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A Career In Law

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Civilization and law go hand in hand. Law guarantees the safety of the life and property of the individual, and the integrity of society as a whole. The lawyer's profession is, therefore, one of the most necessary and important ones, and the young man who wishes to enter upon the law as his vocation should realize how high and worthy a profession it is.

Many people think of the lawyer as a man having, by reason of his eloquence, a perpetual series of triumphs in the courtroom. It is true that there is occasionally some such romantic happening as sudden fame for a lawyer of great eloquence, but back of his persuasiveness and his power to speak well will usually be found a strong fund of legal knowledge. No man can succeed in law without a thorough knowledge of the principles of law and their practical application. The Iaw requires a very thorough preparation on the part of the student. But before he begins his studies it will be well for him to make sure that he has certain qualities which will fit him for this profession.

It goes without saying that one of the first of the qualities he should have is honesty. A good moral character is absolutely essential for the lawyer. His work will often offer him temptations. He frequently holds in trust the money and property interests of strangers, and he must be able to conduct these interests to the best advantage of his clients. At times he may be approached by people who will try to induce him to act in an unethical way, and in such cases he will need a strong moral sense to withstand their offers.

The lawyer must be a man of industry and persistence. Law is a subject which requires constant study and concentration, and in the practice of his profession the lawyer must work very hard. Once he has determined on a course of action, he must have sufficient persistence and endurance to carry it to its end. In addition, the lawyer needs good judgment and sound common sense, imagination, foresight and a knowledge of human nature.

All these are necessary if he is thoroughly to understand the facts of the cases on which he is engaged, and be able to foretell, to some extent, the effects of his arguments on judge, jury and opposing counsel. The lawyer must be ever on the alert, quick of mind and vigilant. If he has poise and self confidence, his arguments will make a far better impression than if he lacks these qualities; and he should, of course, have the power of logical analysis and of clear expression.

No young man should consider becoming a lawyer unless he is fond of study. Law must be studied not only while one is preparing at school for admission to the bar, but during all the years of active practice. Every day decisions are made, every year laws are passed, which must be read and carefully studied. Every individual case also requires special research and study, and in preparing certain cases the lawyer is often obliged to look up matters of which he may have no previous knowledge. There are cases involving all the sciences—matters where some knowledge of chemistry, geology, physics or physiology may be needed, others for which a thorough knowledge of history may be essential—in fact, cases concerned with hundreds of different subjects. Of course, no lawyer is expected to know all these subjects experts are called in to give their testimony whenever needed. But in order to understand, and perhaps combat, such testimony, it can readily be seen how desirable it is for a lawyer to have as extensive an educational background as possible. For this reason, most of the first-class law schools require that students shall have had from one year to a full college education. The law course is, in most cases, of three years' duration, with tuition fees varying from about $300 or $400 a year to a nominal sum. Most of the better law schools are either part of, or connected with, a college or university.

When the student has finished his work in the professional school, and has passed his bar examination, he is ready to begin practice. Many young men start as assistants to lawyers already established, in order to gain experience and, when they feel that they are able to stand upon their own feet, it is usual for them to establish themselves independently in their own offices.

The lawyer has a choice of a number of special fields of legal activity. The two chief divisions of law are civil and criminal. The criminal lawyer handles cases dealing with offenses against society or the state. The civil lawyer usually specializes in one of the many branches of civil law practice; thus, he may handle only damage cases, such as suits resulting from accident, trespass and similar causes. The real estate lawyer specializes in conveyancing of properties; he examines titles, holds funds for in-vestment and administers estates. The patent lawyer acts as an agent for people desiring to secure patents from the government, and acts as attorney in suits involving the infringement of patents or copyrights. The admiralty lawyer handles cases involving accidents or other causes at sea. The general practitioner renders any sort of legal service which may be needed in the community. Most country lawyers are general practitioners, and for this reason it is often a good idea for the beginner to start his law work in the country. Not only is he likely to get more varied experience there, but he will probably fare better in a financial way than the young lawyer in the city, where competition is naturally very much keener.

