Much interest was excited some years ago in England, by the circumstances attending the defence of Courvoisier, indicted for the murder of Lord William Russell. The crime was one of great atrocity. It came out after his conviction, that during the trial he had confessed his guilt to his counsel, of whom the eminent barrister Charles Phillips, Esq., was one. Mr. Phillips was accused of having endeavored, notwithstanding this confession, to fasten suspicion on the other servants in the house, to induce the belief that the police had conspired with them to manufacture evidence against the prisoner, and to impress the jury with his own personal belief in the innocence of his client. How far these accusations were just in point of fact was the subject of lively discussion in the newspapers and periodicals of the time.
The language of counsel, on such occasions, during the excitement of the trial, in the fervor of an address to the jury, is not to be calmly and nicely scanned in the printed report. The testimony of such a witness as Baron Parke, at the time and on the spot,—he, too, aware of the exact position of Mr. Phillips—and that confirmed by Chief Justice Tindal, is conclusive. To charge him with acting falsehood, that is, with presenting the case as it appeared upon the testimony, earnestly and confidently, means that he did not do that, which would have been worse than retiring from his post.
The non-professional, as well as professional public in England, however, agreed in saying that he would not have been justified in withdrawing from the case: he was still bound to defend the accused upon the evidence; though a knowledge of his guilt, from whatever source derived, might and ought materially to influence the mode of the defence. No right-minded man, professional or otherwise, will contend that it would have been right in him to have lent himself to a defence, which might have ended, had it been successful, in bringing down an unjust suspicion upon an innocent person; or even to stand up and falsely pretend a confidence in the truth and justice of his cause, which he did not feel. But there were those on this side of the Atlantic, who demurred to the conclusion, that an advocate is under a moral obligation to maintain the defence of a man who has admitted to him his guilt. Men have been known, however, under the influence of some delusion, to confess themselves guilty of crimes which they had not committed: and hence, to decline acting as counsel in such a case, is a dangerous refinement in morals. Nothing seems plainer than the proposition, that a person accused of a crime is to be tried and convicted, if convicted at all, upon evidence, and whether guilty or not guilty, if the evidence is insufficient to convict him, he has a legal right to be acquitted. The tribunal that convicts without sufficient evidence may decide according to the fact; but the next jury, acting on the same principle, may condemn an innocent man. If this be so, is not the prisoner in every case entitled to have the evidence carefully sifted, the weak points of the prosecution exposed, the reasonable doubts presented which should weigh in his favor? And what offence to truth or morality does his advocate commit in discharging that duty to the best of his learning and ability? What apology can he make for throwing up his brief? The truth he cannot disclose; the law seals his lips as to what has thus been communicated to him in confidence by his client. He has no alternative, then, but to perform his duty. It is his duty, however, as an advocate merely, as Baron Parke has well expressed it, to use ALL FAIR ARGUMENTS ARISING ON THE EVIDENCE. Beyond that, he is not bound to go in any case; in a case in which he is satisfied in his own mind of the guilt of the accused, he is not justified in going.
Under all circumstances, the utmost candor should be used towards the client. This is imperatively demanded alike by considerations of duty and interest. It is much better for a man occasionally to lose a good client, than to fail in so plain a matter. It is nothing but selfishness that can operate upon a lawyer when consulted to conceal from the party his candid opinion of the merits, and the probable result. It is fair that he should know it; for he may not choose to employ a man whose views may operate to check his resorting to all lawful means to effect success. Besides, most men, when they consult an attorney, wish a candid opinion; it is what they ask and pay for. It is true, that it is often very hard to persuade a man that he has not the best side of a lawsuit: his interest blinds his judgment: his passion will not allow him to reflect calmly, and give due weight to opposing considerations. There are many persons who will go from lawyer to lawyer with a case, until they find one who is willing to express an opinion which tallies with their own. Such a client the lawyer, who acts firmly upon the principle to which I have adverted, will now and then lose; but even such an one, when finally unsuccessful, as the great probability is that he will be, when he comes to sit down and calculate all that he has lost in time, money, and character, by acting contrary to the advice first given, will revert to the candid and honest opinion he then received, and determine, if ever he gets into another difficulty of the kind, to resort to that attorney, and abide by his advice. Thus may a man build up for himself a character far outweighing, even in pecuniary value, all such paltry particular losses; it is to such men that the best clients resort; they have the most important and interesting lawsuits, and enjoy by far the most lucrative practice.
A very important part of the advocate's duty is to moderate the passions of the party, and where the case is of a character to justify it, to encourage an amicable compromise of the controversy. It happens too often at the close of a protracted litigation that it is discovered, when too late, that the play has not been worth the candle, and that it would have been better, calculating everything, for the successful party never to have embarked in it—to have paid the claim, if defendant, or to have relinquished it, if he was plaintiff. Counsel can very soon discover whether such is likely to be the case, and it cannot be doubted what their plain duty is under such circumstances.
Besides this, the advocate is bound in honor, as well as duty, to disclose to the client at the time of the retainer, every circumstance of his own connection with the parties or prior relation to the controversy, which can or may influence his determination in the selection of him for the office. An attorney is bound to disclose to his client every adverse retainer, and even every prior retainer, which may affect the discretion of the latter. No man can be supposed to be indifferent to the knowledge of facts, which work directly on his interests, or bear on the freedom of his choice of counsel. When a client employs an attorney, he has a right to presume, if the latter be silent on the point, that he has no engagements which interfere, in any degree, with his exclusive devotion to the cause confided to him; that he has no interest which may betray his judgment or endanger his fidelity.
It is in some measure the duty of counsel to be the keeper of the conscience of the client; not to suffer him, through the influence of his feelings or interest, to do or say anything wrong in itself, and of which he would himself afterwards repent. This guardianship may be carefully, and at the same time kindly exerted. One particular will be mentioned in which its exercise is frequently called for. The client will be often required, in the course of a cause, to make affidavits of various kinds. There is no part of his business with his client, in which a lawyer should be more cautious, or even punctilious, than this. He should be careful lest he incur the moral guilt of subornation of perjury, if not the legal offence. An attorney may have communications with his client in such a way, in instructing him as to what the law requires him to state under oath or affirmation, in order to accomplish any particular object in view, as to offer an almost irresistible temptation and persuasion to stretch the conscience of the affiant up to the required point. Instead of drawing affidavits, and permitting them to be sworn to as a matter of course, as it is to be feared is too often the case, counsel should on all occasions take care to treat an oath with great solemnity, as a transaction to be very scrupulously watched, because involving great moral peril as well as liability to public disgrace and infamy. It lies especially in the way of the profession to give a high tone to public sentiment upon this all-important subject, the sacredness of an oath. It is always the wisest and best course, to have an interview with the client, and draw from him by questions, whether he knows the facts which you know he is required to state, so that you may judge whether, as a conscientious man, he ought to make such affidavit.
Another particular may be adverted to: the attempt to cover property from the just demands of creditors. It is to be feared that gentlemen of the Bar sometimes shut their eyes and, under the influence of feelings of commiseration for an unfortunate client, feign not to see what is really very palpable to everybody else. Surely they ought never to sanction, directly or indirectly such shams, especially when the machinery of a judicial sale is introduced more securely to accomplish the object. A purchase is made in the name of a friend for the debtor's benefit and with the debtor's money, though it may be hard to make that appear by legal evidence. When advice is asked, as it sometimes is, how such a thing may be safely and legally done, the idea held prominently before the party by his counsel should be, that his estate is the property of his creditors, and that nothing but their consent will justify an appropriation of any part of it to his benefit.
Lawyers too may very materially assist in giving a high tone to public sentiment in the matter of stay and exemption laws. It is not every case in which a man has a legal that he has a moral right to claim the benefit of such laws. When a debtor with ample means to pay only wants to harass and worry his creditor, who has resorted to legal process and obtained a judgment, by keeping him out of his money, as it is often expressed, as long as he can; or where he wishes to take advantage of hard times to make more than legal interest, or with concealed means unknown to the execution plaintiff, claims the exemption: these are cases which counsel ought to hold up in their proper light to those whom they advise, and wash their hands of the responsibility of them. According to the Jewish law, the cloak or outer garment, which was generally used by the poorer classes as a covering during sleep, could not be retained by the creditor to whom it had been given in pledge, and of course was exempt by law from seizure for debt; and our blessed Saviour, in his sermon on the mount, has been supposed to refer to this exemption law, when he said: "And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;" that is, confine not yourself in your transactions with your fellow-men to giving them simply the strict measure of their legal rights: give them all that is honestly theirs as far as you have ability, whether the law affords them a remedy or not. There have been some noble instances of bankrupts who, upon subsequently retrieving their fortunes, have fully discharged all their old debts, principal and interest, though released or barred by the Statute of Limitations; but such instances would be more common if the spirit of the high and pure morality, which breathes through the sermon on the mount, prevailed more extensively.
