Legal cartoons and humorous comment (c) Paul Brennan. All rights reserved.

I decided on 101 reasons as I didn’t want to depress the entire legal profession by having 1,001.
Paul Brennan, Lawyer, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Art of War : Highly effective advice from Ancient China for clients

I first came across the Art of War when I lived in Hong Kong. The book offers advice on military strategy. It was written about 2,500 years ago, by Sun Zhu, general of the Kingdom of Wu an area situated a few hundred kilometres north of Shanghai. Much has been written about the Art of War by management gurus and others so that there are 1,500 titles in paperback on Amazon alone.

It has an immediate strategic advantage when compared with any law book in that it is only thirteen chapters (6,000 words) long, available for immediate download and free

It was written at a time when an ill-advised attack on a neighbouring state could lead to disaster and death. This may not be the case in a dispute between neighbours today, but if you have ever been involved in a dispute with your own neighbour you will know that it can certainly feel that way. The advice is aggressive as winning is all important but also cautious maybe because one of the casualties of a wrong move was often the general himself.

Some of Sun Tzu’s advice such as obtaining information by bribing your enemy’s officials, seeking out concubines greedy for gold in your enemy’s camp or the chapter on the use of fire in battle has less application in legal practice today. However, the book contains  plenty of other advice for legal practitioners and clients alike.

There is practical advice such as the “Object of War is Peace” especially useful for a client demanding immediate reprisals against a brainless neighbour.

There is esoteric and perplexing advice to ponder before taking any action at all, such as:

  1. Know the enemy and yourself and you will win, know yourself and not the enemy and you will win some and lose some. Know not yourself or the enemy and you will lose.
  2. The side that is the most loyal, has the ablest general, chooses the best time and place, is the stronger and more disciplined, will prevail in war.

The Art of War can help to explain why the forceful, immediate action expected by clients in new litigation matters should be combined with some forethought. Before rushing on, I try to remind myself of the words of Brendan Behan who said “I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse” which could easily apply to a lawyer who does not ask “Where are we going with this?” preferably before sending out the initial letter.

Then there is much advice on the twists and turns of litigation, such as:

  1. Be first in the field so that you are fresh as an enemy who rushes to the fight arrives exhausted.
  2. Combat is expensive, and the longer it goes on, the more expensive it will become. Prolonged combat will deplete your resources and weaken you.
  3. There are roads not to follow, towns that should not be besieged, armies that should not be attacked and positions that should not be challenged.
  4. Only seek battle after the victory has been won.

my personal favourite being - if outnumbered flee.

The King of Wu could not have been an easy client, and yet Sun Zhu was uncompromising in maintaining that it was essential for victory that the sovereign should not interfere. A general will look for flexibility and opportunity and a sovereign’s commands may constrain this approach. It is far easier to tell a client that Sun Tzu  cautions against interfering rather than suggesting that it is your idea.

Sun Tzu advises generals to gain no reputation for wisdom or courage as if you plan secretly, act with stealth and win without fighting your victories should not be known. Noting the number of award nights that there are for lawyers these days this may be difficult advice for all but the most disciplined and humble litigation lawyer to take on board.

You will start to find the advice of Sun Tzu to be useful in many areas of your life. Having said that even a small homily from Sun Tzu within marriage is dangerous ground

(c) Paul Brennan 2017. All rights reserved.