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However, this is hardly a practical question at the present time, because the tendency, whether desirable or not, is overwhelming in favor of subjecting applicants for admission to the Bar to tests or examinations. The important question for those who are interested in the character of the Bar to determine is whether the standards required and the application thereof to the applicants are accomplishing their purpose.
Now, the only purpose which will justify these examinations is, in the interest of the public, to secure ability and integrity in the Bar.
The qualifications that should be required are, evidently first, ability and education, i. e., mental qualifications, and, second, character or ethics, i. e., moral qualifications.
During the past twenty years increasing attention has been given to the mental qualifications of applicants for admission to practice, until at the present time (waiving the question of the considerate and reasonable application of the standards set in the several jurisdictions) the requirements are, generally, quite sufficient. If these standards should be raised it is along the lines of general education rather than of technical learning. Any young man of ordinary ability who has received a thorough academic education, and has learned thereby how to use his mind, will be more creditable as a member of the Bar without any preparation in law than will a young man of insufficient general education, who has spent his time in memorizing law books and judicial decisions. The former will, at least, have intelligence enough to know what he should not do, an advantage frequently found wanting in the latter.
These views may not meet with general approval. Perhaps, fortunately, this is not essential to the matter at hand. Whatever opinion may be entertained upon the question of mental qualifications, the moral equipment of the applicant is of greater importance. Mental attainments are, in large part, of concern. only to the individual client. Clients demand in their counsel sufficient learning and skill to produce the desired result; if convenient, within the limits of the law and morals, but at all events, the desired result.
Moral character, on the other hand, is of more consequence to the Bar and public at large.
If it be conceded that many lawyers delay justice and clog the judicial machinery, because of their stupidity and lack of technical education, it must, on the other hand, be admitted that the astuteness of brilliant counsel, devoting their talents to the service of private interests, keeps both courts and legislatures busy in the effort to prevent the miscarriage of justice.
And yet the lawyer's duty to his client now is, and for generations past has been, the obligation upon which the larger emphasis has been placed, even by members of the Bar. Most of the eulogies pronounced upon the Bar as a profession bear upon the lawyer's loyalty to his client. On this theme many touching tributes are found in the speeches of lawyers from all ranks of the profession, including members of the Supreme Court. These sentiments are a favorite subject of commencement addresses. The injury resulting therefrom is apparent. The young man about to enter the profession acquires a false perspective of his duty, on the one hand, to his client, and, on the other hand, to the public, including the courts and his associates.
The Bar might well learn in this matter from the medical profession. The fiduciary relation of physician and patient calls for as high a standard of fidelity by the professional man as does that of lawyer and client. The difference between the professions is that faithfulness to this trust is accepted by the medical profession and its members as a matter of course-certainly not as the chief excellence of the profession. Differing from the law, the medical profession claims commendation for itself and its members because of eminent services rendered to the public at large. Individualism characterizes the legal profession, but an esprit de corps which calls for larger views of service is manifest in the medical profession of today. It results therefrom, at least in large part, that medicine, with its ecord of service, is the most popular profession with the general public, while the Bar, living chiefly for itself and its clients, has become the most unpopular. The undue importance given to the lawyer's duty to his client easily leads the young practitioner into unprofessional
conduct, and these early lapses from a high ethical standard become, in time, the settled habit of the Bar. Deceit, cunning and even criminal conduct, when employed in a client's interest, come to be regarded not only as excusable, but even as commendable. The facts disclosed in many of the decisions of our courts justify this statement. Of course the law does not support these views and the opinions of the courts give no countenance to them.'
A summary of the lawyer's code of ethics, as expressed by Francis Lieber, cannot be improved upon:
"The advocate does not cease to be a human being with all his ethical and religious obligations, a citizen with all his political obligations to his country and her laws, and a gentleman with all the obligations of honor and civil intercourse. He is no morally privileged person, as no man can be."*
And yet, when analyzed, it is difficult to understand why the lawyer should ask commendation for loyalty to his client. This is an easy virtue. It is merely the following out of a lawyer's own interest, viz., pursuit of his fee and loyalty to the one by whom it is to be paid. Character in a lawyer is shown rather when counsel refuses to advance a client's cause, if it requires a violation of his duty as a citizen or as an officer of the court.
