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ABSTRACT OF ADDRESS
LUKE P. POLAND,
PRESIDENT OF THE ASSOCIATION,
AT THE ANNUAL MEETING, 1880.*
THE LAW AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION.
Fellow-Members of the Bar Association:
I propose, this evening, to ask your attention for a short time to some observations upon a subject which interests, not only ourselves, but all classes of the community—the law and the legal profession. I will first allude to some of the popular fallacies concerning lawyers. There is a common idea that the law itself is a system of tricks and pitfalls to entrap the innocent and unwary, and make them the prey of dishonest and unscrupulous sharpers ; that the statute of limitations, the statute of frauds, the statute of requirements as to convevances, wills and certain classes of contracts are devices got up by lawyers to defraud honest laymen. In truth, such laws prevent endless confusion and litigation, and their existence is the strongest proof that lawyers are the friends of peace and the enemies of strife. It is a very general belief, not only among ignorant people, but among those having a certain degree of education and culture, that the successful practice of the law is wholly incompatible with the possession of sincere and honest purposes and a good conscience by the lawyer himself. This idea is founded, first on the fallacy, to which I have alluded, that the law itself is a system of dishonesty ; second, that every lawyer knows beforehand which side of the case is the right and which is the wrong. But the great mass of controversies among men, which result in civil suits of various kinds, involve disputes of fact. In these cases the parties themselves are at variance as to what are the real truths of the transactions. In other cases, where the facts are conceded, the parties honestly differ as to the law of the case. In the multitude and diversity of human affairs it seldom happens that a decided case can be found, which in all its features is exactly like the case in hand. In some features it is like a case decided one way; in others it is like a case decided the opposite way. Parties and lawyers too may honestly differ as to how well known principles should be applied. But suppose a lawyer is employed in a case where he is satisfied that his client is in the wrong, or he is employed to defend a man charged with a crime, whom he believes guilty, is he bound to abandon the case or the client? A lawsuit is a controversy between two parties, where each seeks to avail himself of the services of some one niore experienced to establish the fact that he is in the right, or not so much in the wrong as the other party alleges. Here is a class of men whose members, by study and devotion to business, have qualified themselves to represent these litigant parties before tribunals established for the very purpose of determining such controversies. May they not, without violating their consciences, lend their aid to parties thus situated ? or must the lawyer, when applied to, first settle in his own mind, beyond possibility of mistake, precisely where the truth and equity of the cause lie? May be not, nay is he not, bound as an honest man fairly and fully to present to the court or jury whatever of truth or justice there is in his client's cause, so as to produce its full effect, even though in finally balancing its merits the scale is found to preponderate against him? Who in this is deceived or injured? or who ever supposed that, if done at all, it should not be done with such powers of argument and illustration as the advocate possesses ? The truth is, that not only may a lawyer honorably and honestly engage in a case of doubtful justice, but that in the management of it he is bound fairly to present to the court and jury whatever of law or fact is favorable to his client, leaving to the counsel upon the other side to do the same thing for his client. In this way the whole cause is brought fairly before the tribunal which is to decide it. It is in fact the only way in which justice can ordinarily be reached. And while trials are thus managed, not only will justice in most instances be attained, but, what is scarcely less important so far as others than the parties are concerned, it will be done so as to satisfy the public mind that justice has fairly been reached. In a government like ours, where in ordinary times the whole power rests in the law and its administration by the regularly constituted civil authorities, it is of the greatest importance that the community be satisfied that just results are attained, otherwise all respect for the laws, or the administrators of the law, will soon be lost, and submission to their authority will soon come to an end.
*The address of Mr. Poland was extemporaneous, and this abstract is from the reporter's minutes taken at the time.
Do these over-scrupulous casuists to whom I have before alluded, ever think of the importance of such a mode of public trial as a part of the machinery of government? Take the case of a prisoner charged with a crime. Let him be arraigned before a court surrounded by all the imposing arrangements for a trial, and denied the aid of legal counsel by the squeamish doubts of sensitive minds lest he be in fact guilty of the offence laid to his charge. Let him be tried and convicted, and when the excitement of the scene is over, and the spectators have had time to review it calmly, will they feel as strong a confidence in the protection of that unseen yet ever active principle called the law, as they would if that prisoner had had the aid of legal counsel? How can they fail, as they reflect upon the circumstances, to be impressed with the unequal nature of the contest,—the whole power of the government, its officers of justice, judge, sheriff, prosecuting attorney, and witnesses,—all arrayed against a poor, friendless wretch, dragged from the jail to the prisoner's box, agitated and alarmed, without counsel or adviser, and the rigor of the law visited upon him in this defenceless condition. Every generous mind revolts from the exercise of brute force over weakness, and there is scarce a degree of guilt capable of being shown against a criminal so strong, that the cause of justice would not be better served and more respected by a trial in which he should be aided hy counsel, than by a conviction without such assistance.
In my judgment, there is another important consideration in favor of having all matters that may be the subject of litigation, whether civil or criminal, tried with the aid of skilled and honorable counsel to present and uphold the claimed rights of all parties in interest. In some parts of the world, and it has been so in some parts of our own country, many controversies were settled by personal encounter, either street fights or the more formal duel. In order to maintain and retain the relegation and settlement of all differences among men to the proper and regular tribunals of the law, every man must understand that in so doing he can have his case so presented that no undue advantage can be obtained over him by a more popular and powerful adversary. Do these people who criticize and carp at the lawyer who assumes the defence of some one who is generally and popularly believed to have committed some great crime, desire that trials in such cases shall be abolished altogether, and that such persons shall be put to death, or otherwise punished, by an excited and irresponsible mob, whose mad judgment is almost as likely to be visited upon the innocent as the guilty ? But this mode of administering justice is but little, if any, worse than to compel such a person to go through the form of a trial in the face of a great popular excitement without the aid of an experienced and courageous lawyer.
On the whole, it may be said that there is no occasion for any man to be deterred from entering the profession, nor for any in it to be troubled, by the silly vaporing of ignorant people that it is not an honest profession. The truth is that none but honest men do ever succeed in attaining high rank in the profession, and not only is the most scrupulous honor consistent with its practice, but is indispensable to any great success in it. The senseless homily about the doubtful propriety of a religious or good man pursuing the profession of the law, is practically denied by the people themselves every day in the year. To whom do men most readily extend their most important concerns ? To whom are confided their most important secrets in life, if not to their legal advisers ? Whose counsel is soonest sought in the hour of difficulty and embarrassment? Is it not that of the lawyer? And who of all of them has been guilty of betraying his trust? And, if betrayed, has not the public indignation at such treachery been proportioned to the very sacredness of the confidence that has been abused? What would be the consequences upon many a family, and many a man of business, if the secrets of almost any lawyer's office were to be published to the ears of idle curiosity ? Whatever idle tongues may say of the morality of the legal profession as a pursuit, the relation which lawyers hold to the community belies such general and undefined charges. It guarantees that reciprocity of honorable conduct and honorable rewards which have distinguished the history of its high minded members in every country where the law has been regarded as a liberal science, or the rights of men have been protected by its administration.
I desire to say a few words in regard to the life and career of the lawyer. The course of study preparatory to admission is settled by usage and authority. But study should not