Tuesday, June 09, 2009

John Mortimer on Losing Yourself as an Advocate

One of fictions most endearing legal advocates is John Mortimer’s “Rumpole of the Bailey.” The TV series featuring Leo McKern brought Rumpole into many living rooms around the world.

John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole, was himself a barrister and his comments about the danger inherent in being a prominent legal advocate make fascinating reading.

Life as an Advocate
In his autobiography, “Clinging to the Wreckage,” Mortimer describes his view of life as a barrister:

“There is no art more transient than that of the advocate, and no life more curious. During his working days the advocate must drain away his own personality and become the attractive receptacle for the spirits of the various murderers, discontented wives or greedy litigants for whom he appears.”

This requirement of a successful barrister, as Mortimer notes, has its peculiar dangers. Chief among them is that the advocate will lose his or her own ‘self.’

The Vanishing Self
He illustrates this by drawing on the life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, the famous English barrister. Here is what Mortimer says of him:

“In the biography of Sir Edward Marshall Hall the great advocate’s ‘self’ seems to have vanished…The props are there but the voices are those of the prisoners in the dock. They borrowed his personality to escape death and left him, as perhaps he always was, hollow. His life is merely their lives and nothing is left of Sir Edward.”

Losing Voice and Identity
Most people in public life, social service and pastoral care have spent their lives as advocates, serving as part of the defence team for people, organizations and causes. Is it possible that in our desire to defend people or the faith, to say the things people expect us to say, taking on the voices of those who wish us to defend their version of the story, we lose our own identity? So in our biography the props are all there, the battles we’ve fought, the institutions we’ve served still remain but the voices are the voices of those who have borrowed our personalities and left us hollow or as ‘play-actors?’

Source: The quotes came to me in a magazine from Tom Cadman and his comments I have tweaked.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Mortimer and Rumpole (Leo McKern).