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SEEN UP NORTH: ‘Lawyers need to diversify’

Tony Best

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With a population of fewer than 300 000 people but more than 900 attorneys, is Barbados becoming a land with too many lawyers?
Sir Marston Gibson, the nation’s Chief Justice, isn’t willing to say yea or nay. What he thinks, however, is that young people with their eyes on a lucrative and interesting career at the Bar and who are either studying law at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies or planning to do so should add a word to their vocabulary and their way of thinking.
That word, idea if you will, is “diversification” of their hopes and dreams.
“They are going to have to diversify what they do,” said Sir Marston.
“There are lawyers who can make a career on how to work in the court system,” said Sir Marston in New York recently. “They can make careers working banks. Lawyers can make careers out of doing diverse things. But if there are 900 lawyers who want to hang up their shingles, we have a problem in Barbados.”
Hanging up shingles is a term the legal profession uses to describe attorneys who operate as solo practitioners and the Chief Justice is emphatic that attorneys now have a broader playing field on which to practise than ever before.
“I came to New York and I worked with the court system from the day I landed until the day I left,” so experience has shown how lawyers can make a living doing different things in different areas of private business, government or as entrepreneurs, if you can call it that, he said.
Sir Marston was in the city recently to receive an award from the Foundation School Alumni Inc. on the occasion of its 35th anniversary of existence in New York where the largest single Bajan immigrant community lives in North America. Actually, the association is one of the most active and successful of the Bajan organizations in the United States and that track record is often traced to its stability and foresight of its leadership. Honora Smith-Currie has been its president for at least a decade. Wilfred “Bobby” Blackette headed it between 1991 and 2001. He succeeded Pat Greene-Harewood, who had served for five years beginning in 1986.
“The Foundation School Alumni Association plays an important role in the Barbadian community in New York,” said Lennox Price, Barbados’ Consul-General in the city.
“Given the credentials of your alma mater, it is therefore not surprising that you have focused your efforts on supporting academic achievement,” Price told the association and the dinner guests.
“You may consider organizing events such as career development symposiums; and projects to develop specialized facilities such as labs at the school [in Barbados],” he recommended.
The dinner was held at Glen Terrace, a catering centre in Brooklyn, where many Barbadian and other Caribbean groups have functions. In Foundation’s case, at least 200 guests were in the house, if you will. But the Chief Justice wasn’t the lone honoree. Freundel Stuart, Barbados’ Prime Minister, was hailed in his absence. He is a former student of the school and in a message published in a dinner journal, Stuart praised the alumni group in New York for awarding scholarships and providing “other assistance” to the school, such as helping Barbadians who need overseas medical treatment and arranging lectures on health, finance, history and legal issues.
Another honoree was Feris Jones who, like the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister is a graduate of Foundation School. Jones, a detective in the Forensic division of the New York Police Department made the headlines across the United States three years ago when she thwarted an armed robbery in Brooklyn beauty salon by shooting a gun out of the hand of a thug who attempted to hold up the salon and its female patrons. “Jonesy,” as the Barbadian cop from Christ Church is often called, was later hailed by New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg for marksmanship, bravery, poise and professionalism during the incident. She was promptly promoted to detective for her action in saving lives and ending what could have been a major tragedy. She did that without endangering the lives of customers. Sam Taitt, a former general manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, who teaches communications at the Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, was the master of ceremonies.