The Legal Profession

Joseph Tartakovsky is a law clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit who wrote a great article for the NY Times on Charles Dickens and how novelists are similar to lawyers.

Lawyers appear in 11 of his 15 novels.  At 15, he was hired as an “attorney’s clerk,” serving subpoenas, registering wills, copying transcripts; later he became a court reporter. For three formative years he was surrounded by law students, law clerks, copying clerks, court clerks, magistrates, barristers and solicitors who (reborn in his fiction) uttered cheerful sentiments like “I hate my profession.” His portraits of nearly every London court — Chancery, Divorce, Probate, Admiralty, etc. — are so accurate that one scholar wrote a lively book called “Charles Dickens as a Legal Historian.” At 32 he filed his first suit against a pirate publisher. Dickens told a friend afterward that “it is better to suffer a great wrong than to have recourse to the much greater wrong of the law.”   Dickens himself enrolled as a law student in 1839 and, in 1846, inquired about work as a magistrate. His biographer Claire Tomalin hints that Dickens, like David Copperfield, didn’t pursue a legal education in part because he could not afford the 100 pounds needed. (Incidentally, of his 10 children, only Henry was successful — as a lawyer.)

The article quotes 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 difference btween Dickens' social justice in his written works is that lawyers take facts as they exist instead of inventing them. "Dickens, for all his genius and wrath, was himself unable to undertake reforms, or protect clients, or draft fairer rules. He needed lawyers to achieve his vision of a just society. Even the inimitable novelist would agree that the two old trades must go hand in hand, together improving the noble system that, for all its Dickensian farce, makes us civilized."

 

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