When is a “lawyer” really a lawyer

July 5, 2009 |

When I read the quite slashing piece in today’s Australian Christopher Pyne is member for whatever it takes I was struck by the description of Christopher Pyne as a former lawyer. Given he was elected to the Federal Parliament when 25 years of age I wondered what he did to earn that moniker.  With the standard 5 years course he must have got his degree,  finished his articles and  rushed off to be sworn in as the member for Sturt a couple of hours after being admitted to practice.  Perhaps a rhetorical flourish but it makes the point.  Having a law degree does not a lawyer make.  Similarly Joe Hockey’s wikipedia entry describes him as being a banking and finance lawyer.  Perhaps but for how long.  Joe went from student politician to staffer to member of parliament in an almost seamless transition.  His banking and finance experience was brief and an aberration.  On the other side of the aisle Bill Shorten is sometimes described as being a lawyer.  He was as politically focused as Hockey from an equally early age.  He opted for the union road to parliamentary politics and any deter into law was accidental.

There is no doubt dubbing oneself a lawyer burnishes the cv.  The most amusing bolstering of one’s intellectual firepower is Elle McPherson who was doing pre law at Sydney University.  What exactly is pre law?  Gunning your cv saying you could have been a lawyer if those darn brilliant genes meant you had to wander the catwalks of the world earning fortunes.  But you coulda been a contender.

When can one claim to be a lawyer?  It sets the bar a bit low to say you are a lawyer because you have a law degree, though strictly speaking the argument works.  Nobody could argue that Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Costello were lawyers . They got their fingers dirty.  In the past Menzies KC, Evatt KC, Barwick KC were all practising barristers before they dived into politics.  Similarly Tony Abbott and Bob Carr can claim to be journalists.  They spilt plenty enough ink at the Bulletin (RIP) and both unleash their Mont Blancs on a semiregular basis.

The unfortunate reality is that more and more members of parliament have had only career, that of political operators in one sphere or another.  Wayne Swan is a product of the Labour Machine as is Anthony Albanese.  Tony Smith has spent most of his working life working for politicians before taking up is seat, first with Michael Wooldridge and then with Peter Costello.  Mitch Fifield has followed much the same route.  And that is but a few.

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