An important clause in the official oath is "to delay no man's cause for lucre or malice." It refers, no doubt, primarily, to the cause intrusted to the attorney, and prohibits him from resorting to such means for the purpose of procuring more fees, or of indulging any feeling he may have against his client personally. Such conduct would be a clear case of a violation of the oath. But it is a question, also, whether the case generally, in which he is retained, is not comprehended. How far, then, can he safely go in delaying the cause for the benefit of, and in pursuance of the instructions of his client? A man comes to him and says: "I have no defence to this claim; it is just and due, but I have not the means to pay it; I want all the time you can get for me." The best plan in such instances, is, no doubt, at once frankly to address his opponent, and he will generally be willing to grant all the delay which he knows, in the ordinary course can be gained, and perhaps more, as a consideration for his own time and trouble saved. If, however, that be impracticable, it would seem that the suitor has a right to all the delay, which is incident to the ordinary course of justice. The counsel may take all means for this purpose, which do not involve artifice or falsehood in himself or the party. The formal pleas put in are not to be considered as false in this aspect, except such as are required to be sustained by oath. In an ejectment, for example, an appearance need not be entered until the second term, the legislature having seen fit to give that much respite to the unjust possessor of real estate. But to stand by and see a client swear off a case on account of the absence of a material witness, when he knows that no witness can be material; or further to make affidavit that his appeal or writ of error is not intended for delay, when he knows that it is intended for nothing else, no high-minded man will be privy or consent to such actions, much less have any active participation in them.
Subject, however, to the qualifications which have been stated, when a cause is undertaken, the great duty which the counsel owes to his client, is an immovable fidelity. Every consideration should induce an honest and honorable man to regard himself, as far as the cause is concerned, as completely identified with his client. The criminal and disgraceful offence of taking fees of two adversaries, of allowing himself to be approached corruptly, whether directly or indirectly, with a view to conciliation, ought, like parricide in the Athenian law, to be passed over in silence in a code of professional ethics. All considerations of self should be sunk by the lawyer in his duty to the cause. The adversary may be a man of station, wealth, and influence; his good will may be highly valuable to him; his enmity may do him great injury. He should not permit such thoughts to arise in his mind. He should do his duty manfully, without fear, favor, or affection.
At the same time, let it be observed, that no man ought to allow himself to be hired to abuse the opposite party. It is not a desirable professional reputation to live and die with, that of a rough tongue, which makes a man to be sought out, and retained to gratify the malevolent feelings of a suitor in hearing the other side well lashed and vilified. An opponent should always be treated with civility and courtesy, and if it be necessary to say severe things of him or his witnesses, let it be done in the language, and with the bearing, of a gentleman. There is no point in which it becomes an advocate to be more cautious, than in his treatment of the witnesses. In general, fierce assaults upon them, unnecessary trifling with their feelings, rough and uncivil behavior towards them in cross-examination, whilst it may sometimes exasperate them to such a pitch, that they will perjure themselves in the drunkenness of their passion, still, most generally tells badly on the jury. They are apt to sympathize with a witness under such circumstances. It is as well unwise as unprofessional, in counsel, to accuse a witness of having forsworn himself, unless some good ground, other than the mere instruction of the client, is present in the evidence to justify it. He may sift most searchingly, and yet with a manner and courtesy which affords no ground for irritation, either in witness or opponent; and in such case, if his questions produce irritation, it is a circumstance which will weigh in his favor.
The practitioner owes to his client, with unshaken fidelity, the exertion of all the industry and application of which he is capable to become perfect master of the questions at issue, to look at them in all their bearings, to place himself in the opposite interest, and to consider and be prepared as far as possible, for all that may be said or done on the contrary part. The duty of full and constant preparation, is too evident to require much elaboration. It is better, whenever it is possible to do so, to make this examination immediately upon the retainer, and not to postpone it to later stages in the proceedings. The opportunity is often lost, of ascertaining facts, and securing evidence, from putting off till too late, the business of understanding thoroughly all that it will be necessary to adduce on the trial. In this way, a lawyer will attain what is very important, that his client may be always prepared, as well as himself, have his attention alive to his case, know what witnesses are important, and keep a watch upon them, so that their testimony may not be lost, and upon the movements of his adversary, lest he should at any time be taken by surprise. It would be an excellent rule for him, at short stated periods, to make an examination of the record of every case which he has under his charge. It always operates disadvantageously to an attorney in the eyes of those who employ him, as well as the public, when he fails in consequence of some neglect or oversight. Frequent applications to the court, to relieve him from the consequences of his inattention, tell badly on his character and business. He may be able to make very plausible excuses; but the public take notice, that some men with large business never have occasion to make such excuses, and that other men with less, are constantly making them. Every instance of the kind helps to make up such a character. A young man should be particularly cautious, and dread such occurrences as highly injurious to his prospects. If he escapes the notice and animadversion of his constituent, and the legal consequences of his neglect, by the intervention of the court, or the indulgence of his opponent, the members of the Bar are lynx-eyed in observing such things.
It may appear like digressing from our subject, to speak of such qualities as attention, accuracy, and punctuality, but like the minor morals of common life, they are little rills which at times unite and form great rivers. A life of dishonor and obscurity, if not ignominy, has often taken its rise from the fountain of a little habit of inattention and procrastination. System is everything. It can accomplish wonders. By this alone, as by a magic talisman, may time be so economized that business can be attended to and opportunities saved for study, general reading, exercise, recreation, and society. "A man that is young in years," says Lord Bacon, "may be old in hours, if he has lost no time." Hurry and confusion result from the want of system; and the mind can never be clear when a man's papers and business are in disorder. It is recorded of the pensionary De Witt, of the United Provinces, who fell a victim to the fury of the populace in the year 1672, that he did the whole business of the republic, and yet had time left for relaxation and study in the evenings. When he was asked how he could possibly bring this to pass, his answer was, that "nothing was so easy; for that it was only doing one thing at a time, and never putting off anything till to-morrow that could he done to-day." "This steady and undissipated attention to one object," remarks Lord Chesterfield, in relating this anecdote, "is a sure mark of a superior genius." It is of the highest importance, also, that a lawyer should in early professional life, cultivate the habit of accuracy. It is a great advantage over opposing counsel,—a great recommendation in the eyes of intelligent mercantile and business men. A professional note to a merchant carelessly written will often of itself produce an unfavorable impression on his mind; and that impression he may communicate to many others. The importance of a good handwriting cannot be overrated. A plain legible hand every man can write who chooses to take the pains. A good handwriting is a passport to the favor of clients, and to the good graces of judges, when papers come to be submitted to them. It would be a good rule for a young lawyer, though at first perhaps irksome and inconvenient, never to suffer a letter or paper to pass from his hands with an erasure or interlineation. The time and trouble it may cost at the outset will be repaid in the end by the habit he will thereby acquire of transacting his business with care, neatness, and accuracy.
He cannot be faithful to his clients unless he continues to be a hard student of the learning of his profession. Not merely that he should thoroughly investigate the law applicable to every case which may be intrusted to him; though that, besides its paramount necessity to enable him to meet the responsibility he has assumed to that particular client, will be the subsidiary means of important progress in his professional acquisitions. "Let any person," says Mr. Preston, "study one or two heads of the law fully and minutely, and he will have laid the foundation or acquired the aptitude for comprehending other heads of the law." But, besides this, he should pursue the systematic study of his profession upon some well-matured plan. When admitted to the Bar, a young man has but just begun, not finished, his legal education. If he have mastered some of the most general elementary principles, and has acquired a taste for the study, it is as much as can be expected from his clerkship. There are few young men who come to the Bar, who cannot find ample time in the first five or seven years of their novitiate, to devote to a complete acquisition of the science they profess, if they truly feel the need of it, and resolve to attain it. The danger is great that from a faulty preparation,—from not being made to see and appreciate the depth, extent, and variety of the knowledge they are to seek, they will mistake the smattering they have acquired for profound attainments. The anxiety of the young lawyer is a natural one at once to get business—as much business as he can. Throwing aside his books, he resorts to the many means at hand of gaining notoriety and attracting public attention, with a view of bringing clients to his office. Such an one in time never fails to learn much by his mistakes, but at a sad expense of character, feeling, and conscience. He at last finds that in law, as in every branch of knowledge, "a little learning is a dangerous thing;" that what he does not know falsifies often in its actual application that which he supposed he certainly did know; and after the most valuable portion of his life has been frittered away upon objects unworthy of his ambition, he is too apt to conclude that it is now too late to redeem his time; he finds that he has lost all relish for systematic study, and when he is driven to the investigation of particular questions, is confounded and embarrassed—unable to thread his way through the mazes of authorities, to reconcile apparently conflicting cases, or deduce any satisfactory conclusion from them—in short, he has no greater aptitude, accuracy, and discrimination than when he set out in the beginning of his studies. No better advice can be given to a young practitioner, than to confine himself generally to his office and books, even if this should require self-denial and privation, to map out for himself a course of regular studies, more or less extended, according to circumstances, to aim at mastering the works of the great luminaries of the science, Coke, Fearne, Preston, Powell, Sugden, and others, not forgetting the maxim, melius est petere fontes quam sectari rivulos, and to investigate for himself the most important and interesting questions, by an examination and research of the original authorities. "He that reacheth deepest seeth the amiable and admirable, secrets of the law," and thus may the student "proceed in his reading with alacrity, and set upon and know how to work into with delight these rough mines of hidden treasure."
