Inazo Nitobe and the Practice of Law

20131115-181226.jpgThose who have sat in my office have seen these images on my wall.  They resonate with me in a couple of ways.  As a student of martial arts, the message that they convey has particular significance.  However, these images also inform they way I practice law.

Inazo Nitobe was, among other things, a scholar and politician whose most well-known work is arguably “Bushido: the Soul of Japan“.  Originally written in English at the turn of the 20th century, the book provides insights into the ethics by which the samurai lived.  The code that these warriors of feudal Japan conducted themselves by is called “bushido” or the way of the warrior, which is comprised of seven virtues or qualities that I will discuss later on.

The image on the right represents the term, samurai, which can be translated to mean “one who serves.”  Lawyers, although not warriors per se, serve in two capacities.  First and foremost, a lawyer, as an officer of the court, must work to ensure that justice is served.  Second, a lawyer must serve his client and advocate vigorously on his client’s behalf.

This brings us to the image in the middle.  The three characters on the right side represent bushido, while the characters to the left are the seven virtues that comprise the code for a samurai or one who serves.  Inazo Nitobe, in his book, explains the import of each of these virtues.  They are qualities that I believe every lawyer should uphold as one who serves.

From top to bottom, right to left, the characters represent the following virtues as I understand them:

Gi” may be understood as justice or right action.  Thus, it is fitting that the first of these virtues is the one that is most closely associated with the law.  A lawyer’s actions must be right and ethical in order for justice to be served.

Yu” means courage. In order to practice law, it is essential for a lawyer to have courage.  It is not easy to practice law. It regularly requires telling a client what he needs to hear, rather than what he wants to hear – even if it means losing him as a client.  Sometimes, it involves advocating a client’s position in the face of fierce opposition, a paucity of legal authority, or a unpersuaded judge.

Jin” may be interpreted as compassion or kindness.  Lawyers often deal with emotionally-charged situations – the loss of employment, a marital breakdown, the passing of a loved one to name a few.  Although a lawyer should avoid becoming emotionally-involved in his client’s case, it is important for a lawyer to appreciate the emotions involved in it.

Rei” is respect or courtesy.  Among the bar (and the bench), there is frequent discussion about the need for civility among lawyers.  As a representative of the legal system, a lawyer must act respectfully or courteously with everyone he deals with – clients, judges, opposing counsel.  Otherwise, litigants would have little reason to respect the judicial process.

Makoto” may be translated as sincerity or honesty.  It may seem trite to say, but honesty lies at the foundation of every lawyer’s practice.  A client must be able to trust that his lawyer will be honest and forthcoming with legal advice and recommendations.  A judge must be able to rely on the veracity of the representations and the accuracy of the submissions made by counsel.

Meiyo” is honour.  The law is an honourable profession.  At the heart of the profession is the privilege of being able to help people who are unable to help themselves.  With all of the pressures that come with the practice of law, it is easy for lawyers to lose sight of this.  It is vital that lawyers not take this for granted.

Chugi” means loyalty.  It almost goes without saying that a client is entitled to loyalty from his lawyer. A client has the right to expect that his lawyer will represent him with his best interests in mind.  Loyalty is an integral part of every solicitor-client relationship.

This takes us to the image on the left which stands for “seiko” or success.  It is the end result of serving a client with right action, courage, compassion, respect, honesty, honour and loyalty.  Every time I look at these images, I am reminded that, as one who serves, it is essential that I act on behalf of my client in accordance with these virtues.  If I do, regardless of the resolution or outcome, success will follow – not only for myself, but more importantly for my client.