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VIDEO: A Voice To The Voiceless

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It was the turn of six lawyers-in-waiting, Monday afternoon, to participate in Applaud It! A Jamaica Observer initiative that allows members of the next generation to meet leaders in a formal, no-holds-barred setting. Holding court at the well-appointed meeting room aptly called The Boardroom, of the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel, was the suave attorney-at law John G Graham of John G Graham and Associates. Strategically positioned were his associates Annaliesa Lindsay, Peta-Gaye Manderson, Josemar Belnavis, and Stephanie Graham. Novia McDonald-Whyte, the initiative's conceptualiser and senior associate editor at the Jamaica Observer , was also in attendance to handle matters pertaining to dining etiquette.

Formalities out of the way, which included an introduction to all seated and a polite request for phones to be turned off, deliberations followed, sprinkled liberally with sage words from the team of practising attorneys over a six-course affair that opened with crab-snapper croquette, segued into gungo peas soup, a Blue Mountain green salad, entrée choices of tri-colour pepper corn crusted baked salmon and pan-seared stuffed chicken breast, and closed with a sampler of miniature desserts. Wines were also poured.

The warm and friendly mien of each of the attorneys from the boutique law firm resonated with the lawyers-in-waiting. “One of the things I've noticed is the lack of nurturing from many seniors in the profession,” said Graham. “This afternoon provides a great platform to start this conversation.” It was no idle boast! “Gravy stains are not decorations,” he emphasised as the lawyers-in-waiting ate their soup. “Punctuality is a must; the importance of preparation cannot be overstated; you might have scored a First at university but that is not what will make you a success in this profession — humility will! The respect for those who practise the law daily and as such know [might I suggest] a little more than you augurs well for your future. The clothes that you wear are important. Rid yourselves of the preamble 'uhm, uhm'. Cut to the chase, say what you are saying. Do not accept everybody's money; your integrity is important, as is your reputation “

Attorney-at-law Annaliesa Lindsay shared the importance of dining etiquette, which she opined appeared no longer [to many] an important tool. Her colleague Stephanie Graham concurred as she harked back to her days in the United Kingdom where she was called to the Bar. “We had some 12 compulsory dinners with senior counsel and judges which not only provided stimulating discourse, but certainly spotlighted your social skills,” she said. Her peer Peta-Gaye Manderson weighed into the conversation, relating her faux pas as a rookie at the law firm. “It was during a client interview,” she recalled. “I felt that a crucial question had not been asked. I waited and waited. It was still not asked. I decided to posit it... or rather attempted to. The lead attorney cut me off mid-stream with the words 'Ms Manderson was saying thanks'... It was a teachable moment and one I have never forgotten!”

From the pitfalls to avoid in the attorney chambers to lessons from the hallowed halls of justice, there was much to learn.

Eschew all thoughts of lunch being a one-sided affair. A few approached the bench and sought answers about aligning their brands with those of law firms, of additional skill sets to complement the law, of their desire to excel, and of fears about being unemployed. There was also mutual agreement that practice of the law was an imperative. Each also shared their hopes for the future as well as their reasons for entering the profession. Graham indulged in some candid introspection: the solid foundation laid at Cornwall College, coupled with his self-confessed influence from his own parents, both entrepreneurs, led him to open his own law firm and become the master of his own destiny. He encouraged a similar vision for the next generation and encouraged them to go after what they want.

Graham, who had attended court that morning, appeared in no rush to not impart as much as possible. Indeed, nearly four hours later there was lots more to learn. Coffee and dessert might have signalled the end of the session on a sweeter note; however, the takeaway was a reminder to the graduates that in their quest for success, they must remember that a huge part of what they do is “to give a voice to the voiceless”.

Like attorney-at-law John Graham it is our hope that more senior members of the legal fraternity will nurture the future attorneys. And that the lawyers-in-waiting will take lessons from attorney-at-law Annaliesa Lindsay, who is passionate about the actual practice and study of the law and the reward gained from legal discussions and research. And has the grace to accept that not all cases will be adjudged in her favour.


The Jamaica Observer Applaud It! initiative now in its fourth year has moved from one week to three due to the ovewhelming support of corporate Jamaica