Something that has been bugging me lately is how everyone seems to think about risk in terms of specific legislation, the most popular one these days being #POPI (in other words, the Protection of Personal Information Act). It’s not that I’m irritated that non-lawyers know more about legal developments. On the contrary, it is terrific that non-lawyers know more about legal, compliance and other risk factors and can recognise them more readily.
The problem is that people focus on individual laws, for example the Protection of Personal Information Act, as if those individual laws somehow encapsulate the total approach to managing various risks. I pointed out that there is more to data protection and privacy than just the Protection of Personal Information Act recently. This fashionable focus on the latest or hottest legal thing leads non-lawyers down a delusional path where they both think they have a handle on the issues because they know the name of a law and because there is so much emphasis on that particular law that they begin to think there is nothing else.
For this, I blame the lawyers. Lawyers are so accustomed to focusing on individual legislation and legal developments that they often can’t see the proverbial wood for the trees. Something like POPI takes a step forward and lawyers make a lot of noise about its implications (I’ve done this often) and while more information about the law’s implications for people and businesses is a good thing, it is really easy to lose sight of a far more constructive and holistic approach.
If non-lawyers could choose, I believe they would not be particularly interested in individual laws and regulations aside from being able to identify them and understand, at a high level, what they govern. I think that what most non-lawyers would prefer is to be given far more holistic guidance which takes into account a broader range of laws, risk factors and considerations.
This compulsion to divide everything up in to neat little legislation boxes is really just lawyers habitually drawing the same distinctions because they think those distinctions are meaningful and immensely useful. All this does is confuse non-lawyers because these distinctions have little practical value outside a lawyer’s highly structured mind and then, with repetition, indoctrinate non-lawyers into believing these are meaningful distinctions after all.
If you open a blog post written by a lawyer about her services and all you see is a lengthy breakdown of a topic by legislation and regulation, perhaps find another lawyer’s blog to read, preferably someone who will focus on the core themes and issues first and the component laws and regulations a distinct fourth.