Looking for a thrilling page-turner this year? Check out this book by Kimberley Motley on her time as a lawyer in Afghanistan.
I recently developed a serious lawyer crush on Kimberley Motley after reading her book “Lawless”. It hands down wins the best legal book in my 2019 list.
Kimberley has an incredible story to tell about what it means to be a lawyer practising in Afghanistan. She tells it with heart and busts a bunch of myths about what it means to be a great practitioner.
Reading Lawless is like going on a journey with a friend who happens to have a strong dose of superhuman courage in very sticky situations. Most of the time, I found myself shaking my head in awe.
Lawless also holds a bunch of important lessons for lawyers and lawyers to-be. I’ve listed three of my favourite lessons below (p.s. no spoilers)!
#1. It’s about humanity
How should we practice law?
Kimberley keeps it simple—focus on the human. We too often forget, in the midst of the books, the theory and the jargon, that the law is really about people.
“I have always believed that the law needs to be practised with humanity. A lot of my colleagues disagree and prefer to rely on the rules to guide their every step through the legal process. We’re trained to learn the book so that we can follow it, but I think sometimes you have to throw the book away and do what feels right.”
— Kimberley Motley, Lawless, p 9
#2. “Justness” rather than “justice”
So what exactly is “justness”?
It’s a brilliant concept that Kimberley coined—and it makes a lot of sense when you read her story—that conceptions of “justice” in different parts of the world, like in Afghanistan, aren’t clear-cut.
On top of this, take the complex individual into account (the good, bad or ugly) and you have an imperfect legal system to deal with imperfect human beings.
“Over time, I’ve come to understand something about justice. It may be a vaguely abstract idea, meaning different things to different people. To some, justice is about retribution, to others it’s about compensation or even revenge. But to me justice is something different. I don’t believe that justice is ever achievable… Now, instead of fighting for justice, I prefer to think about my clients’ needs in terms of ‘justness’.
Justness represents the imperfect but realistic outcome that suits an imperfect situation. There is no one-size-fits-all verdict, or sentence, or punishment for any crime or misdemeanour. People are imperfect; they come in all shapes and sizes and so they mess up in ways that are often unique and particular to themselves. How could we ever expect to find remedies for those infinitely complex mistakes? We can’t. It’s impossible. My job requires me to be the voice that’s fighting for realistic solutions within the bounds of the law for my clients. That’s what I call justness.”
— Kimberley Motley, Lawless, p 277
#3. Persuasion is creative
Kimberley challenges the perception that legal practice is bone-dry. What I found particularly insightful, and not something that is often discussed, is that every case or negotiation requires the art of persuasion.
In persuading, it helps if you can draw on creativity and a good sense of what makes humans tick. An example is how Kimberley’s love of music (as a DJ on the side) feeds into her legal practice in the courtroom:
“As a lawyer, I try to understand the beat of the court… there is a huge creative aspect to being an effective litigator. It requires understanding the court’s genre. Some courts prefer house music, some other hip-hop, other courts prefer rap; it is my job to understand what the court wants to rock to on any particular day and drop the right track that flows. When I go to court, I want judges to walk in my client’s shoes, I want them to feel what I’m saying—in their souls… When I go to court, I want to use the laws in the most effective way possible, and give them something to dance to. Give them a bit of law for their soul. That’s being a DJ in law.”
— Kimberley Motley, Lawless, p 279
If there is no other book that you’ll read this year, check out Lawless. You won’t regret it.