The ideal lawyer! Is such a being possible? To many the adjective and the noun stand in contradiction. As well speak of the ideal thief. "Ideal" in the best sense of the word implies supreme excellence. It suggests as to persons that moral superiority which attracts and compels admiration. But such a character is to many incompatible with the life and work of the lawyer. In the declaration of the Master, "Woe unto you lawyers," they see the deserved condemnation of the entire profession. In their judgment one may properly speak of the best, the most successful, the most active lawyer. Indeed, any superlative is accepted as appropriate which does not suggest morality. The early history of Massachusetts illustrates this.
Washburn, in his Judicial History of Massachusetts, says: "It was many years after the settlement of the colony, before anything like a distinct class of attorneys at law was known. And it is doubtful if there were any regularly educated attorneys who practiced in the courts of the colony during its existence. Lechford, it is true, was here for a few years, but he was soon silenced, and left the country. Several of the magistrates had also been educated as lawyers at home, among whom were Winthrop, Bellingham, Humfrey, and probably Pelham and Bradstreet. But these were almost constantly in the magistracy, nor do we hear of them ever being engaged in the management of causes. If they made use of their legal acquirements, it was in aid of the great object which they had so much at heart,—the establishment of a religious commonwealth, in which the laws of Moses were much more regarded as precedents than the decisions of Westminster Hall, or the pages of the few elementary writers upon the common law which were then cited in the English courts."
By an act passed in 1663, "usual and common attorneys " were excluded from seats in the General Court, as the Massachusetts Legislature is called. In 1656 the following statute was enacted:—
"This court, taking into consideration the great charge resting upon the colony, by reason of the many and tedious discourses and pleadings in the courts, both of the plaintiff and the defendant, as also the readiness of many to prosecute suits in law for small matters, it is therefore ordered, by this court and the authority thereof, that when any plaintiff or defendant shall plead by himself or his attorney, for a longer time than one hour, the party that is sentenced or condemned shall pay twenty shillings for every hour so pleading more than the common fees appointed by the court for the entrance of actions, to be added to the execution for the use of the country."
There was a crafty wisdom in this statute which commends itself to any one of much experience on the bench, and I venture to suggest that a similar act might to-day be sustained.
If the ideal lawyer is the one who stands at the head of his profession, and is regarded as the ablest lawyer, the question arises: What gives him his position, what is the general understanding of his characteristics and qualifications? Many would say that he is the one who has the greatest knowledge of the law and is most successful in keeping his clients safe from the consequences of their own wrongful conduct. The idea that he carries conscience into his own life, or into the advice that he gives his client, is repudiated. I remember listening to a severe denunciation of the profession. After a while I ventured to ask the individual so denouncing, his reason therefor, and he promptly replied that once, when sued on a promissory note, he was pressed for money and wanted time. So he consulted a lawyer, who advised him that the statute of limitations was a perfect defense, and on his suggestion that plea was made, sustained, and judgment entered in his favor. He insisted that the lawyer ought to have told him that as an honest man he should pay the debt; that he should not have advised him to the wrong of pleading the statute of limitations. After some conversation I asked him if he had since paid the note. "Oh no," he promptly replied, "I have a judgment against the owner." He was abundantly able to pay, and the burden of his complaint was that, although the lawyer had stated correctly his legal rights, he had not at the same time assumed the prerogative of directing his conscience to the injustice of a technical defense to a just debt.
