Monday, February 6, 2012

Was Dickens Right About Lawyers?

For those who teach professionalism as part of their legal writing courses, a first-year lawyer, Joseph Tartakovsky (Clerk, 10th Circuit), has an outstanding op-ed in today's NY Times.  The piece asks whether Charles Dickens's negative characterization of lawyers, in novels like "Bleak House," was correct.  Some highlights:

[Dickens] invoked every known indictment of the profession: sorcerers who command the law to harm others, nitpicking complicators of life (“red tape,” in Dickens’s time, still bound legal papers), chicaners who exploit procedure to free the guilty, and prolix corrupters of the English tongue.

But before we resign our bar licenses in shame (and I only got mine in November), let us call, for the defense, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan. He tells me lawyers are scorned because “they think there are two sides to most stories, while many people think there is just one side: theirs.”

Are attorneys just amoral mouthpieces? Samuel Johnson, the great critic who himself once hoped to enter the bar, knew better: “A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause” — that is “to be decided by the judge.” The best means we have of discovering truth is to take opposing sides and let them tango. If a lawyer had to believe in the client’s cause, most people would go undefended.

The piece would be a great jumping off point for a discussion of the value of lawyers to society or an excellent read for students in need of a boost.


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