It may be allowed here to commend to most serious consideration, the remarks of one of the most eminent of the profession—Horace Binney—a gentleman of our own Bar, whose example enforces and illustrates their value: "There are two very different methods of acquiring a knowledge of the laws of England, and by each of them, men have succeeded in public estimation to an almost equal extent. One of them, which may be called the old way, is a methodical study of the general system of law, and of its grounds and reasons, beginning with the fundamental law of estates and tenures, and pursuing the derivative branches in logical succession, and the collateral subjects in due order; by which the student acquires a knowledge of principles that rule in all departments of the science, and learns to feel as much as to know what is in harmony with the system and what not. The other is, to get an outline of the system, by the aid of commentaries, and to fill it up by the desultory reading of treatises and reports, according to the bent of the student, without much shape or certainty in the knowledge so acquired, until it is given by investigation in the course of practice. A good deal of law may be put together by a facile or flexible man, in the second of these modes, and the public are often satisfied; but the profession itself knows the first, by its fruits, to be the most effectual way of making a great lawyer."
Such a course of study as is here recommended, is not the work of a day or a year. In the meantime let business seek the young attorney; and though it may come in slowly, and at intervals, and promise in its character neither fame nor profit, still, if he bears in mind that it is an important part of his training, that he should understand the business he does thoroughly, that he should especially cultivate, in transacting it, habits of neatness, accuracy, punctuality, and despatch, candor towards his client, and strict honor towards his adversary, it may be safely prophesied that his business will grow as fast as it is good for him that it should grow; while he gradually becomes able to sustain the largest practice, without being bewildered and overwhelmed.
Let him be careful, however, not to settle down into a mere lawyer. To reach the highest walks of the profession, something more is needed. Let polite literature be cultivated in hours of relaxation. Let him lose not his acquaintance with the models of ancient taste and eloquence. He should study languages, as well from their practical utility in a country so full of foreigners, as from the mental discipline, and the rich stores they furnish. He should cultivate a pleasing style, and an easy and graceful address. It may be true, that in a "court of justice, the veriest dolt that ever stammered a sentence, would be more attended to, with a case in point, than Cicero with all his eloquence, unsupported by authorities," yet even an argument on a dry point of law, produces a better impression, secures a more attentive auditor in the judge, when it is constructed and put together with attention to the rules of the rhetorical art; when it is delivered, not stammeringly, but fluently; when facts and principles, drawn from other fields of knowledge, are invoked to support and adorn it; when voice, and gesture, and animation, give it all that attraction which earnestness always and alone imparts. There is great danger that law reading, pursued to the exclusion of everything else, will cramp and dwarf the mind, shackle it by the technicalities with which it has become so familiar, and disable it from taking enlarged and comprehensive views even of topics falling within its compass as well as of those lying beyond its legitimate domain. An amusing instance of this is said to have occurred in the debate in the House of Commons, on the great question as to the right of the Parliament of Great Britain to tax the Colonies. At the close of the discussion, in which Fox and Burke, as well as others, had distinguished themselves, a learned lawyer arose and said that the real point on which the whole matter turned, had been unaccountably overlooked. In the midst of deep silence and anxious expectation from all quarters of the House, he proceeded to show that the lands of the Colonies had been originally granted by the Crown, and were held ut de honore, as of the Manor of Greenwich, in the county of Kent; and thence he concluded that as the Manor of Greenwich was represented in Parliament, so the lands of the North American Colonies (by tenure, a part of the Manor) were represented by the knights of the shire for Kent.
Let me remark, too, before hastening to another topic more immediately connected with the duties of active professional life, that the cultivation of a taste for polite literature has other importance besides its value as a preparation and qualification for practice and forensic contests. Nothing is so well adapted to fill up the interstices of business with rational enjoyment, to make even a solitary life agreeable, and to smooth pleasantly and honorably the downward path of age. The mental vigor of one who is fond of reading, other things being equal, becomes impaired at a much later period of life. The lover of books has faithful companions and friends, who will never forsake him under the most adverse circumstances. "As soon as I found," said Sir Samuel Romilly, "that I was to be a busy lawyer for life, I strenuously resolved to keep up my habit of non-professional reading; for I had witnessed so much misery in the last years of many great lawyers, whom I had known, from their loss of all taste for books, that I regarded their fate as my warning." Mr. Gibbon was wont to say that he would not exchange his love of reading for the wealth of the Indies. It is indeed a fortune, of which the world's reverses can never deprive us. It fortifies the soul against the calamities of life. It moderates, if it is not strong enough to govern and control the passions. It favors not the association of the cup, the dice-box, or the debauch. The atmosphere of a library is uncongenial with them. It clings to home, nourishes the domestic affections, and the hopes and consolations of religion.
Another very delicate and often embarrassing question in the relation of attorney and client is in regard to the subject of compensation for professional services.
In all countries advanced in civilization, and whose laws and manners have attained any degree of refinement, there has arisen an order of advocates devoted to prosecuting or defending the lawsuits of others. Before the tribunals of Athens, although the party pleaded his own cause, it was usual to have the oration prepared by one of an order of men devoted to this business, and to compensate him liberally for his skill and learning. Many of the orations of Isocrates, which have been handed down to us, are but private pleadings of this character. He is said to have received one fee of twenty talents, about eighteen thousand dollars of our money, for a speech that he wrote for Nicocles, king of Cyprus. Still, from all that appears, the compensation thus received was honorary or gratuitous merely. Among the early institutions of Rome, the relation of patron and client, which existed between the patrician and plebeian, bound the former to render the latter assistance and protection in his lawsuits, with no other return than the general duty, which the client owed to his patron. As every patrician could not be a sufficiently profound lawyer to resolve all difficulties, which might arise in the progress of a complex system of government and laws, though he still might accomplish himself in the art of eloquence, there arose soon a new order of men, the jurisconsults. They also received no compensation. On the public days of market, or assembly, the masters of the art were seen walking in the forum, ready to impart the needful advice to the meanest of their fellow-citizens, from whose votes on a future occasion, they might solicit a grateful return. As their years and honors increased, they seated themselves at home, on a chair or throne, to expect with patient gravity the visits of their clients, who at the dawn of day, from the town and country, began to thunder at their doors. Often, indeed, the patron was able in his own person to exercise the office both of advocate and counsellor. It was only in the more glorious, because the more virtuous, period of the republic, that the relation was sustained upon so honorable a foundation. In the progress of society, the business of advocating causes became a distinct profession; and then it was usual to pay a fee in advance, which was called a gratuity or present. As this was a mere honorary recompense, the client was under no legal obligation to pay it. But the result necessarily was, that if the usual present was not given, the advocate did not consider himself bound in honor to undertake the advocation of the cause before the courts. Afterwards, Marcus Cincius Alimentus, the tribune of the people, procured the passage of the law known as the Cincian law, prohibiting the patron or advocate from receiving any money or other present for any cause; and annulling all gratuities or presents made by the client to the patron or advocate. But as no penalty was prescribed for the breach of the law, it of course became a dead letter. The Emperor Augustus afterwards re-enacted the Cincian law, and prescribed penalties for its breach. But towards the end of his reign, the advocates were again authorized to receive fees or presents from their clients. The Emperor Tiberius also permitted them to receive such forced gratuities. This led to the abuse referred to by Tacitus, and induced the Senate to insist upon the enforcement of the re-enactment of the Cincian law, or rather a law limiting the amount of the fees of advocates. Nero revoked the law of Claudian, which was subsequently re-enacted by the Emperor Trajan, with the additional restriction that the advocate should not be permitted to receive his fee or gratuity, until the cause was decided. The younger Pliny mentions a law, which authorized the advocate, after the pleadings in the cause had been made and the judgment had been given, to receive the fee, which might be voluntarily offered by the client, either in money or a promise to pay. Erskine, in his Institutes of the Law of Scotland, understands the law in the Digest De Extraordinariis Cognitionibus as authorizing a suit for the fee of a physician or advocate without a previous agreement for a specific sum.
The consequences may be best told in the impressive language of the historian of the Decline and Fall of the Empire: "The noble art, which had once been preserved as the sacred inheritance of the patricians, was fallen into the hands of freedmen and plebeians, who, with cunning rather than with skill, exercised a sordid and pernicious trade. Some of them procured admittance into families for the purpose of fomenting differences, of encouraging suits, and of preparing a harvest of gain for themselves or their brethren. Others, recluse in their chambers, maintained the dignity of legal professors, by furnishing a rich client with subtleties to confound the plainest truth, and with arguments to color the most unjustifiable pretensions. The splendid and popular class was composed of the advocates, who filled the Forum with the sound of their turgid and loquacious rhetoric. Careless of fame and of justice, they are described for the most part, as ignorant and rapacious guides, who conducted their clients through a maze of expense, of delay, and of disappointment; from whence, after a tedious series of years, they were at length dismissed when their patience and fortune were almost exhausted." Is not this probably the history of the decline of the profession in all countries from an honorable office to a money-making trade?
It is the established law of England, that a counsellor or barrister cannot maintain a suit for his fees. There is in that country a class of mere attorneys, who attend to legal business out of court, who bring suits and conduct them up to issue; but who are not allowed to speak in court. This latter privilege is confined to serjeants and barristers. Attorneys are regulated by statute, and are subject to many restrictions; having a rate of fees, settled either by statute or established usage; and required to be fixed by the taxation of an officer of the court before a suit can be brought for them. Barristers are admitted only under the regulations established by the various inns of court; and the serjeants, who long had the monopoly of the Bar of the Common Pleas, are appointed by patent from the king. A barrister cannot be an attorney.
