If confession is good for the soul — a proposition about which I'm still unsure — I have to confess one more time to having once been a lawyer. Not that there's anything wrong with being a lawyer per se, which is a Latin phrase meaning "in itself."
Lawyers are, perhaps, the only people who still say per se. They use it because they can justify charging $500 an hour for spurious opinions if they sprinkle their conversations with Latin. I use it because I like italics and because some habits are hard to break. But I'd like to make it perfectly clear that Mr. Barnett doesn't pay me any more for using a dead language in my column.
As I was saying, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with being a lawyer. Many of them do good deeds and some of them are darned fine people. And, truth be told, much of the social stigma they carry stems from a gross misunderstanding of their role in the justice system, fostered by a group even more reviled — politicians — and people who have been fortunate enough to never need their services except in some perfunctory, clerical way.
Now I know this is going to sound cynical but you'll just have to trust me that it isn't meant to be and, if you've been roughed up by the rigours of legal training, it's really not cynical at all... just professionally amoral. Justice is a word we all use and think we know the meaning of. Justice is a noun that means, more or less, something that's, well, just, right, equitable, moral, lawful. It is a concept of morality based on ethics, natural law — whatever that is — equity and, in its most twisted incarnation, religion.
But justice is jargon in the legal trade. There's nothing pejorative about jargon, it's just ordinary words that have a special context within a given profession. All professions employ jargon both as shorthand and as mystery, in much the same way all exclusive clubs have secret handshakes and bizarre initiation rites.
Justice in the legal profession is a derivative term. Justice is what you end up with if two sides go to court, engage in battle, adhere to the rules of civil or criminal procedure and have a judge or jury render a verdict. Justice is the result. Whether the result is right or wrong — whatever those terms mean — is meaningless. Justice was done when the game comes to an end.
Hmmm... okay, even I have to admit that does sound cynical. Doesn't change the fact that it's true though.
Before, and for a long time during my legal education, I thought there was a precision to the law, a rationality to precedent that stood outside the temporal notions of right and wrong and could, with sufficient study, be divined from the often stilted language of legal opinions.