The banking and business worlds have learned that for true success, character counts. Lawyers of intelligence know that this is equally true of the legal profession, and yet, with a sense of helpless indifference, or with no sense at all, they, for the most part, neglect character as an element in legal education, and take no pains to exclude the ethically unfit from admission to the profession.
The evils resulting from admitting a morally unfit applicant are not confined to the case in question. The admission to the Bar of one having a low moral standard tends to lower the
See the valuable collection of New York cases in Mr. Boston's paper read before this Section in 1912; Vol. 37, A. B. A. Reports, pp. 761-812; and also the articles by Mr. Julius H. Cohen, published in the American Legal News of November and December, 1912.
Vol. II, Lieber's Political Ethics, Chap. 13, p. 413.
character of other practitioners and of the Bar in general. Not altogether unlike the "gang" in juvenile experience, the Bar of any community has an ethical standard which fairly represents the average of its members.
The public has lost confidence in lawyers, not for lack of intellectuality, but for absence of character in the profession. The people at large, and not without reason, regard the lawyer of today very much as the merchant. Instead of tangible goods. which the merchant sells to any purchaser, the lawyer offers for sale or to let his knowledge and ability to any person at a price (and frequently to the highest bidder) regardless of the character of the purchaser, or the purpose to which the goods are to be devoted.
The general public does not know that there are in the profession lawyers whose services cannot be bought at any price for immoral use.
These conditions are most manifest in communities having a large foreign population. This unwholesome opinion of the Bar permeates the foreign element. The profession is regarded by them as a desirable, because lucrative, business for their talented children.
An undue proportion of young men seeking admission to the Bar are of foreign birth or parentage, and they carry into the profession the point of view that they have acquired from their environment. The larger part of them have no character from a professional point of view, except, perhaps, the much-vaunted virtue of fidelity to the client.
These facts cause regret that we cannot have the English training for the Bar. Nothing has been devised as efficient for the cultivation of professional ethics as the historic dinners at the Inns of Court. We have in this country no equivalent for the professional atmosphere, where the student, while eating and drinking, breathes in the best traditions and sentiments of the profession, and where his character and fitness for the Bar become known, with the lapse of terms and their dinners, to the men whose favorable vote is required before admission to the Bar is attained.
The law schools are doing much towards raising the standards of character among their students, but not all law schools are imbued with a sense of responsibility for more than the intellectual growth of their students. Moreover, this influence does not reach the young men who, because of their early surroundings, are in greatest need of it.
Character is formed by experience; it is developed and strengthened by adversity. Until a young man has come through the temptations to be met in actual practice, he can hardly be said to have a professional character. One can, upon inquiry, learn only of his general reputation as a young man reared in wholesome surroundings, and in whom true character may be expected to develop.
The difficulty of applying a character test to young men who have just finished their studies is well expressed by one who has had experience in the matter as follows:
"The applicants are practically all young men, their moral characters are generally good, they have not developed to the point where members of the Bar would know of the want of moral character."
These remarks do not, however, apply to an inquiry into the moral character of practising attorneys seeking admission in a foreign jurisdiction.
Perhaps the difficulty in applying a character test is the principal reason why so little attention has, in general, been given to the subject. The possession of "good moral character" is a prerequisite to admission in most of the states. This expression may mean everything, but in practise it usually means nothing.
From a responsible source in one jurisdiction comes the following comment upon this requirement:
"Regarding results attained in actual practice, everything doubtless would depend upon the individual making the observations. In our state saloonkeepers are required to be persons of good moral character before being licensed to dispense intoxicating liquors, but the writer has never known of anyone being denied the privilege of dealing in booze for want of good moral character, nor has he known of any case where the provision requiring good moral character upon the part of an attorney has de