A professional, who has undergone years of stringent study and training, who is bound by a very strict code of ethics and who is expected to fight for his client’s cause with utmost zeal and enthusiasm.
This perfectly describes both, a lawyer and a samurai of ancient Japan.
Since I was young, I have always been fascinated by ancient Japanese culture having been introduced early on to the study of martial arts as well as stories and books about the ancient samurai, James Clavell’s “Shogun” and Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings” among them. To date, I still collect samurai figures as well as katanas or samurai swords.
When I embarked on the study of law and eventually became a lawyer, I could not help but notice the many parallels between the life of a lawyer and a samurai.
Foremost among these is the fact that both are bound by a very strict code of ethics and, what is more, the virtues espoused by the Code of Professional Responsibility on legal ethics are very similar to the basic virtues of Bushido, the so-called “Way of the Samurai”.
Bushido, from “Bushi” or the “warrior class” and “Do” meaning “Way”, involves the eight basic virtues of Righteousness, Courage, Compassion, Respect, Honesty, Honor, Duty and Self-Control.
Samurai, who had the power of life and death over the members of lower castes in ancient Japan, were required to have a very high sense of justice and, particularly those occupying high offices, were often consulted by common folk on matters of determining rights and controversies.
Like lawyers, they were highly educated as their studies and training in many different fields of study and the martial arts began in childhood and would continue on for the rest of their lives as samurai were expected to keep practicing their budo or bujustsu, meaning their martial arts, well as to keep abreast of their studies in other fields. Many would find it strange that, in addition to the martial arts, the samurai had a very wide field of study ranging from law and government to the arts and engineering. They were quite fond of writing poetry particularly in the form of the three-line “haiku”.
Just as lawyers seem to have their own language, colloquially called “legalese”, the samurai also spoke and wrote in a more formal form of Japanese that would make them easily identifiable from other people.
Samurai who were engaged by a particular “client”, usually a “daimyo” or feudal lord of a particular place, were called “retainers” which should sound very familiar to lawyers and, just like lawyers, the bond of loyalty between them and their “client” was very strong although, as far as the samurai were concerned, such fealty and loyalty was carried to the extreme as they were expected to be ready to die at the orders of their daimyo to the extent of committing “seppuku” or ritual suicide which is something no lawyer would do, no matter how much he is paid.
Samurai who were not retained by any daimyo, or who had no “client” were called “ronin” and they usually traveled around to peddle their skills hoping that some feudal lord might see fit to hire them. They usually became mercenaries which, sadly, is how some lawyers have also become notorious for. We do have “ronin” in our midst.
Even in battle, samurai were still expected to strictly adhere to their code of honor just as lawyers should maintain full compliance with the rules of court and of legal ethics in fighting for their clients in court. Assassins who had no compunction about following the rules were called shinobi, or more popularly known as “ninjas”. It is therefore fair to say that an unscrupulous lawyer who does not adhere to the code of legal ethics is doing “ninja moves”.
There you have it, modern day lawyers can claim to be the modern incarnation of the ancient samurai of feudal Japan. This should hold true if we maintain adherence to our own form of “bushido” and not turn into “ronin” or, worse yet, be caught doing “ninja moves”
As an ending anecdote, it was considered to be beneath the station of a samurai to take care of his finances and household expenses so it was usually his wife who was in charge of this. So much so, that if a samurai went for a night of drinking and entertainment in the “flower and willow world” or the geisha houses, he was not expected to pay because the bill would be sent to his wife.
What do you think would happen if a modern day samurai would try to do this? He would probably go home and find a very sharp katana waiting for his neck.