Изображения страниц

things at just that period of his life in order to lay the foundations for a successful practice that may be later within his reach. It is almost a misfortune to a young lawyer to have much business during his first years at the bar. If quick success comes to him, it is apt to give way after a few years to permanent failure.

It is, also, always true that an American lawyer's business is (and particularly at the outset) conducted on the credit system. Work that he does to-day is seldom paid for to-day, or to-morrow. It may be years before the account is squared. Many never are. Every lawyer knows from experience what "bad debts "


On the other hand, a lawyer's want of success does not involve others in his embarrassments as do failures in other occupations. What was known forty years ago as the "Boston mercantile maxim " declared that sooner or later, ninety-seven merchants in every hundred become insolvent. This was probably an over-estimate. Certainly it is such now, in view of the reduction during the life of the last generation in the number of distinct mercantile concerns, incident to the growth of large corporations. But no such result was ever predicted as to the lawyers of the country. Most of them succeed in

making a comfortable living. Nor, if they fail to achieve this, does their ill-fortune often affect any large number of creditors.

Sydney Smith once said that the reason why so many men took orders in the Church of England, when they could hardly be certain of getting a curacy of forty

pounds a year, was that they might become deans and bishops. So the law, both in England and the United States, attracts many who hope for high place and large incomes, but to whom they never come.

The American bar is no doubt too crowded for its own best good. Probably it always has been. By the Census of 1910 it numbered over 120,000. In 1880 there were less than 65,000. The increase, however, was fairly proportioned to the addition to the population of the country during the period. Since 1910, the number of law students has fallen off relatively to the growth of population. This is mainly due to the general advance in all the States of the requirements for admission to the bar, on account of the efforts of the American Bar Association. It will, of course, tend to increase the average earnings of the American lawyer. But the attractions of the bar will probably always keep it, here, too full. The nature of American government makes it particularly attractive. The genius of the people is bent towards reliance on and respect for law, except in case of recent immigrants from countries where the powers of society have been used for oppression. As long ago as 1775, Burke remarked upon this as a dominant American characteristic. Our spirit of liberty, he said in the House of Commons, was fed by our subjects of education. Law had a large place. The lawyers were at the front.

"The profession itself is numerous and powerful; and in most provinces it takes the lead. The greater number of the deputies sent to the congress were lawyers. But all

who read, and most do read, endeavor to obtain some smattering in that science. I have been told by an eminent bookseller, that in no branch of his business, after tracts of popular devotion, were so many books as those on the law exported to the plantations. The colonists have now fallen into the way of printing them for their own use. I hear that they have sold nearly as many of Blackstone's Commentaries in America as in England. General Gage marks out this disposition very particularly in a letter on He states that all the people in his governyour table. ment are lawyers, or smatterers in law; and that in Boston they have been enabled, by successful chicane, wholly to evade many parts of one of your capital penal constitutions."

[ocr errors]

While this trend of thought still maintains a large influence with the more intelligent part of the community, new inventions and scientific discoveries, bringing new industries, and foreign immigration and trade, bringing new ideas, have presented competing subjects of interest and inquiry. They feed the lawyer's business, but have reduced his personal importance. The modern tendencies towards combinations of capital and concentration of efficiency have also had their effect in keeping professional fees in the country at large at a moderate level.

The incomes of the leaders of the bar among country lawyers will naturally be far below those of the leaders of the bar in great cities. At a time, for instance, when some Boston lawyers were making twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year, few of the foremost men at 1 Works of Edmund Burke, Bohn's ed., Vol. I, p. 467.

the bar in the small cities of Massachusetts were earning more than a tenth of those amounts.1 The office expenses, however, of a city lawyer are greater in proportion to his gross income than are those of a country lawyer. Rents are far higher, and the whole equipment on a more expensive scale. One or two stenographers and office boys may be thought necessary, when the same business in a country town could readily be done with the aid of a typewriter, operated by the lawyer himself. Many reports of large professional incomes give a false impression, because they are understood to refer to net earnings, when they really refer to gross earnings.

Employers' Liability Acts have withdrawn no inconsiderable part of the practice of most American trial lawyers.

In many cities Legal Aid societies supply professional counsel in small matters free, and serve to reduce the number of paying clients. This, however, does not justify the organization of any society or corporation to do legal business for pay. Such an association cannot be a lawyer, nor can it act as one indirectly by employing a lawyer to give professional advice to third parties for a compensation to be paid to it or to him for it.2

A corporation may, however, be formed, to insure others against loss from the enforcement of claims of a

1 Torrey, A Lawyer's Recollections, Boston, 1910, p. 82.

2 In re Co-operative Law Company, 198 N. Y. Reports, p. 479; 92 Northeastern Reporter, p. 15.

certain kind, and do this by assuming the charge of defending against any suits brought to enforce them. Here the defense is, of course, to be made by lawyers, acting under all the professional responsibilities attaching to them, as such. The lawyer may be retained by the corporation specially for a single case or regularly by the year for all cases in which it may be concerned. His nominal client in each will be the party sued, but the substantial defendant will be the corporation. Many lawyers derive a large part of their income, and some all of it, from employment of this character. In this way the defense of accident cases has very largely passed into the hands of corporations, organized to insure those who may be responsible for paying the judgment. An employer, thus insured, does not personally retain a lawyer. The company provides one, at its own expense, and probably one especially familiar with the work of handling claims of that description.

Railroad corporations commonly employ claim agents to investigate the causes of accidents, immediately after they occur, and endeavor to secure favorable terms of settlement.

It was estimated by a competent observer, in 1914, that the defense of four-fifths of all the negligence cases arising in or about the larger cities, has come into the hands of a few accident and employers' liability insurance companies.1

Until about 1870, lawyers in general practice were 1 Strong, Landmarks of a Lawyer's Life Time, New York, 1914, p. 353.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »