There are many different kinds of law practice. Each has its rewards. Each has its problems. But your brother's problems may be your pleasures, on the theory that one man's poison is another man's meat. The trick is to choose that kind of practice in which you will enjoy the normal problems, or at least that in which its advantages (in your own personal scheme of things) outweigh its disadvantages.
We shall begin with what we will call the country lawyer. There must be much more to this kind of practice than most lawyers realize, if we are to judge by the eager adoption of the term "country lawyer" by all sorts and conditions of lawyers, from leaders of the corporate bar to leaders of the Senate. There is no doubt that the homespun philosophy of the country lawyer and his rugged individualism make a deep imprint on all who know him. He has to have a rugged character, for, professionally speaking, it is a rugged (though to many a richly satisfying) life,
The term "country lawyer," it has been suggested, really means any lawyer who engages in a general practice, taking all kinds of cases for all kinds of people. He, certainly, has the same kind of practice as the traditional country lawyer, but in our discussion we shall think of him a little more narrowly, the small-town (usually a county-seat) practitioner.
His practice reflects the problems of the typical small community. Each of the normal incidents of life presents its own peculiar legal problems: marriage, the conduct of business, the rearing of a family, and death. The country lawyer deals with all of them.
So far as marriage is concerned, the more puzzling problems rarely come to him. Reserved to the metropolitan lawyers are the clients who have had three foreign divorces after two in this Hemisphere (one Mexican, the other Nevadan) and who properly wonder whether they are now really married at all. The truthful answer to that question may well be that nobody knows. So far as the country lawyer is concerned, these problems vex him not. But the life of the family as such, in the broadest sense, is one of his primary concerns. Initially his meeting with the family often results from the young couple's purchase of a home. The final meeting may come in the draft of the will, followed by the settlement of the estate.
In between, down through the years, the lawyer will have intermittent contacts with them. The first home may be sold and a new one purchased. You, as a country lawyer, may represent them in the son's accident case, and will counsel the husband in his business. At some point or other in this long relationship you become more than their lawyer. You are their trusted friend. Time and time again, the family lawyer is summoned to the bedside of the dying head of the family, along with the family clergyman, but not for "legal" purposes. Actually he has shared the problems, the joys, and the sorrows of the family to the degree that they feel he should not be excluded when the earthly chapter closes.
There's no richer reward to the practicing lawyer than the trust and affection of the people.
Much of the practice of the country lawyer has to do with the purchase and sale of real estate. It's an interesting observation that if you have the money you can go into a reputable jewelry store, pay ten thousand dollars for a diamond ring, and walk out wearing it on your finger, secure in the knowledge that it is yours, that you have good title to it. Yet if you walk into the office of a reputable landowner and want to purchase a piece of land worth only one-tenth the value of the diamond, you have to hire a lawyer to find out whether or not you are "getting good title" to the land; that is, whether, after you pay over your money, you will really own it at all! To tell you this, the lawyer will have to examine all of the former transactions with respect to that piece of land for many years back, and sometimes with respect to the neighboring lots as well. Why? It is particularly puzzling to the layman in view of the fact that the land isn't going anywhere and can't be secreted, while the diamond ring may have passed through a dozen hands, both here and abroad. You'll get the answer to that one in law school. It's fascinating.
So, the country lawyer examines titles to land and "draws" leases, and advises on boundary problems, and easements. (An easement is a tricky thing. In one very common meaning it is a right to take a short cut over another's land. Some rights like this, some of these "easements," travel with the land, like your shadow with you, as the land passes from owner to owner. Would you want such land, that people may travel over as they wish?) Real estate practice, in fact, takes so much of the time of the country lawyer that if you have any idea of engaging in such practice it would be smart of you to take all of the property law you can get in your law school.
Another important branch of the country lawyer's work is what lawyers call "probate" work. This has to do with what happens to the property of people after they die. The solution most lawyers reach today involves what is called the "contingent fee." The lawyer agrees to prepare and to try the case to conclusion in the trial court. If he obtains no damages for his client, he agrees that no fee will be charged. But if he wins, it is agreed, his fee will be a percentage (one-fourth or one-third are common) of the damages awarded. This contingent-fee solution is not a perfect one for the problem of the indigent automobile-accident victim, but it is working reasonably well. As you can see, this kind of system may impose some ethical problems, but the bar today does not lack for means of handling them.
In addition, the country lawyer will probably have some criminal cases. Most lawyers do not assume an extensive criminal practice. The clientele is degraded, the income hazardous, and the legal problems of a repetitive nature.
On the other hand, it is important to our society that it be done and that it be done well. When strong and able men steadfastly decline to serve the cause of justice, what happens to our constitutional guarantees? Many feel that for such reasons every lawyer, no matter what his normal practice comprehends, should undertake a certain amount of criminal work. Others deny this, saying, in part, that it is a specialty, and that a man's life or liberty should not be jeopardized by having his case tried by one who is unfamiliar with the criminal law.
We are not going to attempt to settle this controversy. The point for our purpose is merely that, like it or not, the country lawyer must undertake a certain amount of criminal work. You see, he does not have quite the same freedom of choice as to practice as his brother in a larger community.
He has to take pretty much what the community offers and, sadly enough, all communities offer a certain amount of crime. These are, in the main, the technical, professional, aspects of a country practice. But what happens to the lawyer's personal life in a small community? Several things stand out. The first is that because of his professional training he is a man apart. He knows people's rights, just as the doctor knows their ills. He often settles disputes between neighbors without their ever "going to law." If he does this fairly, and practices his profession diligently and honestly, he becomes in his community a sort of symbol of justice. He is respected, looked up to. When matters of community importance come up, the first question in the minds of many people is, what does Lawyer Jones say about it? When their minds are troubled about issues of national importance, his views are sought. Before too many years have passed he may become, in addition to a symbol of justice, one of the elders of the church. The local bank may ask him to act as their president, and guide them on policy matters. Depositors will feel safer knowing that he is there. In many instances he goes into the legislature of the State or on to the national Congress.
Here we have a true professional man in the finest sense of the word. His clientele is varied. He owes no allegiance to any particular man or group of men. Because the bulk of his income comes from no one client, he need not compromise with his conscience in order to keep in his office any particularly lucrative account. His integrity is unquestioned.
His clients follow his advice because they trust him, his judgment, and his knowledge of "the law" (which to them means the extent of their rights). He tells them what to do, not they him; and what he tells them comes from his own keen sense of the connection (and there is a very real one) between his client's welfare and the public good.
But we never get something for nothing. And in what we have just seen the lawyer has got much. What does he pay, or, in other words, what does he give up for all this? Again, much. In the first place, he gives up any thought of wealth. In fact, his first years will be very hard, financially.
He just doesn't deal in the big money, nor do his clients have it. (Some country lawyers are occasionally paid fee in turkeys. He had quite a few turkey clients, as they are called.) He had better have a little nest egg to tide him over the first year or so.
Moreover, he gives up any thought of leisure. That's a statement so broad that we must qualify it. Although he is free from some of the pressures of the city practice, he is a lawyer twenty-four hours a day. Because usually he has no partner, he must, by himself, keep up with the movement of the law itself, studying the new opinions as they are handed down in Washington and in his own State capitol. Since he must be a general practitioner, advising in all areas of the law, this in itself imposes a burden (or a privilege, depending on how we look at it). Because he has to try his own cases, he must be an advocate as well as a counselor. Moreover, it must not be assumed that because he is in a small town his legal problems will be petty. Actually, some of our greatest constitutional cases, those great opinions phrased in words that burn as brightly today as the day they were written, have come from small towns and have involved people small in every way except their realization of the inherent rights of man.
He must, then, be something of a pioneer. He will have only his own resources to support him. He must have the knowledge to make the right decision, the confidence to make it quickly, and the courage to support it. He must be able to say ‘No’ to the local strong man--there's always one; they just get relatively smaller as the population shrinks--when he is in the wrong, and be able to say ‘Yes’ to anyone if it is right to say ‘Yes’, even though the whole community may think him wrong. And what does he get for all this? He gets the satisfaction of living to the utmost a full and useful life. It is said, that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Nothing could be less descriptive of the life of the country lawyer.
More of our able young graduates are going into the general practice of law in smaller communities today than was the case a quarter-century ago; if so, this is all to the good of the people. The brains of our most promising youngsters in the law should not be devoted solely to the service of big business. There are other nobler pursuits. There are other rewards more satisfying.
