Thursday, June 08, 2006

Brave New World or How I Learned to Love Tesco Law and Stop Worrying

I've been asked to give a lecture to beginning undergraduates next year on "some aspect of the legal profession". Why not? I haven't taught undergraduates for a long time and it would be interesting to see what they're like.

More importantly, I suspect their ideas of the legal profession don't accord with reality. Most of the books on the English Legal System don't portray reality, instead they depict a sterile image where everything seems to work according to fixed and known rules. In this case, the students need introducing to the 21st century version of the British legal system (if system is an appropriate term here: I think not).

I thought I'd focus on the government's intention to introduce Tesco Law. There are two prongs to this. One is to introduce external regulation. And the second is to free up organisational structures.

Both the Law Society and the Bar Council have been bleating this week at the regulatory moves government is imposing. You would think the legal profession is dying the death of a thousand cuts with the noise they are making. It's hard to have much sympathy for them. When it comes to dealing with clients, lawyers are not very good or adept. So if they make a mess of your affairs, the hurt is compounded when their bodies appear more concerned to protect their members rather than the public. Ergo, goodbye self-regulation.

For me, the organisational side is far more fascinating. Lawyers like to think of themselves as an arcane, esoteric bunch, almost priestly. Outsiders are only admitted on sufferance. That will change if non-lawyer organisations start moving into legal practice. We have a simulacrum of it with inhouse counsel in corporations.

Imagine, then, Tesco offering legal services.

A bedraggled woman with a couple of mewling kids is making her way to the checkout at the Hackney store. The checkout girl looks her over and says,

"Boyfriend been giving you a rough time then?"

"Yeah", says the woman who suddenly shouts at her kid, "Put that bleeding chocolate back, you little thief!"

"Ooh, you're really overwrought and highly strung, aren't you?"

The checkout girl has had client-interviewing training along with learning some legal knowledge. She knows how to empathise too because not only can she do law, she's been through basic psychotherapy and is an avid watcher of "Big Brother". She's the new front line of Tesco Law.

She continues, "If he's giving you a really bad time, why don't you go for one of those restraining orders? That'd stop him. I can get you one right now. You'd feel much better for it."

"Yeah. I'd have some peace at home, then. The kids are playing up something terrible with this."

"And we've got a special offer--it comes with treble Clubcard Points!"

I think the students need to be prepared to welcome the brave new world of law.

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