In this country, there is in general no distinction between attorneys and counsellors. The same persons fulfil the duties of both. Hence no difference is made between their right to recover compensation for services in the one capacity or the other. In Pennsylvania, it was held at one time that an attorney could not recover, without an express promise, anything beyond the trifling and totally inadequate sum provided in the fee-bill. That pure and eminent jurist Chief Justice Tilghman thought that the policy of refusing a legal remedy for anything beyond that had not been adopted without great consideration. He stands not alone in the opinion that it has been neither for the honor nor profit of the Bar to depart from the ancient rule. It has been departed from in this State, and the early decision overruled, however; and it must be frankly admitted, that the current of decisions in our sister States is in the same way.
It is supposed that the ancient rule was artificial in its structure, and practically unjust,—that it is wholly inconsistent with our ideas of equality to suppose that the business or profession, by which any one earns the daily bread of himself or of his family, is so much more honorable than the business of other members of the community as to prevent him from receiving a fair compensation for his services on that account. It has been pronounced ridiculous to attempt to perpetuate a monstrous legal fiction, by which the hard-working lawyers of our day, toiling till midnight in their offices, are to be regarded in the eye of the law in the light of the patrician jurisconsults of ancient Rome, when
—— dulce diu fuit et solemne, reclusa Mane domo vigilare, clienti promere jura,—
and who at daybreak received the early visits of their humble and dependent clients, and pronounced with mysterious brevity the oracles of the law.
These are arguments which are more plausible than sound: they are imposing, but not solid. The question really is, what is best for the people at large,—what will be most likely to secure them a high-minded, honorable Bar? It is all-important that the profession should have and deserve that character. A horde of pettifogging, barratrous, custom-seeking, money-making lawyers, is one of the greatest curses with which any state or community can be visited. What more likely to bring about such a result than a decision, which strips the Bar of its character as a learned profession, on the principle avowed by one court, that it is now a calling as much as any mechanical art,—or by another, in effect, that the order of things is in the present condition of society reversed, and clients are really the patrons of their attorneys? A more plausible reason is that the client is safer from the oppression of extortionate counsel, by putting both upon the equal footing of legal right and obligation. It would appear, however, better that the parties should make an express agreement before or at the time of retainer, or that the amount should be left to the justice of the counsel, and the honor and liberality of the client subsequently. Every judge, who has ever tried a case between attorney and client, has felt the delicacy and difficulty of saying what is the measure of just compensation. It is to be graduated, according to a high legal authority, with a proper reference to the nature of the business performed by the counsel for the client, and his standing in his profession for learning and skill; whereby the value of his services is enhanced to his client. Is then the standing and character of the counsel in his profession for learning and skill to be a question of fact to be determined by the jury in every case in which a lawyer sues his client? How determined, if necessary to the decision of the question? Not surely by the crude opinions of the jurors; but by testimony of members of the same profession on the subject. This never is done; it would be a very difficult as well as delicate question for a lawyer to pronounce upon the standing of a professional brother. The most that can be done is to call gentlemen to say what they would have considered reasonable for such services, had they been performed by themselves. Some may testify up to a very high point, from an excusable, though foolish vanity; others to a very low one, from the despicable, desire of attracting custom to a cheap shop. No one can ever have seen such a cause tried without feeling, that the Bar had received by it an impulse downwards in the eyes of bystanders and the community. The case is thrown into the jury-box, to be decided at haphazard, according as the twelve men may chance to think or feel. He, who narrowly watches such controversies, cannot fail to see that the right of a counsel to enforce his claim for legal compensation is far from being calculated to protect the client from oppression and extortion.
It is not worth while, however, to quarrel with the decision. Let us inquire rather what should be the course of counsel, without regard to it. He certainly owes it to his profession, as well as himself, that when the client has the ability, his services should be recompensed; and that according to a liberal standard. There are many cases, in which it will be his duty, perhaps more properly his privilege, to work for nothing. It is to be hoped, that the time will never come, at this or any other Bar in this country, when a poor man with an honest cause, though without a fee, cannot obtain the services of honorable counsel, in the prosecution or defence of his rights. But it must be an extraordinary—a very peculiar case—that will justify an attorney in resorting to legal proceedings, to enforce the payment of fees. It is better that he should be a loser, than have a public contest upon the subject with a client. The enlightened Bar of Paris, have justly considered the character of their order involved in such proceedings; and although by the law of France, an advocate may recover for his fees by suit, yet they regard it as dishonorable, and those who should attempt to do it, would be immediately stricken from the roll of attorneys.
Regard should be had to the general usage of the profession, especially as to the rates of commission to be charged for the collection of undefended claims. Except in this class of cases, agreements between counsel and client that the compensation of the former shall depend upon final success in the lawsuit—in other words contingent fees—however common such agreements may be, are of a very dangerous tendency, and to be declined in all ordinary cases. In making his charge, after the business committed to him has been completed, as an attorney may well take into consideration the general ability of his client to pay, so he may also consider the pecuniary benefit, which may have been derived from his services. For a poor man, who is unable to pay at all, there may be a general understanding that the attorney is to be liberally compensated in case of success. What is objected to, is an agreement to receive a certain part or proportion of the sum, or subject-matter, in the event of a recovery, and nothing otherwise.
It is unnecessary to inquire here whether such a contract is void as champertous, and contrary to public policy. None of the English statutes on the subject of champerty have been reported as in force here; but it was once a question whether it was not an offence at common law, independently altogether, of any statute enactment. Enlightened judges in several of our sister States have so considered it. "The purchase of a lawsuit," says Chancellor Kent, "by an attorney, is champerty in its most odious form; and it ought equally to be condemned on principles of public policy. It would lead to fraud, oppression, and corruption. As a sworn minister of the courts of justice, the attorney ought not to be permitted to avail himself of the knowledge he acquires in his professional character, to speculate in lawsuits. The precedent would tend to corrupt the profession, and produce lasting mischief to the community." "This is not the time nor place," says Chief Justice Gibson, "to discuss the legality of contingent fees; though it be clear that if the British statutes of champerty were in force here, such fees would be prohibited by them. But a contract of the sort is certainly not to be encouraged by implication, from a questionable usage, nor established by less than a positive stipulation." A contract to allow a compensation for services in procuring the passage of a private Act of Assembly, has been held to be unlawful and void, as against public policy. "The practice," said Judge Rogers, in delivering the opinion of the court, "which has generally obtained in this State, to allow a contingent compensation for legal services, has been a subject of regret; nor am I aware of any direct decision by which the practice has received judicial sanction in our courts." The case of Ex parte Plitt, however, recognizes fully the lawfulness of contingent fees, though in his opinion Judge Kane says: "It is not a practice to be generally commended, exposing honorable men not unfrequently to misapprehension and illiberal remark, and giving the apparent sanction of their example to conduct, which they would be among the foremost to reprehend. Such contracts may sometimes be necessary in a community such as that of Pennsylvania has been, and perhaps as it is yet; and when they have been made in abundant good faith—uberrima fide—without suppression or reserve of fact or exaggeration of apprehended difficulties, or under influence of any sort or degree; and when the compensation bargained for is absolutely just and fair, so that the transaction is characterized throughout by 'all good fidelity to the client,' the court will hold such contracts to be valid. But it is unnecessary to say, that such contracts, as they can scarcely be excepted from the general rule, which denounces as suspicious the dealings of fiduciaries with those under their protection, must undergo the most exact and jealous scrutiny before they can expect the judicial ratification." Finally, the question of law may be considered as at rest in Pennsylvania by the decision of the Supreme Court in Patten v. Wilson, which recognized an agreement between counsel and client to pay him out of the verdict as an equitable assignment, and gave effect to it as against an attaching creditor.
It is not, however, with the lawfulness, but with the policy and morality of the practice, that we are now dealing. Admitting its legality, is it consistent with that high standard of moral excellence, which the members of this profession should ever propose to themselves?
Let us look at what would be the results of such a practice, if it became general. If these are bad, if its tendency is to corrupt and degrade the character of the profession, then, however confident any man may feel in his moral power to ward off its evil influences from his own character and conduct, he should be careful not to encourage and give countenance to it by his example.
It is one of that class of actions, which in particular instances may be indifferent; but their morality is to be tested by considering what would be the consequences of their general prevalence.
It is to be observed, then, that such a contract changes entirely the relation of counsel, to the cause. It reduces him from his high position of an officer of the court and a minister of justice, to that of a party litigating his own claim. Having now a deep personal interest in the event of the controversy, he will cease to consider himself subject to the ordinary rules of professional conduct. He is tempted to make success, at all hazards and by all means, the sole end of his exertions. He becomes blind to the merits of the case, and would find it difficult to persuade himself, no matter what state of facts might be developed in the progress of the proceedings, as to the true character of the transaction, that it was his duty to retire from it.
It places his client and himself in a new and dangerous relation. They are no longer attorney and client, but partners. He has now an interest, which gives him a right to speak as principal, not merely to advise as to the law, and abide by instructions. It is either unfair to him or unfair to the client. If he thinks the result doubtful, he throws all his time, learning, and skill away upon what, in his estimation, is an uncertain chance. He cannot work with the proper spirit in such a case. If he believes that the result will be success, he secures in this way a higher compensation than he is justly entitled to receive.
It is an undue encouragement to litigation. Men, who would not think of entering on a lawsuit, if they knew that they must compensate their lawyer whether they win or lose, are ready upon such a contingent agreement to try their chances with any kind of a claim. It makes the law more of a lottery than it is.