But a curious contradiction to this denunciation of the lawyer is his prominence in official life. Without stopping for statistics, which have been so often collated, it is enough to say that in the public life of this country the lawyer has been the conspicuous factor. The judiciary, of course, is altogether composed of members of the profession. In executive offices and legislative halls the law has predominated and still predominates over every business, and all other professions. Yet the public life of this country has been of the highest character. Acting for the public as the lawyers have done in these various fields of official labor, they have proved true to their employment, and it may safely be said that the scandals which have sometimes been found in official life have seldom attached to them. How can this be accounted for except upon the theory of a general personal integrity? It will not do to suggest that the office-holding lawyers are mere illustrations of that singular character portrayed by the novelist Stevenson, Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,—honorable, high-toned, faithful, in one aspect of life; dishonest, unreliable, base, in another. Neither will it do to say that they have been selected for official life only because of their capacity for drafting statutes, bills, and documents, their familiarity with the details of legislative and executive life, and that the public consciously ignores the want of character. Nor is it a sufficient explanation that, although the great mass of the profession is corrupt, there are a few who are reliable, and they are the ones whom the public select for official life. The truth is, their very prominence in public life, their fidelity to the trusts therein imposed, is evidence which cannot be ignored that the profession has and maintains a character for honesty and uprightness which attracts general confidence.
Beyond this official recognition is local prominence. Go into any village, town, or city and ask for the leading citizen or citizens, and you will be sure to hear the name of some lawyer. In our New England villages, Squire, as the lawyer was familiarly called, was generally named as the leading citizen. This official selection and social prominence furnishes satisfactory evidence that the profession is not destitute of moral superiority; for surely it would be an unjustifiable reflection on the American people, that they give official and local prominence to unworthy men.
Still again, no profession is to-day so singled out and entered upon by ambitious, brainy young men, as that of the law. No one is so crowded. It does not stand to reason that the high-spirited Americans are pressing eagerly toward a profession whose practice implies dishonesty. Do not all these things point directly to the fact that there is an ideal lawyer, that moral superiority is consistent with and to be found in the profession?
Before, however, considering the characteristics of the ideal lawyer, let me notice some other charges against the profession. One is that it is a consumer and not a producer. It adds nothing to the material wealth of the nation; it lives and grows fat on the mistakes and sins of others. The farmer, the miner, the mechanic, the manufacturer, all are adding to the general property. The artist, sculptor, painter, or architect leaves behind him, in stature, painting, or building, visible, tangible evidence of his contribution to the well-being of society. The lawyer does nothing in either of these directions; he is only a burden upon and not a blessing to society. It may be conceded that he adds little to the material wealth of the nation, that his work is not with things that are tangible, and which perish with the using; but shall it be said that that profession which has produced the mighty structure of the common law, with its wealth of blessing to social, business, and political life,—which has stood in all the great epochs of Anglo-Saxon liberty as the earnest and strong defender of the common people,—has produced nothing of blessing?
Another charge is that it promotes quarrels. As it lives by the disputes of others, the more disputes, the better it lives. So it encourages litigation. It magnifies to the individual his supposed wrongs, and provokes a lawsuit, when a few kindly words would settle all controversy and leave friends where he has made enemies. In other words, it is a stirrer up of strife. A familiar saying is that two lawyers will grow rich where one will starve. No one is injured without some lawyer suggesting an action to recover damages. To preserve a semblance of respectability he employs that phenomenon of despicability—in Western parlance called a snitch--to work up the lawsuit and secure his principal's employment. The existence of these legal parasites may be conceded. Unfortunately they are too numerous. But they represent the lower side of professional life and they speak for only the commercial fragment. They do not typify the profession, nor illustrate its ideals. Against them no war is so earnestly waged as that carried on by the bar itself. Indeed, the great lawyers, they who are the leaders, are more distinguished for their ability to settle than to promote litigation. The true lawyer is a peacemaker, a counselor rather than an advocate.
But I must not tarry on the lower phases of professional life. Let me rather discuss the higher. For it is the ideal lawyer I wish to present; and what has been said surely indicates that there is a higher side, that the term "ideal lawyer" is not necessarily or even generally a contradiction between noun and adjective.