It isn’t business
If the acquisition of great sums of money, as such, is your goal, stay away from the law. The practice of law is a profession, not a business. The lawyer renders a service. He will be paid for his service, of course, else he couldn't live. But earning the fee is not, as the engineers put it, the principal product. It is a by-product.
The moment the fee outweighs the service, every other professional value suffers a like distortion. Thus we get into ambulance chasing, fee splitting, and unethical practices even more sordid. What will it be, money or mankind? You can't have both, at least in the law. (Nor anywhere else that I know of, actually.)
Having been to one pole, we might as well go to the other. The lives of the country lawyer and the city lawyer are really poles apart. There is a common tie, the law itself, but there the similarity ends. First of all, though, we'd better get some definitions before us so that we'll be tuned in on the same channel.
The term "city lawyer" is referred to a really big city, Detroit, for instance, or Philadelphia or Los Angeles. It has a concentration of industry, of wealth, of economic power and, of course, of people. The lawyers are numerous; the competition is keen. There are many large firms of lawyers associated together, some with "departments," such as the "trial department." A very few of these firms do a very large proportion of the legal work done in the city. In such a metropolis there is a high degree of specialization, as the individual lawyers and smaller firms try to make a place for themselves in their crowded city. The financial rewards are high, but the toll taken, of energy and thought and spirit, is equally high. Once a lawyer in such a community becomes well known, he is likely to be nationally known. You doubtless would recognize at once the names of some big-city lawyers, Thomas E. Dewey, for example.
The city lawyer and his brother from the country live in two different legal worlds. One of the outstanding differences is that of community standing. The county-seat lawyer (and it is true even of beginners) is a personage in his own right. To say that he is a local "celebrity" is not the right word, but certainly he is a leader of community thought almost from the start. The city lawyer, on the other hand, until he reaches the very top rungs of the professional ladder, remains relatively anonymous. Another great difference is that of income. The country lawyer is normally a financially poor lawyer. On the other hand, his big-city brother enjoying even a reasonable degree of success can never be described as financially poor.
There are other differences too. The city lawyer is not so much on his own, even if he is practicing by himself.
There's always another lawyer across the hall. There is an active bar association, often having "sections" devoted to areas of the law in which he is particularly interested (for example, "probate and trust" section, "negligence" section, and so forth). There is thus a professional solidarity and companionship. The difference between the country lawyer and the city lawyer, in this respect, is something like the difference, in war, between a soldier on outpost duty and one back with the company. They're both soldiers, but there's a vast difference in their associations.
Another difference between the two lawyers relates to the available professional facilities. A lawyer's library is a part of his arsenal, a part of his reservoir of learning. He can't carry in his head all he needs to know, and he would be foolish to try. But if his law-school training has been effective, he knows how to isolate the legal issues presented in a case and how to find the authorities and the precedents governing these issues. This he does in his library. Now, there are libraries and libraries, ranging all the way from the beginner's modest shelves of the statutes and decisions of his State to the great collections at the national law schools. The city lawyer has access, normally, to a bar association library of real worth.
The country lawyer, on the other hand, must rely on his own collection or that of the county bar library, the latter, in many cases, being less adequate than the private libraries of some of the big city firms. Thus he is more circumscribed than his brother in the city with respect to professional help.
Actually, however, an able country lawyer does not lose his case for lack of book help. If he wants it he can get it, borrowing, if necessary, from the nearest city library or the State bar library at the capitol. If he loses for lack of book help, he has really lost for lack of energy.
The greatest difference
Possibly the greatest difference between the city lawyer and the country lawyer is a difference in the professional depth he brings to his day-by-day work. What we mean by this requires some explanation. We have seen that the country lawyer is a general practitioner. He must have a wide general knowledge of the law, the breadth of his knowledge matching the breadth of the interests of his clients. He must know at least something about a great many legal subjects. His city brother, on the other hand, has a more specialized practice, even though he may not, technically, be a specialist.
This is only natural because in a big city there is more of everything, even of the unique, or highly specialized, cases.
There is a very fine lawyer who, early in his career, had charge of the legal aspects of the sale of a large hotel. It was a problem complicated by many diverse and antagonistic interests, and my friend, with his knowledge of both the law and human nature, was able to weigh the merits of the respective claims and reach a settlement reasonably satisfactory to all concerned. The word of his skill spread through the industry, by word of mouth and through the trade journals.