The worst consequence is yet to be told,—its effect upon, professional character. It turns lawyers into higglers with their clients. Of course it is not meant that these are always its actual results; but they are its inevitable tendencies,—in many instances its practical working. To drive a favorable bargain with the suitor in the first place, the difficulties of the case are magnified and multiplied, and advantage taken of that very confidence, which led him to intrust his interests to the protection of the advocate. The parties are necessarily not on an equal footing in making such a bargain. A high sense of honor may prevent counsel from abusing his position and knowledge; but all have not such high and nice sense of honor. If our example goes towards making the practice of agreements for contingent fees general, we assist in placing such temptations in the way of our professional brethren of all degrees—the young, the inexperienced, and the unwary, as well as those whose age and experience have taught them that a lawyer's honor is his brightest jewel, and to be guarded from being sullied, even by the breath of suspicion, with the most sedulous care.
A gentleman of the largest experience and highest character for integrity and learning at the Philadelphia Bar, thus strongly confirms the views which have been here expressed on the subject of contingent fees: "And further," says Mr. Price in his concluding advice to students, at the close of his Essay on Limitation and Lien, "permit me to advise and earnestly to admonish you, for the preservation of professional honor and integrity, to avoid the temptation of bargaining for fees or shares of any estate or other claim, contingent upon a successful recovery. The practice directly leads to a disturbance of the peace of society and to an infidelity to the professional obligation promised to the court, in which is implied an absence of desire or effort of one in the ministry of the Temple of Justice, to obtain a success that is not just as well as lawful. It is true, as a just equivalent for many cases honorably advocated and incompetently paid by the poor, a compensation may and will be received, the more liberal because of the ability produced by success; but let it be the result of no bargain, exacted as a price before the service is rendered, but rather the grateful return for benefits already conferred. If rigid in your terms, in protection of the right of the profession to a just and honorable compensation, let it rather be in the amount of the required retainer, when it will have its proper influence in the discouragement of litigation."
A lawyer should avoid, as far as possible, all transactions of business with his clients, not only in regard to matters in suit in his hands, but in relation to other matters. He should avoid standing toward them, either in the relation of borrower or lender. A young practitioner should especially avoid borrowing of any one. Let him retrench, seek the humblest employment of drudgery rather than do it; but, if borrow he must, let it be of any one else than a client. All transactions of business between attorney and client are looked upon with eyes of suspicion and disfavor, in courts of justice.
It is a settled doctrine of equity, in England, that an attorney cannot, while the business is unfinished in which he had been employed, receive any gift from his client, or bind his client in any mode to make him greater compensation for his services than he would have a right to demand if no contract should be made during the relation. If an attorney accept a gift from one thus connected with him, it may be recovered in a court of chancery, by the donor or his creditors, should it be necessary for them to assert a right to it to satisfy their demands. When the relation of solicitor and client exists, and a security is taken by the solicitor from his client, the presumption is that the transaction is unfair; and the onus of proving its fairness is upon the solicitor. A man ought to be very careful of placing himself in a position to have any of his transactions regarded in that light. If it should ever come to be canvassed in court, the bandying of the phrases, fraud and presumption of fraud, as applied to him, may, and probably will, have an unfavorable effect on his reputation. Most emphatically should it be said, let nothing tempt him, not even the knowledge and consent of the client, to keep the money, which may have come to his hands professionally, one single instant longer than is absolutely necessary. The consequences of any difficulty arising upon this head, will be fatal to his professional character and prospects.
The official oath, to which reference has already more than once been made, obliges the attorney "to use no falsehood." It seems scarcely necessary to enforce this topic. Truth in all its simplicity—truth to the court, client, and adversary—should be indeed the polar star of the lawyer. The influence of only slight deviations from truth, upon professional character, is very observable. A man may as well be detected in a great as a little lie. A single discovery, among professional brethren, of a failure of truthfulness, makes a man the object of distrust, subjects him to constant mortification, and soon this want of confidence extends itself beyond the Bar to those who employ the Bar. That lawyer's case is truly pitiable, upon the escutcheon of whose honesty or truth, rests the slightest tarnish.
Let it be remembered and treasured in the heart of every student, that no man can ever be a truly great lawyer, who is not in every sense of the word, a good man. A lawyer, without the most sterling integrity, may shine for a while with meteoric splendor; but his light will soon go out in blackness of darkness. It is not in every man's power to rise to eminence by distinguished abilities. It is in every man's power, with few exceptions, to attain respectability, competence, and usefulness. The temptations which beset a young man in the outset of his professional life, especially if he is in absolute dependence upon business for his subsistence, are very great. The strictest principles of integrity and honor, are his only safety. Let him begin by swerving from truth or fairness, in small particulars, he will find his character gone—whispered away, before he knows it. Such an one may not indeed be irrecoverably lost; but it will be years before he will be able to regain a firm foothold. There is no profession, in which moral character is so soon fixed, as in that of the law; there is none in which it is subjected to severer scrutiny by the public. It is well, that it is so. The things we hold dearest on earth,—our fortunes, reputations, domestic peace, the future of those dearest to us, nay, our liberty and life itself, we confide to the integrity of our legal counsellors and advocates. Their character must be not only without a stain, but without suspicion. From the very commencement of a lawyer's career, let him cultivate, above all things, truth, simplicity, and candor: they are the cardinal virtues of a lawyer. Let him always seek to have a clear understanding of his object: be sure it is honest and right, and then march directly to it. The covert, indirect, and insidious way of doing anything, is always the wrong way. It gradually hardens the moral faculties, renders obtuse the perception of right and wrong in human actions, weighs everything in the balances of worldly policy, and ends most generally, in the practical adoption of the vile maxim, "that the end sanctifies the means." If it be true, as he has said, who, more than any mere man, before or since his day, understood the depths of human character, that one even may,
"By telling of it, Make such a sinner of his memory; To credit his own lie:"—
we should be careful never to speak or act, without regard to the morale of our words or actions. A habit may and will grow to be a second nature.
"That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat, Of habit's devil, is angel yet in this: That to the use of actions fair and good He likewise gives a frock or livery That aptly is put on."
There is no class of men among whom moral delinquency is more marked and disgraceful than among lawyers. Among merchants, so many honest men become involved through misfortune, that the rogue may hope to take shelter in the crowd, and be screened from observation. Not so the lawyer. If he continues to seek business, he must find his employment in lower and still lower grades; and will soon come to verify and illustrate the remark of Lord Bolingbroke, that "the profession of the law, in its nature the noblest and most beneficial to mankind, is in its abuse and abasement, the most sordid and pernicious."
While such are the depths to which a lawyer may sink, look, on the other hand, at the noble eminence of honor, usefulness, and virtue, to which he may rise. Where is the profession, which, in this world, holds out brighter rewards? Genius, indeed, will leave its mark in whatever sphere it may move. But learning, industry, and integrity, stand nowhere on safer or higher ground, than in the walks of the law. In all free countries, it is the avenue not only to wealth, but to political influence and distinction. In England, a large proportion of the house of peers, owe their seats and dignities, as well as their possessions, either to their own professional success, or to that of some one of their ancestors. In this country, all our Presidents but three, have been educated to the Bar. Of the men who have distinguished themselves in the cabinet, in the halls of legislation, and in foreign diplomacy, how large is the proportion of lawyers! How powerful has always been the profession in guiding the popular mind, in forming that greatest of all counterchecks to bad laws and bad administration,—public opinion! It is the school of eloquence—that, which more than all else besides, has swayed, still sways, and always will sway, the destinies of free peoples. Let a man, to the possession of this noble faculty, add the high character of purity and justice, integrity and honor, and where are to be found the limits of his moral power over his fellow-citizens? It is well to read carefully and frequently, the biographies of eminent lawyers. It is good to rise from the perusal of the studies and labors, the trials and conflicts, the difficulties and triumphs, of such men, in the actual battle of life, with the secret feeling of dissatisfaction with ourselves. Such a sadness in the bosom of a young student, is like the tears of Thucydides, when he heard Herodotus read his history at the Olympic Games, and receive the plaudits of assembled Greece. It is the natural prelude to severer self-denial, to more assiduous study, to more self-sustaining confidence. Some one has recommended that Middleton's Life of Cicero should be perused, at frequent intervals, as the vivid picture of a truly great mind, in the midst of the most stirring scenes, ever intent upon its own cultivation and advancement, as its only true glory; and that in effect sketched by his own master hand. The autobiography of Edward Gibbon will rouse an ambitious student like the sound of a trumpet. But of English biographies, there is no one, it occurs to me, better adapted to the purpose mentioned, than the Life of Sir William Jones, by Lord Teignmouth. It exhibits the wonders, which unremitted study, upheld by the pure and noble ambition of doing good, can accomplish in the space of a short life. He was a man of the most varied knowledge. An extensive and indeed extraordinary acquaintance with ancient and modern languages, was perhaps his chief accomplishment. Although he engaged very late in life in the study of the law, such was his industry and success, that he soon occupied the highest judicial station, in British India; and the profession are indebted to his pen, for one of the most beautiful of the elementary treatises, which adorn the lawyer's library. "In his early days," says his biographer, "he seems to have entered upon his career of study, with this maxim strongly impressed upon his mind, that whatever had been attained, was attainable by him; and it has been remarked, that he never neglected nor overlooked any opportunity of improving his intellectual faculties, or of acquiring esteemed accomplishments." Notwithstanding his numerous occupations at the Bar at home, the onerous duties of his station in India, and his premature death, before he had attained his forty-eighth year, he has left behind many learned works, which illustrate Oriental languages and history, and attest the extent of his labors and acquisitions. Indeed, it might be regarded as impossible, were we not informed of the regular allotment which he made of his time to particular occupations, and his scrupulous adherence to the distribution he had thus made. The moral character of this eminent man, was no less exemplary. It is the testimony of one of his contemporaries: "He had more virtues and less faults, than I ever yet knew in any human being; and the goodness of his head, admirable as it was, was exceeded by that of his heart." His own measure of true greatness, humanly speaking, he has left behind him, in very emphatic words: "If I am asked, who is the greatest man? I answer, the best. And if I am required to say, who is the best? I reply, he that has deserved most of his fellow-creatures."