Law is the potent force which binds all the separate, and often heterogeneous, individual atoms into a single social whole, unites protection to the individual with efficiency of combined action, and thus makes possible all the blessings which have come through increasing civilization and improving social order. And surely he who is the great artificer in the workshop of the law is not to be ignored in the consideration of the great problems of life. Indeed, strike from Anglo-Saxon history and present American life the lawyer and his achievements, and Sahara's shifting sands would present nothing more barren and hopeless.
So I pass to the question, Who is the ideal lawyer, what are his characteristics, what his essential elements and qualifications? And first let me say that he is honest,—honest with his clients, with the court and jury, with the public and himself. And this honesty is not, like good clothes, put on for prayer-meetings and social occasions, and put off in times of business or politics. It is that thorough, ingrained honesty which knows but one time, and that is life; but one duty, and that is action.
Every lawyer aims to be honest with his client, and with the court and jury: self-interest compels this. He knows that fidelity is essential to success. The most dissolute and depraved man, in the hour of sickness, seeks a doctor on whose advice he can rely, and who will be faithful to his patient. Never does he call in one whom he cannot trust. So the worst of men, needing legal advice, go to a lawyer who will not betray them. And this is the general rule of all employment. I care not how corrupt a community may be, let it be understood that a lawyer is faithless to his client and betrays his interests, and he is shunned by all. He loses not only caste but business. Seldom do we hear of a lawyer who proves false to his client. Indeed, the complaint is that he is too loyal, and that in order to serve his client, he acts dishonestly to others and wrongs the public.
In like manner self-interest compels him to be honest with the court and jury. He knows that success depends largely on the confidence which they have in his truthfulness. I have been on the bench, trial and appellate, for forty-one and a half years, have held court in a dozen states, have had before me thousands of lawyers, and only in a single instance did I ever detect one in a deliberate, intentional lie, and I soon made his practice in my court so inconvenient that he left the state. I do not mean that I have not often found lawyers exaggerating or omitting facts. Generally these exaggerations and omissions were thoughtlessly made, and were due to the eagerness of counsel to impress the court with the merits of his client's case; but sometimes I fear they were intentional. I doubt not other judges would make a similar statement of their own experiences. Indeed the judge must largely rely on the statements of counsel, for in the vast volume of business which comes before most of them there is no opportunity for a personal examination of the truthfulness of every such statement.
Honesty with the public presents a more difficult and uncertain question. What does it require? In criminal law, for instance, many contend that duty to the client surpasses all obligations to the public and justifies counsel in resorting to every means or device, substantial or technical, to clear that client, even though he knows him to be guilty; while others insist that a lawyer should never forget that he is a citizen, and owes a primary duty to the public; that while he may make every substantial defense and present his client's conduct as fully as is consistent with fairness and truth, yet he is not justified in resorting to any technicality. The question is asked, Should he abandon his client's case if, having undertaken it in belief of his innocence, he finds from the developments of the trial that he is in fact guilty? The conduct of the two gentlemen, leaders of the bar in Buffalo, who were appointed by the court to defend the assassin of McKinley, is referred to as illustrating the measure of a counsel's duty to his client. They produced every witness whom he desired, drew out all the facts of the homicide, and then fairly stated the case to the jury. It has been said that Reverdy Johnson, who was a leader of the American bar, employed to defend parties in South Carolina charged with cruelty to negroes, was so shocked by the revelations of the conduct of his clients that in the midst of the trial he abandoned the case and left it to the care of junior counsel. It must be confessed that there is on the part of many engaged in criminal practice a desire to succeed even at the expense of justice—delaying the trial by all the strategy known to the profession until feeling may be supposed to have died out, some of the witnesses have disappeared or their memories become uncertain, striving to get a friendly juror on the panel, seeking in all possible ways to cast some technical error into the trial in order that, if the verdict and judgment be against their client, a reversal may be secured in an appellate court; in short, so conducting the whole trial that justice becomes weary and the guilty escapes. Anything for the sake of acquittal is their motto, and a victory however gained is heralded as their ability.
