The question is often asked, Is not commercialism destroying the character of the profession? Doubtless it has its hurtful influence. The golden calf has many worshipers both in and out of the profession. Indeed, it could hardly be expected that the community generally would be affected and lawyers escape untouched. It is said that it affects the legal profession more than others. It may be that its effect is more obvious, but there are sufficient reasons therefor,—and this without referring to the slurs sometimes cast upon the doctor and the minister. First, the lawyer is placed in more intimate touch with the intense business life of the day. He sees the great pecuniary rewards and how they are gained, and naturally is moved by an impulse to obtain the same for himself. Again, the legal profession is overcrowded. Multitudes of law schools scattered all over the land are annually turning out thousands of disciples of Blackstone. By reason of this multitude the struggle for subsistence becomes more intense, and in such a struggle the character of the means employed is not infrequently ignored. On the other hand, the pulpit is not crowded. Indeed, the supply scarcely equals the demand. The doctors multiply almost as fast as lawyers, yet the sick-room does not afford the same publicity as the court-room, and while the doctor not infrequently graduates his charges by the wealth of his patient, he has not yet acquired the boldness of the lawyer in so dealing with his client. This rush into the profession is not to be wholly condemned, nor need we unduly lament the fact that a good farmer is sometimes spoiled to make a poor lawyer or doctor. Indeed, the eagerness to seek a professional life is evidence of a growing desire on the part of the young for the better things of life. They do not wish to give their time and strength to mere manual labor or even that which requires a preponderance of such labor. It is akin to the feeling which sends so many from the country into the city, and which makes it so difficult to induce those in the city, even the destitute, to go back. They realize that country life means not only constant and severe work, but large social isolation, while with all the privations they endure in the city they see the wondrous things of our high civilization. They are themselves part of its often thrillingly interesting life; and they prefer to enjoy even a vision of that, with all their privations, rather than to return to the solitude and toil of country life. Let us remember that every aspiration and struggle to secure a higher and better life is worthy of commendation rather than condemnation, whatever may be the result of the aspiration and struggle. The eager, enthusiastic American youth is not content to be always a hewer of wood and a drawer of water. He looks forward to becoming a potent factor in the marvelous life of the republic.
It must also be borne in mind that the thoughtful men of the profession are striving to put additional safeguards around their ranks, which will prevent the entrance of, and also remove after entrance, the unworthy and incompetent; and at the same time lift up its character. The time was, and that at no distant day, when a very brief study was sufficient to secure a license to practice law or medicine. Indeed, for a while one state in the Union authorized admission to the bar on a mere certificate of good character and without any evidence of a knowledge of the law. I was myself admitted to the bar before I was allowed to vote. In other words, the great state of New York, through its constituted authorities, certified that I was qualified to advise my fellow-citizens concerning their legal rights and remedies before it would permit me to hold office or even to cast a ballot. More stringent rules are everywhere now adopted. Longer periods of study, careful examinations, are insisted upon; and wisely so, for the problems of law and medicine are daily becoming more difficult, and clients and patients should not be called upon to suffer from the ignorance of counsel or physician, or to pay by their sufferings for the education of either. Not only in respect to the admission but also to the subsequent conduct is there increased watchfulness. Bar and medical associations exist all over the country, keeping watch upon their brethren, exposing wrong and bringing to just punishment the wrongdoer. Wide and potent is the influence they exert in maintaining the good character of the professions. At the meeting of the American Bar Association, which is the national representative of the profession, held in 1905, a committee was appointed to report upon the advisability and practicability of a code of professional ethics, and its report recently presented is worthy of notice. After affirming the advisability of such a code and denouncing the conduct of some lawyers, it adds,—
"Members of the Bar, like judges, are officers of the courts, and like judges should hold office only during good behavior. 'Good behavior' should not be a vague, meaningless or shadowy term, devoid of practical application save in flagrant cases. It should be defined and measured by such ethical standards, however high, as are necessary to keep the administration of justice pure and unsullied. Such standards may be crystallized into a written code of professional organizations, local or national, formed, as is the American Bar Association, to promote the administration of justice and uphold the honor of the profession. Such a code in time will doubtless become of very great practical value by leading to action through the judiciary; for the courts may, as conditions warrant, require all candidates for the Bar to subscribe a suitable and reasonable canon of ethics as a condition precedent to admission. If this be done, the courts will be in an indisputable position to enforce, through suspension or disbarment, the observance of proper ethical conduct on the part of the members of the Bar so admitted. Indeed, eventually the people, for the welfare of the community and to further the administration of justice, may, either by constitutional provisions or legislative enactments, demand that all, before being granted by the state the valuable franchise to practice, shall take an oath to support not only the constitution, but such canons of ethics as may be established by law."
Such a declaration from that body is assurance that the profession recognizes that there is an ideal lawyer, and that it intends that no one shall be tolerated who does not possess one at least of the elements of such a lawyer, to wit: a high moral character.