This department of English literature has been recently much enriched by the labors of the present Lord High Chancellor of England, Lord Campbell. In America we have a few well written and instructive legal biographies, among which ought especially to be named, Mr. Wheaton's Life of William Pinkney, and Professor Parsons' interesting Memoir of his distinguished father, Chief Justice Parsons. Mr. Binney, at the close of his honored and honorable life, is paying the debt, which every man owes to his profession, in animated spirit-stirring sketches of his great and good contemporaries. How forcibly does this distinguished jurist illustrate the remark of Cicero in his Treatise on Old Age: "Sed videtis, ut senectus non modo languida atque iners non sit, verum etiam sit operosa, et semper agens aliquid et moliens; tale scilicet, quod cujusque studium in superiore vita fuit." What a noble example might be held up, in the life and character of Chief Justice Marshall! His biography, while it will be the record of active patriotism and humanity, will exhibit a course of arduous self-training, for the great conflicts of opinion, in which it was his lot afterwards to appear, with so much lustre. He had not the usual advantages of a collegiate education. The war of the Revolution, in which his ardent love of country, and of the principles of rational liberty, led him to enlist, and where he distinguished himself in the field, materially interfered with, and retarded his earlier professional studies; yet, the lofty eminence to which he attained in the opinion of his compatriots, even of those who could not concur in some of his views of the Constitution, the enduring monuments of his greatness in the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, bespeak an intellect of the very first order, mental power naturally vigorous, but brought, by proper exercise, to a degree of strength that made it tower above the general level of educated men. His opinions do not abound in displays of learning. His simplicity, a character so conspicuous in all his writings and actions—that first and highest characteristic of true greatness—led him to say and do just what was necessary and proper to the purpose in hand. Its reflected consequences on his own fame as a scholar, a statesman, or a jurist, seem never once to have occurred to him. As a judge, the Old World may be fairly challenged to produce his superior. His style is a model—simple and masculine. His reasoning—direct, cogent, demonstrative, advancing with a giant's pace and power, and yet withal so easy evidently to him, as to show clearly, a mind in the constant habit of such strong efforts. Though he filled for so many years the highest judicial position in this country, how much was his walk like the quiet and unobtrusive step of a private citizen, conscious of heavy responsibilities, and anxious to fulfil them; but unaware that the eyes of a nation—of many nations—were upon him! There was around him none of the glare, which dazzles; but he was clothed in that pure mellow light of declining evening, upon which we love to look. Where is the trust to society more sacred, where are duties more important, or consequences more extended, for individual or social weal or woe, than those which attach to the office he held? How apt, and aptly said, is that prayer of Wolsey, when he is informed of the promotion of Sir Thomas More to the place of Lord Chancellor:
"May he ... do justice, For truth's sake and his conscience; that his bones, When he has run his course, and sleeps in blessings, May have a tomb of orphans' tears wept on him."
It is surely a just subject of national, as well as professional pride, that an American lawyer can thus, pointing to the example of such a man as JOHN MARSHALL, hold up his character, his reputation, his usefulness, his greatness, as incentives to high and honorable ambition; and especially, his life of unblemished virtue, and single-hearted purity,—after all, his highest praise, for, as old Shirley says,
"When our souls shall leave this dwelling, The glory of one fair and virtuous action Is above all the scutcheons on our tomb."
Is it possible that a being so fearfully and wonderfully made as man, and animated by a spirit still more fearful and incomprehensible, was created for the brief term of a few revolutions of the planet he lives on? Shall his own physical and intellectual productions so long survive him? The massive piles of Egypt have endured for thousands of years: fluted column and sculptured architrave have stood for generations, monuments of his labor and skill. A poem of Homer, an oration of Demosthenes, an ode of Horace, a letter of Cicero, carry down to the remotest posterity the memorial of their names. Men found empires, establish constitutions, promulgate codes of laws; there have been Solons, Alexanders, Justinians, and Napoleons. There have been those justly called Fathers of their country, and benefactors of their race. Have they, too, sunk to become clods of the valley? The mind, which can look so far before and after—can subdue to its mastery the savages of the forests, and the fiercer elements of Nature—can stamp the creation of its genius upon the living canvas, or the almost breathing, speaking marble—can marshal the invisible vibrations of air into soul-stirring or soul-subduing music—can pour forth an eloquence of words, with magic power to lash the passions of many hearts into a raging whirlwind, or command them with a "peace, be still"—can make a book, a little book, which shall outlive pyramids and temples, cities and empires—can perceive and love beauty, in all its forms, and above all, moral beauty, and God, the infinite perfection of moral beauty,—no, this mind can never die. Its moral progress must go on in an unending existence, of which its life of fourscore years on earth is scarce the childhood. Let us beware then of raising these objects of ambition, wealth, learning, honor, and influence, worthy though they be, into an undue importance; nor in the too ardent pursuit of what are only means, lose sight of the great end of our being.
On Tuesday night, May 5th, 1840, Lord William Russell, infirm, deaf, and aged, being in his seventy-third year, was murdered in his bed. He was a widower, living at No. 14 Norfolk Street, Park Lane, London, a small house, occupied by only himself and three servants,—Courvoisier, a young Swiss valet, and two women, a cook and house-maid. The evidence was of a character to show very clearly that the crime had been committed by some one in the house; but, Courvoisier's behavior throughout had been that of an innocent man. Two examinations of his trunk, by the officers of the police, showed nothing suspicious; rewards having been offered by the government and family of the deceased; for the detection of the criminal, a third examination was made of Courvoisier's box, which resulted in the discovery of a pair of white cotton gloves, two pocket handkerchiefs, and a shirt-front, stained with blood. The prisoner's counsel went to the trial with a full persuasion of his innocence, and conducted the cross-examination closely and zealously, especially of Sarah Mancer, one of the female domestics, with a view of showing that there was as much probability that the witness or the other domestic was the criminal as the prisoner; and that the police, incited by the hopes of the large rewards offered, had conspired to fasten the suspicion unjustly on him. At the close of the first day's proceedings, the prosecutors were placed unexpectedly in possession of a new and important item of evidence: the discovery of the plate of the deceased, which was missed, and that it had been left by the prisoner, at the place where it was found, about a week, perhaps only a very few days, before the committing of the murder. The parcel contained silver spoons, forks, a pair of gold auricles, all unquestionably the property of the unfortunate nobleman; and the only question remaining was, whether Courvoisier was the person who had so left it. If he were, it would, of course, grievously for him, increase the probabilities that it must have been he who subsequently committed the murder, and with the object of plunder. On the ensuing morning, the person who had made this discovery (Mrs. Piolaine, the wife of a Frenchman, who kept a place of entertainment, called L'Hotel de Dieppe, in Leicester Place, Leicester Square), was shown a number of prisoners in the prison-yard, one of whom was Courvoisier, whom she instantly recognized as the person who had left the plate with her, and also had formerly lived in her employ. Courvoisier also suddenly recognized her, and with dismay. The immediate effect of his panic was the confession of his guilt to his counsel at the bar of the court, a few minutes afterwards, coupled with his desire, nevertheless, to be defended to the utmost. His probable object was simply to prepare his counsel against the forthcoming evidence. The prisoner was convicted, and afterwards confessed his crime. Mr. Phillips's conduct of the defence was criticized at the time, in the columns of the Examiner, but he suffered it to pass in silence. In 1849, that periodical renewed the accusation originally made, upon which the following correspondence appeared in the London Times of Nov. 20th, 1849.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE "TIMES."
SIR,—I shall esteem it a great favor if you will allow the accompanying documents to appear in the "Times." Its universal circulation affords me an opportunity of annihilating a calumny recently revived, which has for nine years harassed my friends far more than myself.
I am, &c., CHARLES PHILLIPS. 39 Gordon Square.
INNER TEMPLE, Nov. 14, 1849.
MY DEAR PHILLIPS,—It was with pain that I heard yesterday of an accusation having been revived against you in the "Examiner" newspaper, respecting alleged dishonorable and most unconscientious conduct on your part, when defending Courvoisier against the charge of having murdered Lord William Russell. Considering that you fill a responsible judicial office, and have to leave behind you a name unsullied by any blot or stain, I think you ought to lose no time in offering, as I believe you can truly do, a public and peremptory contradiction to the allegations in question. The mere circumstances of your having been twice promoted to judicial office by two lord chancellors, Lord Lyndhurst and Lord Brougham, since the circulation of the reports to which I am alluding, and after those reports had been called to the attention of at least one of those noble and learned lords, is sufficient evidence of the groundlessness of such reports.
Some time ago I was dining with Lord Denman, when I mentioned to him the report in question. His lordship immediately stated that he had inquired into the matter, and found the charge to be utterly unfounded; that he had spoken on the subject to Mr. Baron Parke, who had sat on the Bench beside Chief Justice Tindal, who tried Courvoisier, and that Baron Parke told him he had, for reasons of his own, most carefully watched every word that you uttered, and assured Lord Denman that your address was perfectly unexceptionable, and that you made no such statements as were subsequently attributed to you.