Much has been said and many articles written in the effort to formulate some rule by which the lawyer shall be limited and guided in his actions in behalf of his client. Can any better rule be given than to be ever thoroughly loyal to honor and honesty? He who is honest with himself is honest with others.
This above all; to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
No lawyer is called upon to do any dishonest or dishonorable thing for his client. If the client demands it, declination is imperative, and if the demand is persisted in, termination of employment is equally imperative. Of course lawyers are subject to all the limitations and weaknesses of human nature, and profitable employment often clouds the vision. And here is where shines one characteristic of the ideal lawyer. His vision is not blinded. He looks above the golden calf and the shouting crowd, and ever sees on the lofty summits of Sinai the tables of stone chiseled with imperishable truth by the finger of God.
Were I called upon to name the one element most important in the make-up of the ideal lawyer, I should unhesitatingly say, Character. And wisely in the economy of life that is also the one element most essential to success. Brains without character may display a brilliancy of achievement. But pyrotechnics are short-lived. That which endures, upon which all rely, is Character. The lawyer who has it has the confidence of the judge and jury; he who has it not is suspected from the moment of his appearance. A story of Abraham Lincoln is an illustration: he was appointed to defend one charged with murder. The crime was a brutal one; the evidence entirely circumstantial; the accused a stranger. Feeling was high and against the friendless defendant. On the trial Lincoln drew from the witnesses full statements of what they saw and knew. There was no effort to confuse, no attempt to place before the jury the facts other than they were. In the argument, after calling attention to the fact that there was no direct testimony, Lincoln reviewed the circumstances, and after conceding that this and that seemed to point to the defendant's guilt, closed by saying that he had reflected much on the case, and while it seemed probable that defendant was guilty, he was not sure; and looking the jury straight in the face said, "Are you?" The defendant was acquitted and afterwards the real criminal was detected and punished. How different would have been the conduct of many lawyers. Some would have striven to lead the judge into technical errors, with a view to an appeal to a higher court. Others would have become hoarse in denunciation of witnesses, decrying the lack of positive testimony and the marvelous virtue of a reasonable doubt. The simple, straightforward way of Lincoln, backed by the confidence of the jury, won. Let me give another illustration coming within my own observation: A lawyer not brilliant but reasonably well informed was prosecuting attorney. He had the confidence of the community. A brilliant and eloquent lawyer was counsel for nearly all the accused in important criminal cases. At the close of a (to him) very disastrous term he said in disgust, "What is the use of my trying to defend? I make an absolutely clear and convincing argument, and after I am through, the prosecuting attorney gets up, and stating a few facts says these show that the defendant is guilty, and the jury go out, and in a few minutes bring in a verdict of guilty, and all because they believe the prosecuting attorney knows and would not ask them to convict unless the defendant was in fact guilty."
But let me pass on. While the ideal lawyer must be an honest man, the converse is not true. An honest man will not always make an ideal lawyer. He must be a constant student. The law reaches in every direction, touching every branch of knowledge and life. The doctor may be sued for negligence or malpractice, the editor be called upon to answer the charge of libel; the inventor may sue or be sued for infringement, the writer charge or be charged with a violation of the law of copyright. One claiming to be an artist may be brought into court to show whether he is an artist or a mere copyist. Every transaction of the merchant or manufacturer may be the subject of litigation. Even the preacher may be called upon to answer a charge of heresy. The alleged criminal's sole defense may be insanity. In this and similar cases expert witnesses may be produced for or against the defendant, and the lawyer must be so familiar with the details and reach of the scientific facts and theories in respect to which these witnesses are examined as to make clear to the jury the accuracy of his own witnesses and the mistakes of his adversary's. Every increase in civilization, making as it does the social and business life more complex, increases the demands for a larger storehouse of knowledge on the part of the lawyer. Two men living alone on an island, with no dealings save between themselves, require little but the simple rules of barter and sale; but one living and dealing in the whirl of New York business life has a right to expect from his counsel familiarity with varied branches of knowledge. A boy may use a jack-knife skillfully, but put him into a large manufacturing, transportation, or telegraphic office, and he is lost. So a lawyer may draft a good deed, but fail when consulted concerning the rights and obligations growing out of the complex bank or other business transactions of to-day.
