceremony and surrounded by brilliant billionaire lawyers. The emerging theme of the evening was that we could make anyone, break anyone, and do anything we liked for whoever we liked. We could do this because we were the special ones, self-anointed in our own infallible judgement and dripping in the obsequiousness of our success.

Acceptance speech after acceptance speech celebrated the breaking down of cultures, traditions and societal norms to release the power of self-interest. There was no irony, no self-awareness and above all no accountability.

Lawyers in this grim universe were not above the law, but outside of it. They were self-appointed puppet masters, one hand guiding the unimaginably rich and the terrifyingly powerful, the other hand holding their noses.

Rules and laws were respected, of course, because that was the game. You had to know the law brilliantly in order to know how it might not apply to anything your clients wanted to do. But then, should a law become just a little bit too inconvenient, the fee for lobbying and promoting a change to the law was even more valuable.

In this nightmare I was sat next to lawyers drunk on arrogance, but their words were also utterly reasonable, measured and knowing. The secret of their success revealed in subtle, but obvious behavioural tics.

These lawyers, of course, would never lie. However, they knew that distraction, diversion and a total command of language was key.

These lawyers, of course, would never cover anything up. However, legal privilege and confidentiality were their legitimate tools often deliberately misunderstood, so that in combination with a limitless client budget, their clients’ rights became the expedient lubrication for delay and obfuscation.

These lawyers, of course, would never take any steps against an opponent that they should not take. However, they would casually summon up the grotesque reputations of those they represented, as a service to their opponents who might not otherwise fully comprehend the ferociousness and fear the fight might unleash upon them.

These lawyers, of course, knew that they could not defend the indefensible. However, they would represent anyone over anything, and let the justice system and their clients wealth, test the boundaries of expediency and the limits of their opposers resources.

As communities burned, as institutions failed and as the planet lost its grip on sustainable living, these lawyers celebrated their immunity from scrutiny because they were the keepers of ethicality.

How dare anyone challenge them or their clients’ rights to have access to the full power and majesty of the law.

Bloated on their windfall fees, these lawyers did not have to see the consequences of their clients’ actions. These lawyers wore this wilful blindfold uncaring that principles that once protected us all, were now only used to cheat humanity and all we had achieved as a society.

My nightmare evening ended with an award for me. For a lifetime of turning the other way. My citation was read to pompous appreciation. The line that jolted me back into consciousness and out of this terrible dream, was this:

“For his unwavering support for our ethical rules that permit us all to sleep well at night. We all know that without our ethical rules, it would be impossible for us achieve anything we have celebrated here this evening.” 

I sat in my chair as the room then rose in standing acclamation for my contribution to their success. I was unable to move under the burden of knowing that I had resolutely defended ethical rules that had given permission for all these hellish things to unleashed on all of us.

But thank goodness it was just a dream.

It was 3am and I was now wide awake in my hotel room, deeply, deeply disturbed by my dream. Palms sweating and my body shivering with the threat of what my mind had turned over; I did not want to go back to sleep in case I returned to the nightmare. So, I made a cup of tea and I wrote this blog, hugely, hugely relieved that my dream was not real.

I hope to goodness that we will never, ever become so bent out of shape that we see our ethics as a means to exploit situations for our own success. But, perhaps the time has come to add one more line to our guiding rules:

“…and that above all, we must do no harm”.

Take care. Paul xx

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