REFLECTIONS ON THE CULTIVATED LAWYER

July 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Tuesday I posted Felix Frankfurter’s advice to a young man who expressed an interest in preparing for a legal career.  What I find particularly interesting about it is the esteemed Justice’s view of what it takes to be a good lawyer. 

Here is what he said, paraphrased:

No one can be a truly competent lawyer without being a cultivated person. 

A good lawyer is a well-read person because that is the only way to acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking, skills that only a truly liberal education can give. 

No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great art and listening to great music. 

The truly competent lawyer stocks his or her mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widens and deepens his or her feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe. 

Early in my college career in Louisiana I announced my intention to go on to law school, and my father made an appointment for me to meet with a justice of that state’s Supreme Court for advice about the best course of study to prepare myself.  The judge’s counsel was to get the broadest liberal arts education I could get, and to take courses that required writing and expressing my thoughts.  He pointed out that the more exposure one is able get to the great ideas, to the history behind the way things are, to the principles that influence people in their daily lives, the better one can understand how to use the tools of the legal profession for the benefit of one’s clients.

The law is a great profession, but it requires not only a knowledge of and skill in its practice; it requires that lawyers use it ethically to influence and hopefully improve the lives of clients, whom they must represent “zealously within the bounds of the law,” and the larger society.  The lawyer who is well read and cultivated — to use Justice Frankfurter’s term — is the lawyer who is best equipped to meet the demands of the profession.

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