As a lawyer, Raab is in good company. Multiple British Prime Ministers have been barristers, but only one solicitor has made it to the top job: David Lloyd George, who coincidentally was Prime Minister during the last pandemic.
And let’s not forget that we have Sir Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon as current lawyer leaders.
Internationally, two of the world’s greatest leaders have been lawyers: Mandela and Ghandi. In the US, 26 US presidents have been lawyers, including Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Nixon, Ford, Clinton and Obama.
Are there any skills which might benefit Raab? And which solicitor traits might impede him as he leads the response to the Covid-19 crisis?
In my experience as a solicitor, we learn the rules of the game, and then try to play the game better than others. As a particularly astute solicitor, Raab should be able to digest volumes of written information, committing the key parts to memory. It is fair to say that most solicitors have only a basic grasp of maths, therefore any scientific advice which is data-heavy would need to be translated into words.
Most lawyers struggle when only provided with imperfect, incomplete information. Caveating advice, if not fully armed with the facts, is de rigueur for the solicitor (and so is using such terms). At this time, heavily caveated public information messages will not work.
Due to the uncertainty of the Covid-19 science, any lawyer would struggle to form a conclusion on what to do next, and then convince us – the public – of the rationale. For that is another trait: although lawyers are (most unfairly) notorious for bending the truth, our code of ethics is embedded into most lawyer’s DNA, preventing any distortions of truth. My hope – and my expectation – is that Raab is straight with us.
But how would a solicitor, provided with imperfect science, reams of data and surrounded with political apparatchiks, make a decision? For example, when should lockdown be relaxed? Most solicitors would instinctively know what to do: follow advice of expert.
Using the Socratic method, a lawyer would keep asking questions of the experts until the experts have been “knocked around a little” in order to test the veracity of the advice. After the “knock around,” a lawyer would request the expert’s updated advice in writing, for a further scrutiny.
The lawyer, then, would become the judge: weighing up the various arguments, then making findings of facts, before forming a conclusion. A civil legal practitioner like Raab (i.e. not a criminal lawyer) may intuitively opt for the “balance of probabilities” for his test for action, before being compelled to pluck for the safer, stronger “beyond reasonable doubt” criminal burden of proof. After all, Raab would be making life and death decisions.
Lawyers ought to be adept at both written and oral communication, although our communication is often littered with jargon. As I type, on my desk is the letter which Boris despatched to every household in the country, ordering us to stay at home.
From studying Boris’s writing, I would venture that these are the PM’s own words. As a journalist, Boris has the gift of the pen. We lawyers are comfortable with written communication, but we do not possess the journalist’s magic for written prose (this is a prime example). Heaven forbid that we receive a letter from Raab.
Equal with integrity, what we need at this juncture is stellar leadership. In my view, top political leaders read the mood – something that Boris does well. The best politicians know how to compromise – something solicitors do well. And the crème de la crème of political leaders – the Mandelas and Ghandis – usually have a North Star: solid guiding principles.
Being open to compromise may actually make it harder to be a solicitor political leader, as we might appear less certain of our course of action. But what sort of leader do we want at this time? If we need scintillating, Your Country Needs You-type leadership, my guess is that you wouldn’t want a solicitor leader. But if we need someone with integrity, who is evidence-led and expert-led, a solicitor leader is exactly what we need.
Andrew Gray is a former president of the Harrogate and District Law Society.
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