The result was that there has not been the sale of a major hotel in this area in the past twenty years in which this lawyer referred to above has not participated in one way or another. Of course, he does other things too, but he is a real expert in the hotel field and his opinion is much sought after by other lawyers.
The same thing is true with respect to many other kinds of practice, of financial work (bond issues and the like), of bankruptcy cases, and particularly of corporation practice.
Corporation law, practiced on a large and almost exclusive scale, is concentrated in the cities. This kind of practice encompasses many things, and is in itself a specialty. Why, any more so than practice dealing with business partnerships? Because the corporation, in the eyes of the law, is itself a person, just as you are a person. Compare these two situations: If three men get together and form a partnership to conduct a11 business, they are themselves running things. Instead of one man there are three, all doing business together, as partners.
But if, instead of forming a partnership, they form another kind of business association, called a "corporation," in the eyes of the law those three men are not themselves conducting the business. The "corporation" is, and it is a distinct legal person. They don't own the property. The "corporation" does. They don't make the money, if any is made. The "corporation" makes it, and they get it by way of "dividends."
The law, in other words, regards the corporation itself as a person. Yet it can act only through human hands, carrying out the plans formulated by human minds, for purposes thought desirable by the human directors of the corporation.
All of this lives in fantasy. Any time the law solemnly says it is going to treat a group of men associated together for business purposes "as if" it were a real person, and makes rules about "its" conduct (what "it" can do, legally, and what "it" cannot do), we might just as solemnly recognize that we are dealing with a fiction. Even the language of the opinions dealing with the rights and duties of these fictitious persons called corporations is a language shot through and through with unreality. For instance if in a certain situation, despite the fact that the business called a corporation did something, the law, nevertheless, is going to hold liable the human beings composing "it" (there are a few such situations), judges say that we have "pierced the corporate veil." What veil? Pierced? Pierced with what? This is fanciful talk, and often obscures what are really very simple problems.
It takes much skill to control these fictitious persons, these corporations, in such a way as to do the human beings' bidding, for it must all be done according to a very elaborate set of rules called "corporation law." There are encyclopedias devoted to this branch of the law alone. Many of our city lawyers must become highly skilled in this kind of law. Not much of it is done by their country brothers, although there is usually some, since doing business in the corporate form is now commonplace. But the managers of the great corporations tend to gather in the great cities, and their legal plans are made and executed there.
What really talked about here is specialization, although it's not the kind of specialization (such as patent law, for instance) that requires a technical skill over and beyond that required of the average lawyer. The city lawyer has much more of an opportunity to specialize than his country brother, and many of them actually do.
Since the practice of law is being discussed, some of its advantages and some of its problems, it seems a good time to speak of something else, something that has, in some localities and with respect to practice for certain kinds of clients, become a real problem to the bar as a whole. It is the maintenance of professional standing and ideals and conduct.
Let's start with a fairly simple situation, relatively clear cut, and then make a comparison. The country lawyer's professional position with respect to his client is, more than any other in this country today, the old historic and time- honored position. When the client has a problem he comes to the lawyer and puts it before him. The lawyer reviews it and advises the client what to do. This advice is a prescription of many ingredients. It is composed in part of the lawyer's knowledge of the law. He knows what can be done (legally) and what cannot be done. It is composed in part of a sense of community ethics and morals. He knows what will be accepted as permissible behavior in this particular area and what will not be. (A girl may go shopping in her shorts, or a bathing suit, in a sophisticated Florida resort, without adverse criticism, but not in many Midwestern farming communities.) Incidentally, why is the feeling of the community important? There are many reasons, some at the very heart of what "the law" really is, but the country lawyer isn't directly interested in the science of jurisprudence. He is interested in something much closer to home, the jury.
This consists of twelve persons of the community itself, not of Chicago. It is they who decide lawsuits, and in deciding the factual issues they reflect the sense of the community. If they go haywire, the judge can correct their judgment, but it has to be an extreme case to justify intervention by the judge.
All of these factors the lawyer takes into account in rendering his advice to his client. But, in addition, there is another ingredient, important and far-reaching in its effects.
