Lawyering in Lisbon

Divya Potdar

Divya Potdar

As attorneys, our minds are constantly at work attempting to resolve conflict and negotiate agreements. We tend to approach conversations with this mindset even when out of the office or courtroom.

In other words, once a lawyer, always a lawyer — even if we intend not to be. Which brings me to my visit to Portgual’s capital city a few weeks ago.

Tuk-tuks are a common form of tourist transportation in Lisbon. The small, open-air vehicles can navigate through the old, narrow streets, and the drivers often take pleasure in regaling passengers with stories of their favorite restaurants and Fado music venues, which adds a charming touch to the experience.

A tuk-tuk. (Courtesy of the author)

A tuk-tuk. (Courtesy of the author)

The first and only tuk-tuk ride I took was with a feisty and energetic middle-aged Portuguese woman who took us speeding down the hilly uneven cobblestone roads. As she continued speeding down the bus-only lane on the main avenue, we got pulled over by a police officer on a motorcycle. Our driver parked the three-wheeler half on the curb and still blocked a portion of the bus lane. A tall, burly man got off the motorcycle and they engaged in a lively and loud conversation, filled with lots of hand gestures, in a language I did not understand.

After waiting for about 15 minutes and wondering whether we should pay the fare and leave, my friend and I noticed our driver started crying. My friend looked over to me and said “we’re litigators, we’re going to get her out of this.” And so began a comical and tense negotiation between a group of people who were far from fluent in each other’s languages. Turns out we were able to keep the woman from getting a 120 Euro ticket for using the bus lane and for having passengers that did not wear seatbelts. (That was the first time I even noticed this vehicle had seatbelts.)

On the rest of the ride to our destination, our driver thanked us profusely because this would have been the sixth ticket she would have received this year.

She also told us more about her profession. Tuk-tuks are targeted by law enforcement because they are considered an annoyance by Lisbon residents. The locals and taxi drivers dislike the tuk-tuks because they make too much noise, create too much pollution, park anywhere they please and disregard the rules. The city’s mayor, in fact, has limited the hours tuk-tuks can operate, the places they can park, the streets they can travel on and forced them to replace the diesel engines with electrical ones.

Advocacy can become instinctive and second nature. Being persuasive and creatively solving problems are traits we develop in our profession. So as lawyers, we are never really on vacation. At least, that’s what I have been telling my boss over the last four years.

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