I know that we hear of enormous fees. The oft-told story of the Jewish and Christian lawyer is suggestive. The two were employed in a single case. When it was finished, the former said that he thought their fee for the service rendered should be five hundred dollars, to be divided equally between them. The latter said, "Well, leave it to me." A few days thereafter he gave to the former a check for fifteen hundred dollars as his half of the fee collected. As the Jew received the check he looked at it carefully, and then at his Christian brother and said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." But the size of the fee is not always a decisive test of a spirit of commercialism. A fee, though large, may be justified by the difficulties of the case, the amount involved, and the length of time given to the service. There is no reason why great abilities in any profession, and successful conduct of difficult undertakings, should not be handsomely rewarded.
Neither should it be forgotten that in all the great charitable, educational, and religious movements the lawyer is present as counsel and guide, one without whose assistance many of them would fail; and that in them he acts without other compensation than that rich reward which comes from the consciousness of having striven to help others. In conclusion on this branch, let me say that while it must be confessed that the spirit of commercialism has touched the profession, as it has touched all other kinds of business, yet there is an active, aggressive movement on the part of the members of the bar to counteract its demoralizing influence, and to make the profession an abiding-place of men of the highest personal character.
Finally, it may be said that the true lawyer never forgets the obligations which he as a lawyer owes to the republic, that he always remembers that he is a citizen. In a general way it may be said that the duties of citizenship rest upon all, and that no one in this republic can ever ignore those duties and yet claim to live an ideal life. This maybe conceded. But there are special obligations resting upon the profession, and this because of its prominence in public affairs. That prominence demands not alone the ordinary duties of citizenship, but also higher and special duties. The lawyer may not content himself with saying that he attended the primaries and there as well as at the election voted in response to his convictions. He must never forget that his local prominence gives importance to his views and that his official recognition throws higher responsibilities. While acting for the people, certainly no less fidelity, courage, and wisdom are required than may be called for by an individual client. Indeed, when the possible outcome of his actions rises before him, the true lawyer will respond with a devotion, than which nothing can be more supreme and controlling. He is not simply vindicating one individual. He is prescribing the rules by which the rights of multitudes for years may be determined. On his actions may hang the weal or woe of communities, nay more, even of the nation itself. He who truly loves his country, rejoices in its past, and looks forward hopefully to all that it may yet be and do, must assume the burdens of legislation with a solemn sense of responsibility, or be numbered among the unworthy. That this republic has prospered so wondrously is evidence that the lawyer has not been found faithless in the past.
But aside from this responsibility is that which attends the administration of justice. Bench and bar are all of the profession. There are some lawyers, it is true, who regard the judge as the only representative and agent of justice, and themselves as free to act in any manner, worthy or unworthy, which they think will be of profit. But the ideal lawyer never forgets that he is an officer of the court, and that he as well as the judge is responsible for the just outcome of every trial. It has been well said that we are all workers on the loom of time, fashioning the fabric of civilization. The humblest as well as the highest has his shuttle and runs his thread into and through the fabric. And as we look upon the fabric of our American civilization in this morning of the twentieth century, we may well be proud of its splendor. To the thoughtful mind, nothing in the material world can compare with it in richness of beauty. But with that beauty it will crumble and fade like the civilizations of ancient times unless through all its warp and woof there run the golden threads of universal, equal, and exact justice. Beneath the fabric the weakest must rest in perfect security, and the strongest must never dare to break a thread. These golden threads it is the special work of the profession to run, and the ideal lawyer's threads will be as pure and clean as the sunlight, and stronger than the wildest passions of the most gigantic enemy of social justice.
I noticed in the papers a prediction, said to have been made by a distinguished lawyer of Chicago, that in eight hundred years there would be no lawyers. Prophecy is a lost art, and eight centuries are a long time for measuring the results of acting social forces. But from the lessons of the times I venture the prediction that at the end of the eight centuries the lawyer will not only exist, but be nearer to the summit of social life than to-day. Criminals will be found, for that day beheld by the Seer of Patmos in which the new Jerusalem shall descend out of Heaven from God, adorned as a bride for her husband, will even then be a far-off day. As civilization with its marvelous inventions and great achievements advances, business and social relations will become more complex, and the wise, close student of the law will ever be sought by the most honest of men for advice as to their respective rights and obligations. Legislation, necessarily adjusting itself to the varied conditions of life, will require the most carefully trained minds. International relations, now so often settled by force, will be determined by the law. Right rather than might will be the rule, and he who by his study and training can most fully respond to the needs of the individual, the public, and the nation in these respects,—in other words, the cultured and able lawyer,—will be given the chief place in human life. And I may add, he only will be recognized and welcomed who carries into the performance of these duties that high moral character which I have given as the first element of the ideal lawyer.
So I sum the matter up with the statement that the ideal lawyer will not be thoroughly honest in all his relations to individuals and the public; that he will be a constant student; that he must possess brain power and common sense; and that he will never forget that he is a citizen, and that the weal or woe of the public depends largely on his loyalty to high ideals.
Does any profession appeal more strongly than that of the lawyer? The minister speaks for the life beyond. The doctor cares for our bodies. But the lawyer takes social and business men as they are, and strives to adjust their actions to the present well-being of all. Truly, without disparagement, I may claim for the profession to which I have given fifty years of constant devotion, that it makes high appeal to every brainy, honest young American; and add that to the great roll-call in the last assize the response of the ideal lawyer will be, Ever present and on duty.