New Zealand Law Society - Why Lawyers are like Lobsters (and other lessons on surviving in the law)

Why Lawyers are like Lobsters (and other lessons on surviving in the law)

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Reviewed by Geoff Adlam

With probably one of the most intriguing titles ever, former barrister and current Christchurch Coroner Marcus Elliott dedicates his book to “every lawyer that has woken up on a cold, wet Monday morning and questioned their career choice”.

The work which follows is in 14 parts and brings together an incredibly diverse collection of short essays and musings on the everyday issues, concerns and triumphs of life as a lawyer. The subject matter is broad: paper cuts, haiku law, investing in a pet rabbit, teleconferencing, successful mistake-making, coping with losing a case, Socratic advice on selecting an expert witness, Christmas lawyers and a quick guide to “unethics” are some of the topics. And, of course, why lawyers are like lobsters.

The essays are brief: there are 42 across 286 pages and one of these (“The Don Quixote of Law”) covers 25 pages. Some are extremely short: “The Persuasive Power of Silence” is less than 300 words, with about 30 of these a quote from jazz musician Tyra Neftzger.

In some ways the book is like a very interesting box of well-made designer chocolates – dip in at random and you’re not sure what you’re going to get, but the taste will always be interesting. It could be a book to consult quietly after an unnerving client or partner experience: There are other lawyers out there with the same wide-ranging thoughts, fears and experiences.

Humour is an important ingredient, ranging from the satirical in “The Total Fool’s Quick Guide to Unethics” (a conference paper presented to the International Society of Unethical Lawyers) to the absurd “Questions posed by an insane law professor in the Laws 101 examination last year”. Elsewhere Mr Elliot entertainingly reduces common areas of law to haiku (“Constitutional law: It would help/if someone had written/it down”). In “In defence of time-sheets” he calculates that a 30-year-old lawyer has 664,560 hours of billable time to record until he or she dies – or $19.9 million in fees still to be rendered.

A number of the essays have obviously been inspired by a book or information on the internet and are fascinating vignettes. “A Lawyer Falls” relates the circumstances around the one appeal case too many which caused a temporary hiatus in the career of Sir Edward Marshall Hall QC. “Advocacy at Nuremberg” looks at the problems associated with cross-examining Hermann Goering. Another essay, “Long Lunch”, is a very personal and moving account of Marcus Elliot and a friend in Colombo Street, Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011.

While the $50 price tag might cause some hesitation, it’s great to see an entertaining New Zealand book written for lawyers about the everyday practice of law.

LexisNexis NZ Ltd, November 2015, 978-1-927313-58-9, 286 pages, paperback, $50 (GST included, p&h excluded).

Geoff Adlam is the New Zealand Law Society’s Communications Manager. He has worked in journalism, legal publishing and in-house. He has occasionally watched chefs expertly dispatching lobsters.

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