It is this: The lawyer is also an officer of the court. This means that he is a part of the machinery of justice itself. He will not tolerate the abuse of the judicial process, the perversion of the machinery of the law to unworthy ends, such as the taking of a frivolous appeal merely to stall the enforcement of the trial court's judgment until the appeal is decided. He will deal with the judge always on a basis of utter candor and respect, even though it may mean losing his case. If a case can be won only by deceiving or misleading the court, it does not deserve to be won, and the client should be so told. Then he can either drop the matter or knock on the door of another lawyer, and then, probably, still another.
Thus the lawyer advises his client. If the client does not wish to follow the advice given, that is his privilege, but the lawyer is equally free to have no further dealings with one who puts such a low value upon his judgment. If what the client wishes to do is unlawful or fraudulent or unfair, the lawyer we are describing will have nothing to do with it.
He uses his skill and his knowledge to further the cause of justice, not of injustice. With many lawyers this dedication to high ideals has been of such long standing, and has become so well known, that the mere presence of Lawyer Jones as counselor for Mr. Smith means that the latter has a good and honest and fair position-or Lawyer Jones wouldn't be in the case at all.
Inevitably this brings us to professional ethics. It is easy to be dogmatic about ethics if we are going to stay in the realm of generalities. (A lawyer can't represent two clients whose interests oppose each other's, for instance.) It is the lawyer's duty to help his client accomplish his objectives. That is why he is retained, and the client has every right to demand that the lawyer utilize every resource at his command to advance the client's interests. Thus the client may wish to form a corporation, or to seek damages because of an accident. In the accomplishment of these purposes the lawyer will give the client possible assistance. Suppose, however, that the accident didn't really cause any damages at all but that they can be faked in some way, perhaps because of an old, chronic injury. In that case the lawyer's advice should consist of one word and one word only: "Out!"
The above is a clear case. Some are not so clear. Particularly in tax matters. First of all, it is clear that no one has a duty to conduct his affairs in such a way as to pay high taxes. For instance, if your client can save taxes by doing business in the partnership form, or in some form other than the corporate form, there's no reason why you shouldn't so advise him and help him to set up his partnership. But sometimes clients come to you with a scheme of tax evasion. They want your legal help in the hiding of income or the padding of expenses. Again, your advice is "Out!"
Lawyers conniving in such schemes are a disgrace to an honorable and ancient profession. Shun them as you would the plague. But, more important, let no thought of gain, financial, material, or social, ever tempt you into these paths. Their end is, inevitably, shame, disgrace, and the contempt of your profession.
Just a word about the lawyer and his fees. The reputable lawyer is motivated to render a service, not earn money. It was the late Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt of New Jersey who told of an old lawyer's question. This ancient practitioner hobbled up to him one night after a speech he had given at a local bar meeting in Texas. "Mr. Chief Justice," he quavered, "I hear you're from the East. Is it true that in New York there are some lawyers who practice for money? " Yes, there are those lawyers, not only in New York but elsewhere. As a matter of fact I have heard, though I can't vouch for it, that there are law firms so anxious to retain a client's "business" that they will permit the client's auditors to go over their books to verify the amount of time put on a case, and by whom, in order to substantiate (or question) the fee charged. No one should be so hungry. If the client doesn't trust the lawyer not to cheat him, the relationship should be terminated.
This degradation of professional status is peculiar to no community. It happens, sometimes, in the cities, and occasionally it is accomplished by small-town big shots. It can happen anywhere. It has its roots, like any other kind of prostitution, in hunger and in weakness. It is only natural that we should have more of it in the big cities, where riches and power concentrate and where, as well, lawyers gather in great numbers and in the fiercest kind of competition. We have a lot to do, in the law, about our professional position, our economic situation.
The government lawyer
Government is getting more complex all the time. In some of the courses you will take before you get into your technical legal studies you will learn why this is true. Just consider one field of the law, taxation. Many of us can remember when there was no Federal income tax whatever.
Now it is a major activity of government. It involves literally thousands of agents and even has its own court, the Tax Court of the United States. Hundreds of lawyers serve in this branch of government alone. In addition, there are all of the various agencies regulating certain of our activities. For instance, the Federal government now supervises and controls the issuance and sale of certain corporate stocks (a certificate of stock is the tangible evidence of part ownership of a corporation), doing so through a Federal "commission" known as the Securities and Exchange Commission. The use of the air for broadcasting is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission. In addition we have the Civil Aeronautics Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and scads of others. We could go on and on. Probably there will be, someday, the widespread use in industry of nuclear energy. If so, we can safely guess that it will be regulated by a commission and that this commission will require many lawyers. Where this will stop, no one knows. Will there be a commission someday to regulate carriers in outer space, just as there is today (the Interstate Commerce Commission) to regulate carriers within this country?