Specialization in the law as elsewhere has become necessary. There are patent lawyers, admiralty lawyers, real estate lawyers, corporation lawyers, criminal lawyers, etc.; and yet even with this specialization and the restriction of one's work to a particular branch of the law, constant study is necessary to keep pace with the ever-increasing and diversified questions which are arising in practice. Inspiration is a lost art in the court-room. No true lawyer advises, prepares documents, or tries a case without careful preparation. Forensic oratory has passed away. No longer does the crowd gather in the county court house to listen to and be moved by the wit, pathos, and eloquence of the advocate, as for hours or days he addresses the jury. The courtroom may be filled, but it is largely with the ubiquitous reporters, many of whom are as destitute of tears as Sahara of water, and as callous to emotion as the mummied sleepers of Egypt. No longer is it true that weeping men, and women with handkerchiefs to their eyes, are moved by the eloquence of counsel. Rather may it more truly be said that distant Texas and the far Pacific slope hang breathlessly on the reporter's imagination and manufactured eloquence. Time is a pressing factor. Facts rather than eloquence is the demand. "Are you going to talk all day? I want to go home and milk my cows," was the sudden appeal of a juror in my court to a counsel who was endeavoring eloquently, as he thought, to impress the jury. The rapidity manifested in other proceedings in life asserts itself in the court-room. The stagecoach and the canal boat have given way to the automobile and the palace car. Even the post-office is too slow. Transactions of weightiest import and involving millions are settled in a moment by telegraph or telephone, and the law must keep pace with this demand for speed, and it does strive to keep pace with it,—except when the interests of the client seem to the counsel to call for as much delay as possible. Arguments in the appellate courts are generally mere colloquies between court and counsel, the one seeking to obtain and the other to give the essential facts and the controlling principles.
One of my early experiences illustrates the change from the old to the new way. After the passage of the Union Pacific act, making large grants in land and money, the possession of the Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad, one of the beneficiaries of that grant, became a matter of large concern. The right of the one in actual possession was challenged by another, and suit brought in the Federal court by the latter to acquire possession. The former, unwilling to trust local counsel, went to Ohio and employed the venerable Thomas Ewing (familiarly known as "the salt boiler"), paying him a retainer of one thousand dollars and promising four thousand dollars more. When the case came on for hearing and quite a volume of depositions had been read, counsel for the plaintiff talked for a day or more, then Mr. Ewing rose, spoke twenty-five minutes, and sat down. His client, the one in possession, was as furious as man could be. He employed all the vocabulary of denunciation known to a New York broker—and even imagination is exhausted by that illustration—in denouncing the profession in general and Mr. Ewing in particular, emphasizing every clause with a profanity that would have made a sailor or a cowboy blush for shame at his incapacity. "Five thousand dollars for twenty-five minutes' talk." The monstrosity of such robbery was to him appalling, and he was only partially reconciled when the court decided the case in his favor upon the single proposition made by Mr. Ewing.
But knowledge of the law is not alone sufficient. Making the brain a mere storehouse of information duly arranged and labeled, as a library is full of books properly marked and shelved, is not all. There must be that mental power which enables the possessor to apply his knowledge to the facts of the case and determine the controlling principles. Benjamin R. Curtis was in his day the leading lawyer of the nation and one of the greatest this country ever produced. I have heard one who was a Justice of the Supreme Court during the years of his practice before that tribunal say that Mr. Curtis never took over twenty or thirty minutes in the argument of a case, never had but one or, at the outside, two books from which he quoted; and while he did not win all his cases, every one was decided upon the principles which he discussed and presented as controlling.
