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Challenging the emperor’s new clothes

Challenging the emperor’s new clothes

By LIV President Belinda Wilson

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Do you remember the childhood Hans Christian Andersen’s tale about the emperor’s new clothes? A vain emperor, obsessed with clothes and status, is promised the finest new suit, which is made of woven fabric that can only be seen by those who are worthy of their position and who are intelligent. The tailors go about the charade of creating the new elegant clothes and dress the emperor.

The emperor boldly parades his new couture to his subjects, proudly and without fear. Problematically, no one can see his new clothes, but they are not game enough to speak out for fear of being publicly being branded as stupid. A young child in the audience, still of naïve age, cries out that the emperor is naked.

So how does this relate to us as lawyers and as leaders in the profession?

  1. The importance of naivety – at times we have to be that child, the one that asks the question that no one is prepared to ask.

    As lawyers, we need to understand our clients, their circumstances, and their beliefs. It is also our role not to presume anything. The only way we can do that is by asking a lot of questions, irrespective of how obvious they may be, or the fact that no one else has asked them or challenged the position.
     
  2. Being bold – we need to be bold, and certainly brave enough to, at times, go against popular opinion. We may take on unpopular cases, challenge the way society sees a particular topic, or represent those in the community that have been marginalised.

    When we are admitted to the profession, we take an unspoken oath (in addition to our statutory requirements), to do the best by our client whoever they may be, to advocate for access to justice for all, and to provide a voice for those that don’t have a voice.
     
  3. Challenging leaders – it is our duty to question those in positions of power, either real or perceived. We are trained as lawyers to dig deeper than just scratch the surface, to probe and to test the evidence.

    Direction may come from the top, but it is those from the bottom up that need to question in order to understand and hold leaders accountable. Without these challenges we would not have a democratic society, we would not see advances in the law through reform, and we would not have the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Good leaders will applaud your questioning and probing. Bad leaders, they will just continue their procession past you in their “finest of clothes”.


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