Established readers of Bad Medicine will know that Dr No takes a dim view of m’learned friends, considering them to be a verminous infestation in the lives of normal folk. In Dr No’s ideal world, lawyers would be deported to burrows on the fringe of an unknown desert, where they could live out their wretched litigious lives fighting each other, while the rest of us get on with our lives, unimpeded by lawyerly interference. For the time being though, back in the real world, lawyers are still with us, an inconvenience to be lived with, like a pimple on the bum that won’t go away. The day before yesterday, the 18th, Dr No had occasion to email one such pimple, only to get back one of those pesky out-of-office auto-replies. The reply, of course also dated the 18th, stated “I am away from the office until Monday 16th June.” The pimple, it appeared, was a zombie pimple, stuck in a limbo the Devil knows where. Dr No was left with a worrying thought: if lawyers don’t even know where they are, how on earth can we be confident they know what they are talking about?
Such unsatisfactory ruminations led Dr No to a wider reflection on why his recent interactions with learned pimples have been so disappointing. Sure, there have been the usual evasions and incompetencies, the zombie emails of course, and even the bleak prospect of a Jarndycical application of the principle of infinite extension, for even if nothing else is sure, one thing is, that the moment the lawyers are involved, the light at the end of the tunnel goes out. But then another light came on – or perhaps that should also be went out. Just as communication skills now dominate medicine, it now seems that, at least in civil matters, counselling skills now dominate the law. Your lawyer, extraordinary as it may seem, wants to help you. Not legally, but personally. With meaning and feeling, he or she is missioned to help you. The trouble is, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite so dangerous as a missioned yet unskilled helper.
The hinterland of the NHS is awash with unskilled helpers. The bean therapists, the grass munchers, the crystal weavers: all like mantises lie in wait for their prey, the wounded souls unserved, for whatever reason, by the health service. Some years back, in need of a spot of therapy himself, Dr No came across a number of these blood-curdling ‘helpers’, as he did the rounds looking for a capable one, which he was able to do, because he knew what he was looking for. But pity the poor innocent unknowing souls at the mercy of the mantises, each mantis vying with the others to be the one that gets to inject its own brand of woo into the hapless client.
Of course, some counsellor-therapists are excellent, even superb, at what they do. But all too often, the ferapists, as we call them to distinguish them from the real McCoys, lack competence. They may have enough springs and levers to open the box of the mind, even to take it apart, but lack the knowledge to put it back together again. Opening Pandora’s Box yet not knowing how to close it, a process known as interview rape, is a particularly cruel form of ferapy, since it leaves the client facing the tragic discovery that their payload is so toxic even their therapist can’t hack it. Other times, ferapy is more about the ferapist pushing their own agenda – ‘more than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse’. And then comes the sting in the tail. However hopelessly grandiose the maestro’s own confidence, helping, even when it isn’t helping, can be heady addictive stuff; and where addiction raises its seductive head, the shadows of dependency and co-dependency also soon fall.
So, Dr No suggests, lawyers should stay with being obtuse and obstructive, and when that fails to work, they should resort to the tried and tested, like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. The moment they turn their incompetent hand to ‘helping’ – to ferapy – they become zombie lawyers, an undead who not only know not where they are, but, far worse, must devour the living if they are themselves to survive – and that is the kind of bad medicine none of us need.