Every so often I meet a client who clearly has made the effort to study his case, has considered the merits of his case and has gone over and beyond to do some further research online.
In this day and age Attorneys too from time to time make use of various websites, which provide great feedback by other Attorneys or merely use google as a search engine to obtain the latest report on a specific case or specific subject.
The question I then ask myself is, is it possible for anyone to be google lawyer?.
At first glance this subject seems quite feasible. If a person is of sound mind and integrity, is willing to put in long hours and even nights if necessary, has the ability to study multiple cases and acts simultaneously, memorise a great number of them and then summarise all of the aforementioned into a coherent argument, after of course applying same to the case study at hand, surely he could be able to put together a “case”.
Then there is the issue regarding actually remembering all of the aforementioned and being able to argue this before an open court and then “at the drop of a dime” be able to adapt and “duck and weave” the tremendous onslaught by your opponent and attack with an even greater onslaught in order to persuade the Magistrate/Judge that your version is beyond reasonable doubt the most plausible version.
As an afterthought it should however be mentioned that being an Attorney does not necessarily imply that you should be a litigant. There are a great number of fields, which do not require any litigation, but which do require a further set of specialised skills.
I guess the same could then be said in respect of any profession, whether it be a quantity surveyor, teacher, doctor, or even a heart surgeon (whom I suspect might be in desperate need of a heart transplant at the mere mention of this possibility!).
Although this issue at least seems debatable, the answer is however found in the countless disadvantages and negative effects this could have on the profession and society as a whole.
At times a client would provide me with a case study or an argument, possibly found on the internet, where I am literally taken aback by the content and implications of the argument provided.
The main issue is the fact that google does not separate between different justice systems and merely provides you with an automated response, not necessarily applicable to our justice system.
Although many justice systems enjoy the same heritage from the roman law, as we do in South Africa, at some point in history every justice system acquired its own clear distinguishable characteristics and have then also evolved to suit the need of a particular area. Several other influences are at play with the evolution of any justice system, to the extent that South Africa and America hardly have any legislation in common. Even our court process and systems are worlds apart, but yet certain issues are referred to by the same name assigned to it as a result of our shared heritage, hundreds of years ago.
Making use of the internet to obtain information regarding a particular aspect is consequently for your enjoyment and could be quite informative, but without the proper legal knowledge or background I would emphasized that taking advice from other “bloggers” is not advisable and is studying legislation very risky in the particular if you are not cautious.
The fact of the matter is that a heart surgeon possesses more than a specific set of skills and acquired his knowledge through tremendous hours of study and practice. Same goes for Attorneys and therefore you cannot therefore compare “internet knowledge” with the physical experience. You have to compare “apples with apples”.
Legal professions are further governed by legislation and governing bodies or boards, whose sole purpose is to ensure that the professional’s conduct and actions meet a specific standard and then continuously ensure that the professional’s actions are scrutinized so as to ensure that he/she may be held accountable for any unethical or blameworthy conduct. Apart from this you obviously have to be admitted by the applicable board after obtaining your decree, completing practical training and then passing board exams. You will therefore not be allowed to practice without such admittance.
This ensures that a certain standard can be maintained and in general serves to protect the public. Professionals are not held accountable to the norm of the “reasonable person”, but are held accountable to the norm of the “average” professional in their specific field.
Attorneys constantly endeavor to ensure that they are well informed and continuously study the most recent judgments or legislation on numerous subjects, and hardly ever make any decision on a subject before they are absolutely certain of legal position.
Taking into account the hundreds of different legislation found in South Africa and the hundreds of thousands of different cases literally reported daily across South Africa, it is understandable that even Attorneys elect to specialize in a particular field of expertise should therefore not even attempt to give advice on a subject they are not fully acquainted with.
At the end of the day internet “bloggers” and “google” attorneys cannot “stand” by their submissions or advice, nor are they held accountable to any advice given.
There is therefore hardly ever much thought put into their answers and is little if any of the answers ever substantiated by the relevant authorities, but nevertheless they allow the public to raise questions on a variety of subjects and then recklessly give advice to the unwary.
To be quite honest, the internet bloggers do not need to put much thought into their answers or advice, because nobody really cares when their answers are incorrect. If they are wrong, the following blogger will merely add a “tail” to the advice given and attempt to correct the answer.
This will be repeated until you have a whole page full of “answers” by random unknown bloggers, the one more incoherent than the next. This is what I like to call “the blind leading the blind”.
In conclusion it is therefore advisable to do the relevant research and make sure that you understand the type of matter which you are faced with, but to rather obtain proper legal advice before making an uninformed decision.
As practicing litigant I gladly take a swing at those internet bloggers and “hello peter’s” of the cyber world (underworld) and therefore invite them to make attendance at our courts, step into my arena and compare their apples with my apples.