The lawyer's work is carried on in the office as well as in the court. In fact, the majority of lawyers seldom appear in court, but confine their activities to office practice and non-litigant business generally. Office work includes the drawing up of legal documents of all kinds wills, mortgages, contracts and so forth; the examination of titles to property to determine their validity; the collection of accounts; and acting as general legal adviser to clients.

The more public aspect of the lawyer's work is his courtroom activity. But before he is ready to take up his case in court, there is much routine office work which the lawyer must do. He must consult with his clients, read and study accounts of similar cases and the laws pertaining to each special case and write pleadings and briefs. In the courtroom the lawyer examines witnesses, produces evidence of various kinds and addresses arguments in favor of his case to the judge and jury.

There are numerous advantages in the law, which have always made it a profession many men have been eager to pursue. The lawyer, in smaller communities especially, is looked upon by other people as a leader, and, indeed, his training and his knowledge of human nature and human affairs should make him capable of being a leader in all public movements. The lawyer who succeeds in his work has many chances of distinction. Public attorneys and judges are chosen from the ranks of lawyers and, though very often a lawyer has a much larger income through private practice tnan as a public official, yet the honor connected with the latter position makes it a coveted reward. It seems that in politics lawyers have more chance of "arriving" than any other one class of men. They are elected to the legislative bodies of the government because of their knowledge of law, and often also because of the reputation for leadership which they may have made for themselves. Many of them are elected to executive positions also—mayors of cities, governors of states and presidents of the country are in most cases lawyers. There is no doubt that the profession of law can be a stepping stone to great honors and service.

Many lawyers, though well qualified to do so, never practice their profession. The demand for lawyers in business is sufficiently great to attract large numbers of law-trained men to its ranks. Railroad executives, bank presidents, publishers and other leaders in business and industry frequently are law-trained; and the man who combines good business ability with legal training materially increases his prospects of success.

The chief disadvantage of the profession of law is its exceedingly overcrowded state. This does not mean, however, that there is not room for the really capable. The young man who knows the law and has the proper qualities of a lawyer, who is energetic and industrious, can make a name and reputation for himself despite the fact that there are thousands of other lawyers. The beginner naturally cannot expect a high salary. As has already been said, most young men start as assistants to already established lawyers. Others gain experience during their years of preparation by acting as clerk in a lawyer's office by day, and studying in the evening.

The lawyer's clerk is paid, on an average, about $1,000 a year. The practicing lawyer's income varies greatly. A capable lawyer who has been established a few years may have all he can do to earn a bare living, or he may make anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000 a year. Very few lawyers earn more than $10,000 a year, and only about 2 per cent of the lawyers of the country earn more than $25,000 a year. Many corporation lawyers, who act purely in the capacity of advisers, receive exceedingly high compensation, but these men are, of course, out of the ordinary.

The young man who wishes to become a lawyer must remember that study and hard work are the bases on which he can found a successful career in the law, as in any other profession.

As in everything else, he will, even when he has already been admitted to the bar, have to be prepared for the beginner's period of struggle, and his chances of advancement and success will depend upon his capacity for hard work and serious study, and his realization of the important service he can render the community by honest and whole-hearted endeavor.


ALLEN, FREDERICK J.: "The Law as a Vocation," The Vocation Bureau, BOSton, 1913.

BALDWIN, SIMEON E.: "The Young Man and the Law," The Macmillan Co., New York, 1922.

HICKS, FREDERICK C.: "Aids to the Study and Use of Law Books" (a selected list, classified and annotated, of publications relating to law literature, law study and legal ethics), Baker, Voorhis & Co., New York, 1913.

MACDONNELL, JOHN, (Ed.) and MANSON, EDWARD: "Great Jurists of the World," Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1914.

VINOGRAFF, PAUL : "Common Sense in Law," Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1914.


American Bar Association Journal, Chicago.

American Law Review, Review Publishing Co., St. Louis.

American Law School Review, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn. California Law Review, University of California, Berkeley, Cal. Columbia Law Review, Columbia University, New York. Harvard Law Review, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. Law Library Journal, The H. W. Wilson Co., New York. Michigan Law Review, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.

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