I know there are many lawyers who do not realize how true this is. Some will throw at an appellate court a volume of three or four hundred pages, facetiously calling it a brief, making every conceivable point suggested by an examination of the record, in the hope that if unable to catch the court on one hook they may succeed on another. The modern digest is a great help to this kind of practitioner. It enables him to load down his propositions with a multitude of citations, without ever looking to see whether they are pertinent or not. This is purely mechanical law, which may be a bonanza to the printer, the clerk, and the lazy lawyer, yet is a burden and a curse to the client and the court.
The court-room is the place where the lawyer is seen, and the common opinion of him is based on what he there displays. The ideal lawyer is there often made manifest. In a trial his learning, his skill, his knowledge of human nature, are disclosed. His work is open. He cannot conceal his mistakes. There is a great fascination in seeing how he conducts himself and manages his case. It is not to be wondered at that the court-room used to be so crowded, and is now so frequently full. Some speak of it as a loafing place, but the many are really drawn by a not unnatural curiosity respecting the trial and the actors therein. How often have I from the bench watched with interest the adroitness of counsel, their knowledge of human nature, the skill with which they select jurors favorably disposed to their clients. I have many times asked a counsel why he rejected a juror, and been astonished at the accuracy of his discernment of something in the juror suggesting prejudice. The desired juror varies with the character of the case and the question to be decided, and the lawyer is often gifted with what seems like an instinct which enables him to select and reject according to the interests of his client. No place in life calls for a more frequent manifestation of that most uncommon possession, common sense. President McCosh, of Princeton, a canny Scot, once said to a group of students, "If you wish knowledge of the languages, of mathematics, philosophy, medicine, law, or theology, come to us and we can give it to you, but if you want common sense, God pity you, we cannot help you." So the lawyer whose common sense enables him in the varying and unexpected contingencies of a trial to adjust himself to the calls upon him is the successful and in this respect the ideal lawyer, while the one who cannot so adjust himself, who is, to use the familiar illustration, trying to put a square peg into a round hole, is almost always a failure. Not alone in the selection of a jury but in the examination of witnesses is the skill of counsel manifested. There is no better test of a lawyer's ability than a cross-examination. Too often in his eagerness he overdoes the matter and only makes stronger the testimony given by the witness-in-chief.
The following story illustrates the exceeding cleverness of one of our leading counsel in this respect. A wealthy family in the West had an only son who came to an Eastern city and engaged in business. He left the West an unmarried man and lived for some years in the East. So far as his family knew he never married, but on his death a woman claimed to have been his wife, and sought a widow's share of his property. She had no certificate of marriage nor was there any registry of it. Most of the family, in order to avoid publicity, were willing to allow her something in compromise of her claim, but the mother, proud of the honor of her family, repudiated the idea of her son's clandestine marriage, and determined to fight the claim. On the trial it was shown that although the son frequently visited his home in the West, he never brought his alleged wife, never spoke of her, never suggested the fact of marriage; and the mother, testifying to all these facts, insisted that it was impossible that her son could have married without informing her, with whom he had been all his life on the most confidential terms, of the fact. After she had finished her testimony in chief she was turned over to the opposing counsel for cross-examination. She faced him with an air of determination as though she expected a protracted and bitter cross-examination and was ready to contest every inch. With the utmost deference and courtesy he said, "I understood you to say that your son was an honorable man." Quick as a flash the proud mother straightened herself up and replied, "The soul of honor, sir; the soul of honor." "That is all," was the counsel's comment, and the mother left the stand, astonished at his brevity. It appeared, however, in the case that the son had introduced this woman into the society of the city where he lived as his wife, had taken her to a hotel, registering himself and wife, and when counsel came to argue the case to the jury, the burden of his successful argument was that this man was the soul of honor and could not have done such a thing unless it was true, as she claimed, that they had been married.
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.
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