Lord Denman told me that I was at liberty to mention this fact to any one; and expressed in noble and generous terms his concern at the existence of such serious and unfounded imputations upon your character and honor.
Both Lord Denman and Baron Parke are men of as nice a sense of honor and as high a degree of consciousness as it is possible to conceive; and I think the testimony of two such distinguished judges ought to be publicly known, to extinguish every kind of suspicion on the subject.
I write this letter to you spontaneously, and, hoping that you will forgive the earnestness with which I entreat you to act upon my suggestion, believe me ever yours sincerely,
SAMUEL WARREN. MR. COMMISSIONER PHILLIPS.
39 GORDON SQUARE, Nov. 20.
MY DEAR WARREN,—Your truly kind letter induces me to break the contemptuous silence, with which for nine years I have treated the calumnies, to which you allude. I am the more induced to this by the representations of some valued friends, that many honorable minds begin to believe the slander because of its repetition without receiving a contradiction. It is with disgust and disdain, however, that even thus solicited I stoop to notice inventions too abominable, I had hoped, for any honest man to have believed. The conduct of Lord Denman is in every respect characteristic of his noble nature. Too just to condemn without proof, he investigates the facts, and defends the innocent. His deliberate opinion is valuable indeed, because proceeding from one who is invaluable himself. My judicial appointments by the noblemen you mention would have entailed on them a fearful responsibility, had there been any truth in the accusations of which they must have been cognizant. I had no interest whatever with either of these chancellors, save that derived from their knowledge of my character, and their observation of my conduct. It is now five-and-twenty years ago since Lord Lyndhurst, when I had no friend here, voluntarily tendered me his favor and his influence, and his kindness to me remains to this day unabated. Of Lord Brougham, my ever warm and devoted friend, I forbear to speak, because words cannot express my affection or my gratitude. His friendship has soothed some affliction and enhanced every pleasure, and while memory lasts will remain the proudest of its recollections and the most precious of its treasures. This is no vain-glorious vaunting. The unabated kindness of three of the greatest men, who ever adorned the Bench, ought, in itself, to be a sufficient answer to my traducers. Such men as these would scarcely have given their countenance to one, who, if what were said of him were true, deserved their condemnation. I am not disposed, however, though I might be well warranted in doing so, to shelter myself under the authority of names, no matter how illustrious. I give to each and all of these charges a solemn and indignant contradiction, and I will now proceed to their refutation. The charges are threefold, and I shall discuss them seriatim.
First, I am accused of having retained Courvoisier's brief after having heard his confession. It is right that I should relate the manner of that confession, as it has been somewhat misapprehended. Many suppose it was made to me alone, and made in the prison. I never was in the prison since I was called to the Bar, and but once before, being invited to see it by the then sheriffs. So strict is this rule, that the late Mr. Fauntleroy solicited a consultation there in vain with his other counsel and myself. It was on the second morning of the trial, just before the judges entered, that Courvoisier, standing publicly in front of the dock, solicited an interview with his counsel. My excellent friend and colleague, Mr. Clarkson, and myself immediately approached him. I beg of you to mark the presence of Mr. Clarkson, as it will become very material presently. Up to this morning I believed most firmly in his innocence, and so did many others as well as myself. "I have sent for you, gentlemen," said he, "to tell you I committed the murder!" When I could speak, which was not immediately, I said, "Of course then you are going to plead guilty?"—"No, sir," was the reply, "I expect you to defend me to the utmost." We returned to our seats. My position at this moment was, I believe, without parallel in the annals of the profession. I at once came to the resolution of abandoning the case, and so I told my colleague. He strongly and urgently remonstrated against it, but in vain. At last he suggested our obtaining the opinion of the learned judge, who was not trying the cause, upon what he considered to be the professional etiquette under circumstances so embarrassing. In this I very willingly acquiesced. We obtained an interview, and Mr. Baron Parke requested to know distinctly whether the prisoner insisted on my defending him, and, on hearing that he did, said, I was bound to do so, and to use all fair arguments arising on the evidence. I therefore retained the brief, and I contend for it, that every argument I used was a fair commentary on the evidence, though undoubtedly as strong as I could make them. I believe there is no difference of opinion now in the profession that this course was right. It was not until after eight hours' public exertion before the jury that the prisoner confessed; and to have abandoned him then would have been virtually surrendering him to death. This is my answer to the first charge.
I am accused, secondly, of having "appealed to Heaven as to my belief in Courvoisier's innocence," after he had made me acquainted with his guilt. A grievous accusation! But it is false as it is foul, and carries its own refutation on its face. It is with difficulty I restrain the expression of my indignation; but respect for my station forbids me to characterize this slander as it deserves. It will not bear one moment's analysis. It is an utter impossibility under the circumstances. What! appeal to Heaven for its testimony to a lie, and not expect to be answered by its lightning? What! make such an appeal, conscious that an honorable colleague sat beside me, whose valued friendship I must have forever forfeited? But above all and beyond all, and too monstrous for belief, would I have dared to utter that falsehood in the very presence of the judge to whom, but the day before, I had confided the reality! There, upon the Bench above me, sat that time-honored man—that upright magistrate, pure as his ermine, "narrowly watching" every word I said. Had I dared to make an appeal so horrible and so impious—had I dared so to outrage his nature and my own conscience, he would have started from his seat and withered me with a glance. No, Warren, I never made such an appeal; it is a malignant untruth, and sure I am, had the person who coined it but known what had previously occurred, he never would have uttered from his libel mint so very clumsy and self-proclaiming a counterfeit. So far for the verisimilitude of this-charge. But I will not rest either on improbability, or argument, or even denial. I have a better and a conclusive answer. The trial terminated on Saturday evening. On Sunday I was shown in a newspaper the passage imputed to me. I took the paper to court on Monday, and, in the aldermen's room, before all assembled, after reading the paragraph aloud, I thus addressed the judges:—"I take the very first opportunity which offers, my lords, of most respectfully inquiring of you whether I ever used any such expression?"—"You certainly did not, Phillips," was the reply of the late lamented Lord Chief Justice, "and I will be your vouchee whenever you choose to call me,"—"And I," said Mr. Baron Parke, happily still spared to us, "had a reason, which the Lord Chief Justice did not know, for watching you narrowly, and he will remember my saying to him, when you sat down, 'Brother Tindal, did you observe how carefully Phillips abstained from giving any personal opinion in the case?' To this the learned Chief Justice instantly assented." This is my answer to the second charge.
Thirdly, and lastly, I am accused of having endeavored to cast upon the female servants the guilt, which I knew was attributable to Courvoisier. You will observe, of course, that the gravamen of this consists in my having done so after the confession. The answer to this is obvious. Courvoisier did not confess till Friday: the cross-examination took place the day before, and so far, therefore, the accusation is disposed of. But it may be said I did so in my address to the jury. Before refuting this let me observe upon the disheartening circumstances under which that address was delivered. At the close of the, to me, most wretched day on which the confession was made, the prisoner sent me this astounding message by his solicitor: "Tell Mr. Phillips, my counsel, that I consider he has my life in his hands." My answer was, that as he must be present himself, he would have an opportunity of seeing whether I deserted him or not. I was to speak on the next morning. But what a night preceded it! Fevered and horror-stricken, I could find no repose. If I slumbered for a moment, the murderer's form arose before me, scaring sleep away, now muttering his awful crime, and now shrieking to me to save his life! I did try to save it. I did everything to save it, except that which is imputed to me, but that I did not, and I will prove it. I have since pondered much upon this subject, and I am satisfied that my original impression was erroneous. I had no right to throw up my brief, and turn traitor to the wretch, wretch though he was, who had confided in me. The counsel for a prisoner has no option. The moment he accepts his brief, every faculty he possesses becomes his client's property. It is an implied contract between him and the man who trusts him. Out of the profession this may be a moot point, but it was asserted and acted on by two illustrious advocates of our own day, even to the confronting of a king, and, to the regal honor be it spoken, these dauntless men were afterwards promoted to the highest dignities.
