If law students can remember three simple truths, they will be well on their way to set right what has been done wrong.
LAST week, I spoke to law students at the University of Malaya. It was the first time I had been invited to speak at a public university since I left the Government six years ago.
It was an honour for this 64-year-old man and I wish to thank the students and the faculty members for the kind opportunity.
I could have made a more inspired and longer speech but I knew the students had a busy programme drawn up for the night. I felt that their time would be better spent not listening for too long to an ex-legal practitioner.
So I told them of three simple truths: the first was my regret that I never had the chance to be a student of the University of Malaya because there was no law faculty there during my time.
I reminded them that they were blessed, as lawyers-in-the-making, because they would be in a position to make a difference for the betterment of society: to fight for the poor, for justice, and set right what has been done wrong. The law is an occupation that is unique and special.
It’s an honourable profession, but I stressed that the profession could not make them honourable. Rather, it was the other way around: they had to make the profession honourable.
I also gave them the usual advice about having to work hard if they wanted to be successful. There are, however, varying degrees of “hard work” and they just have to be smart at figuring out the way that suits their needs.
I talked about the quickly changing global legal environment and how legal practitioners must learn to adapt. Even the Bar Council must adapt and improvise quickly if it is to keep being useful to members.
Students, especially, must not have a blinkered view of the profession and must be willing to see the challenges posed, for example, by international law firms especially with regard to keeping legal talent within our country.
As lawyers, we are trained to do justice: the human kind of justice. We have received no training in theology and must endeavour to craft laws to serve humanity and the myriad problems people face in their daily lives.
If there are weaknesses in the legal system, we just have to try and work harder. Justice is within our reach if all of us work for it. If there are injustices, it’s not the answer to seek the implementation of God’s laws.
If society has failed to do justice, then we have to do more. God’s laws are for God to implement, as Allah has promised on the Day of Judgement.
We are not All-Knowing and All-Compassionate. We are fallible and prone to error because we are human. Perfection is not what we are made of. Perfect justice is an idea that is pointless to strive for. If we can together offer human justice to society, that will be good enough an ambition to live for.
Finally, I told them that they must not be afraid. Fear is not a useful tool to have as a lawyer. If they work for the Government, then they must not fear the Government. If they work for a corporation, then they must not fear the bosses. Truth is fearless.
Every one of us is capable of making a positive change for the country. It’s wrong to say that because we are “nobody” and have no influence, we can therefore make no difference. The only thing we need is the willingness to speak up, and to stand up and be counted.
The dinner was held at a posh five-star hotel, and I suppose the law firms must have sponsored payment of the hefty bills. They probably had an opportunity to scout for the best talent that night.
While that’s a fair quid pro quo and a perfectly practical arrangement, I hope there will be students from that night who will not be too enamoured by the success of the big law firms.
I hope there are those who will be willing to work for smaller firms or even start their own outfits so they can fight for justice, for the poor and the ordinary Malaysian in the street.
They can be successful too, and even grow big, but in their own special way. The STAR Home Opinion Columnist All Kinds of Eveything May 8, 2015
> Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, true to his Kelantan roots, is highly passionate about practically everything, hence the name of this column. Having established himself in the legal fraternity, Zaid ventured into politics and has been on both sides of the political divide. The former de facto Law Minister at one time is now a legal consultant but will not hesitate to say his piece on any current issue. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are entirely his own.