Perhaps you will be a member. The roster of lawyers in government keeps increasing as life itself grows more complex. The Department of Justice is the legal arm of the government. It, alone, is one of the greatest legal organizations in the world. At its head is the Attorney General of the United States, who sits in the Cabinet, and down through its various divisions you will find scores, even hundreds, of able and dedicated men. To one contemplating government service, an interview with the Department of Justice should be at the top of his list.
All of these agencies, these commissions, these departments of government, have need for lawyers. Employment by them (it is called "government service") has some marked pros and cons. On the pro side, the lawyer involved is contributing directly to the performance of a needful public task.
He is doing necessary and important work in the cause of the people themselves. To those of our profession who are idealistic and unselfish, and motivated by a strong sense of public duty (and there are many), this kind of practice of the law has a great appeal. There is, moreover, a fair starting salary and (at least until the lawyer gets up to the top branches of the tree, in those legal positions called the "policy-making" positions, in which he helps to determine just how the agency is to be run) a reasonable degree of security. In addition- and this is extremely important-he learns from A to X the particular law being administered by his agency, how it is interpreted, and how it is enforced. He becomes a real expert in a highly specialized field. Every word in the law governing the agency and its work has for him a special meaning. (In fact he probably had a hand in writing some of the words.) He knows intimately the court decisions interpreting this law and even what was behind the leading cases. Now, do you re member, long ago when we first started looking at "the law," and we spoke of the lawyer's big job of predicting what the courts would do to his client if the client did so and so? (That is what the client really wants from you.) Just think, then, of how valuable this intimate and highly specialized knowledge of this particular law would be to a corporation having many of these problems. Many lawyers enter government service in one of these agencies in order to get experience, as a sort of postgraduate period. After a few years with the agency they leave the government service to specialize in the legal problems of the industries regulated by the agency.
The salary situation in government service is not, however, particularly inviting. Although the starting salaries are reasonably adequate, the salaries paid the medium and top-rank lawyers of the agency are normally below the earnings of lawyers of comparable skill and industry in private practice. Moreover, living conditions are often not of the best.
If you are stationed in Washington, there will be a real living problem for those in the lower salary brackets. If you are stationed outside Washington, this problem may be eased somewhat, depending upon the community, but this very factor itself (that is, your possible transfer from place to place) introduces problems of its own. Of course, to some these are not "problems" at all but one of the advantages of government service that it gives you the opportunity to see new places, meet new people, and tackle new problems.
There is another kind of "government service," also, but not a great deal is written about it. It is service to the various local and State governments. Most cities today, even the small ones, have a city attorney whose function is to counsel the local governing body (such as the city council- men or the school board) respecting their legal problems.
Suppose, for instance, someone suggests that since handbills, when thrown away, create litter in the streets, all circulation of handbills should be forbidden. Is this legal? Or, possibly it's a parking problem, or has to do with the municipal collection of garbage, or the ever-present taxes.
These legal positions are not, for the smaller communities, full-time occupations. There is a fixed salary involved, usually not large, but reasonable for the services rendered.
The positions are usually held by the younger attorneys who find the salary a welcome addition to their incomes in their initial lean years in practice. There is a real opportunity for useful and constructive work in this field. More often than we like to see, the governing bodies of smaller com munities seem to have little feeling for due process. The rural speed traps are examples. There's ample room for education and indoctrination of our lay brothers in this field.
Another local governmental position often held by a young attorney is that of the county prosecutor (or district attorney). You won't find the work as portrayed in current television. There is no glamour in it, nothing but hard work and public service. Yet in the early years of practice the steady income is welcomed by the young attorney, who is normally permitted, as well, to have his own private civil practice where it does not conflict with his official duties for the community.
It has other more substantial advantages. Since it is an elective post it gives the young attorney an opportunity to get his feet wet in the stream of politics. He learns to meet people, to talk with them in groups, and something of their problems. They, in turn, are sizing him up. Is he natural or pompous? Does he talk "down" to people? Is he sincere?