You will ask me here whether I contend on this principle for the right of doing that of which I am accused, namely, casting the guilt upon the innocent? I do no such thing; and I deny the imputation altogether. You will still bear in mind what I have said before, that I scarcely could have dared to do so under the eye of Baron Parke and in the presence of Mr. Clarkson. To act so, I must have been insane. But to set this matter at rest, I have referred to my address as reported in the "Times"—a journal the fidelity of whose reports was never questioned. You will be amazed to hear that I not only did not do that of which I am accused; but that I did the very reverse. Fearing that, nervous and unstrung as I was, I might do any injustice in the course of a lengthened speech, by even an ambiguous expression, I find these words reported in the "Times,"—"Mr. Phillips said the prosecutors were bound to prove the guilt of the prisoner, not by inference, by reasoning, by such subtile and refined ingenuity as had been used, but by downright, clear, open, palpable demonstration. How did they seek to do this? What said Mr. Adolphus and his witness, Sarah Mancer? And here he would beg the jury not to suppose for a moment, in the course of the narrative with which he must trouble them, that he meant to cast the crime upon either of the female servants. It was not at all necessary to his case to do so. It was neither his interest, his duty, nor his policy, to do so. God forbid that any breath of his should send tainted into the world persons depending for their subsistence on their character." Surely this ought to be sufficient. I cannot allude, however, to this giant of the press, whose might can make or unmake a reputation, without gratefully acknowledging that it never lent its great circulation to these libels. It had too much justice. The "Morning Chronicle," the "Morning Herald," and the "Morning Post," the only journals to which I have access, fully corroborated the "Times," if, indeed, such a journal needed corroboration. The "Chronicle" runs thus:—"In the first place, says my friend Mr. Adolphus, and says his witness Sarah Mancer—and here I beg to do an act of justice, and to assure you that I do not for a moment mean to suggest in the whole course of my narrative that this crime may have been committed by the female servants of the deceased nobleman." "The Morning Post" runs thus: "Mr. Adolphus called a witness, Sarah Mancer. But let me do myself justice, and others justice, by now stating, that in the whole course of my narrative with which I must trouble you, I beg you would not suppose that I am in the least degree seeking to cast the crime upon any of the witnesses. God forbid that any breath of mine should send persons depending on the public for subsistence into the world with a tainted character." I find the "Morning Herald" reporting me as follows: "Mr. Adolphus called a witness named Sarah Mancer. But let me do myself justice and others justice by now stating that in the whole course of the narrative with which I must trouble you, I must beg that you will not suppose that I am in the least degree seeking to cast blame upon any of the witnesses." Can any disclaimer be more complete? And yet, in the face of this, for nine successive years has this most unscrupulous of slanderers reiterated his charge. Not quite three weeks ago he recurs to it in these terms: "How much worse was the attempt of Mr. Phillips to throw the suspicion of the murder of Lord William Russell on the innocent female servants, in order to procure the acquittal of his client Courvoisier, of whose guilt he was cognizant?" I have read with care the whole report in the "Times" of that three hours' speech, and I do not find a passage to give this charge countenance. But surely, surely, in the agitated state in which I was, had even an ambiguous expression dropped from me, the above broad disclaimer would have been its efficient antidote.
Such is my answer to the last charge; and, come what will, it shall be my final answer. No envenomed reiteration, no popular delusion, no importunity of friendship, shall ever draw from me another syllable. I shall remain in future, as I have been heretofore, auditor tantum. You know well how strenuously and how repeatedly you pressed me to my vindication, especially after Lord Denman's important conversation with you, and you know the stern disdain with which I dissented. The mens conscia recti, a thorough contempt for my traducer, the belief that truth would in the end prevail, and a self-humiliation at stooping to a defence, amply sustained me amid the almost national outcry which calumny had created. Relying doubtless upon this, month after month, for nine successive years, my accuser has iterated and reiterated his libels in terms so gross, so vulgar, and so disgraceful, that my most valued friends thought it my duty to them publicly to refute them. To that consideration, and to that alone, I have yielded; in deference to theirs, relinquishing my own opinions. If they suppose, however, that slander, because answered, will be silenced, they will find themselves mistaken.
Destroy the web of sophistry—in vain— The creature's at his dirty work again.
No, no, my dear friend, invention is a libeller's exhaustless capital, and refutation but supplies the food on which he lives. He may, however, pursue his vocation undisturbed by me. His libels and my answer are now before the world, and I leave them to the judgment of all honorable men.
COURSE OF LEGAL STUDY
Non multa sed multum, is the cardinal maxim by which the student of law should be governed in his readings; at the commencement of his studies—in the office of his legal preceptor, REPETITION—REPETITION—REPETITION. Blackstone and Kent, should be read—and read again and again. These elementary works, with some others of an immediately practical cast—Tidd's Practice, Stephen's Pleading, Greenleaf's Evidence, Leigh's Nisi Prius, Mitford's Equity Pleading—well conned, make up the best part of office reading. Of course the Acts of Assembly should be gone over and over again. I do not say that this is all. The plan of reading, which I am about to recommend, may be begun in the office. Much will depend upon, what may be termed, the mental temperament of the student himself, which no one but the immediate preceptor can observe; and he will be governed accordingly in the selection of works to be placed in his hands. No lawyer does his duty, who does not frequently examine his student, not merely as a necessary means of exciting him to attention, and application; but in order to acquire such an acquaintance with the character of his pupil's mind—its quickness or slowness—its concentrativeness or discursiveness—as to be able to form a judgment whether he requires the curb or the spur. It is an inestimable advantage to a young man to have a judicious and experienced friend watching anxiously his progress, and able to direct him, when, if left to himself, he must wander in darkness and danger. "There be two things," says Lord Coke, "to be avoided by him as enemies to learning, praepostera lectio and praepropera praxis." Co. Litt. 70 b.
I prefer presenting a certain order of subjects to be pursued; observing, however, that it may be somewhat irksome to pursue any one branch for too long a period unvaried. When that is found to be the case, the last five heads may be adopted as collateral studies, and pursued simultaneously with the first three.
These heads or branches are—1. Real Estate and Equity. 2. Practice, Pleading, and Evidence. 3. Crime and Forfeitures. 4. Natural and International law. 5. Constitutional Law. 6. Civil Law. 7. Persons and Personal Property. 8. The Law of Executors and Administrators.
I. REAL ESTATE AND EQUITY.
As introductory to this head, Lord Hale's History of the Common Law may be perused with advantage. It was perhaps a mere sketch, intended to be afterwards filled up and completed. Still, however, it is a work of authority, as indeed is everything which proceeded from the pen of its distinguished author. He is correct and accurate to a remarkable degree. Reeves' History of the English Law is a full and comprehensive history of the English Law, accurate and judicious as well as full. Lord Mansfield is said to have advised its author in regard to its plan and execution. In this work the student is presented with all that is necessary that he should know of the earliest law-books, Bracton, Glanville, and Fleta, carefully collected and presented. The history of the law is separately traced under the reign of each king, and it may be of advantage to read at the same time some good history or histories of England parallel with the work. "Reeves' History of the English Law," says Chancellor Kent, "contains the best account that we have of the progress of the law, from the time of the Saxons to the reign of Elizabeth. It covers the whole ground of the law included in the old abridgments, and it is a work deserving of the highest commendation. I am at a loss which most to admire, the full and accurate learning, which it contains, or the neat, perspicuous, and sometimes elegant style, in which that learning is conveyed." 1 Comm. 508.
Dalrymple's Essay towards a general History of Feudal Property in Great Britain, is a brief but learned and philosophical treatise, which may be followed by Sullivan's Lectures on Feudal Law, a work copious in detail and exhibiting ably, among other topics, the influence of the feudal system upon the Modern Law of Tenures. Sir Martin Wright's Introduction to the Law of Tenures is one of the most accurate and profound of the essays on this topic; and is worthy of the most attentive study. Craig de Feudis was thought by Lord Mansfield much preferable to any judicial work which England had then produced. With these legal treatises on the feudal system may be read with great advantage, simultaneously, Robertson's History of Charles V, and Hallam's History of the Middle Ages.
Sir Henry Finch's Law, or Nomotechnia, as he entitled it, may be taken up in this connection. It is said that until the publication of Blackstone's Commentaries, it was regarded as the best elementary book to be placed in the hands of law students; and we have the authority of Sir William Blackstone for saying that his method was greatly superior to that in all the treatises that were then extant: Blackstone's Analysis, Preface, 6. "His text," says Chancellor Kent, "was weighty, concise, and nervous, and his illustrations apposite, clear, and authentic;" though he adds, "But the abolition of the feudal tenures and the disuse of real actions, have rendered half of his work obsolete," 1 Comm. 509; an objection, in the view we take of legal education, which should rather recommend the work than otherwise.
At the same time with Finch take Doctor and Student by St. Germain—a little book which is replete with sound law, and has always been cited with approbation as an authority.
The Prefaces to the several volumes of Lord Coke's Reports may be read now with great advantage. They contain much interesting information, and strongly impregnated as they are with Lord Coke's abundant learning and love of the law as a science and profession, they form an admirable introduction to The First Institute, or Lord Coke's Commentary upon Littleton's Tenures. It would be advisable, I think, to read first in order the sections of Littleton's Tenures, the original treatise upon which The Institute was a commentary. After that, no time or pains should be spared to master completely The First Institute. If the course now prescribed has been followed, the student will not require to be reminded, that even those parts, which seem to relate to obsolete heads of the law, ought to be read and understood. "There is not," says Mr. Butler, "in the whole of this golden book, a single line which the student will not in his professional career, find on more than one occasion eminently useful." There may be some extravagance in this assertion; but we may nevertheless agree with Mr. Ritso that "there is no knowledge of this kind, which may not, sooner or later, be in fresh demand; there is no length of time or change of circumstances, that can entirely defeat its operation or destroy its intrinsic authority. Like the old specie withdrawn from circulation upon the introduction of a new coinage, it has always its inherent value; the ore is still sterling and may be moulded into modern currency." The opinions of American lawyers confirm this conclusion. It is well known that C. J. Parsons was distinguished for his familiarity with the pages of The Institute. It was Mr. Pinkney's favorite law book; and "his arguments at the Bar," says his biographer, Mr. Wheaton, "abounded with perpetual recurrences to the principles and analysis drawn from this rich mine of common law learning." Mr. Hoffman, in his Course of Legal Study, has also borne his testimony to its importance to the American practitioner. Chancellor Kent seems, as I have intimated in the note, to lean rather against Coke upon Littleton, as an Institute of Legal Education, although he acknowledges its value and authority as a book of reference.