(People can often spot a phony in face-to-face contact.) Moreover, in such a post there's usually a fair amount of trial work. Even the trial of petty offenses gives the young attorney the feeling of the courtroom, a familiarity with trials in real life as opposed to those in his casebooks, and if some trial should turn out to be an exciting one the county prosecutor's name becomes reasonably well known in his community. If it becomes known as synonymous with justice and fair play and legal ability, the young man is well started in his career.
No one contemplating a life in the law should fail to weigh, very carefully, a period of local, State, or Federal governmental service, even, possibly, with respect to the Federal government, a life therein. Certain of the rewards are rich (caution, again, about rewards-what kind do you seek?), and the problems are of vast importance. But life, as you have already learned, never gives us something for nothing. Rich rewards are sometimes countered by grievous disappointments. Government service is no exception.*
This is a term applied to a lawyer on the payroll of a business. He is not engaged in general practice but serves exclusively his one client, his employer.
The arrangement is appealing to some lawyers, anathema to others. Actually, the position of house counsel depends a good deal upon the counsel and a good deal upon the house.
He may be a mere employee in every sense of the word, with no more independent freedom of action, and no more professional standing, than any other employee. On the other hand his professional training and his judgment and his personality may be so respected that he occupies practically the same position as an independent counsel who devotes a large portion of his time to any one client. (Businesses often have lawyers on what is called a "retainer" basis. The lawyer, or a law firm, is paid a certain sum regularly by the business, and he is the only lawyer employed by them. His year-in year-out knowledge of their operations and their problems enables him to counsel them with more wisdom, and in a shorter time, than lawyers who are with them today and with their competitors tomorrow.) In this latter case he will be a great asset to the business. It will undertake no course of action against which he expresses a sound legal objection. In a very real sense he will be the keeper of the corporate conscience. Often he shifts over to an executive position in the business, no longer having to do with legal problems.
If the lawyer's professional status is respected, the position of house counsel offers some real advantages to attorneys, The legal problems confronting a large business cover a wide and interesting range. Contracts must be written, leases arranged, and problems involved in governmental regulations applicable to the business scrupulously observed. There will undoubtedly be tax problems, in connection with which the house counsel will work very closely with the auditors of the business. The negotiations of contracts with the workmen employed by the business is usually participated in by the house counsel, whose guidance is sought on the legal problems presented. (Sometimes not. This whole field of "labor relations" is becoming increasingly complex because of the impact of Federal laws on the subject, and their interrelation with State laws. This is becoming more and more a specialty of its own.) In addition, the normal operations of the business may occasionally cause someone to suffer a personal injury. For instance, one of the company's trucks may injure a pedestrian.
If this case is settled out of court, it will usually be done by the house counsel, though if it goes to trial, outside counsel will usually be employed for this purpose. (House counsels don't usually try cases. If trial work is to be well done, it requires, as we have seen, a certain amount of experience, just as surgery does in the profession of medicine, House counsels rarely have the time, or the opportunity, to acquire this skill.)
On the personal side there are some marked advantages. All of the so-called "fringe" benefits enjoyed by the other corporate employees (such as vacations, sick leaves, and retirement) are enjoyed, as well, by the legal employees. The salaries, both starting and ending, together with the benefits we have mentioned, represent a financial return fairly commensurate with that enjoyed by lawyers of like abilities in private practice. Of course, the house counsel can always be discharged, just as a lawyer in private practice may be discharged from a case or from a retainer. But there is a difference. When the house counsel is fired his job is gone. But when an independent practitioner loses a client it is just that, and nothing more. The "job," so to speak, is still there. Think about that.
Actually, there are so many paths open to those with a legal education that you can do almost anything you want. If you are mechanically minded, if you are drawn to engineering as well as law, the field of patent law offers great interest. You may like ships, the sea. If so, admiralty law is made to order for you. Labor-management problems are producing their own corps of specialists as we strive for solutions of the ancient and vexing problems arising when one man works for another. (We now have both Federal and State laws applicable to this situation. Their interpretation is really a job for a specialist.) A number of students of the law wind up, ultimately, as teachers of law, others as law librarians, or on the editorial staffs of the many law book publishers.
But regardless of the path you choose, if you keep faith with the law you will keep faith with yourself and your fellow men. If you keep your oath as a lawyer, your days will be full of excitement and reward, your nights full of rest, your years full of honor, and your name full of respect.