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College Conference.

Judge Smith on Law.


The second of a series of talks on choosing a profession was given last evening in Sever 11 by Hon. Jeremiah Smith of New Hampshire. The speaker was introduced by President Eliot, and spoke first of the law profession as viewed from the side of truth and honor. Many men have believed and do believe it impossible for a man to practice law without a deviation from strict truth. Carlyle's outspoken opinions on the subject of lawyers are well known and Matthew Arnold once said that he was thankful when a friend of his escaped from the law. It is the general opinion that a lawyer will advocate a cause, be it right or wrong, and no less a man than Dr. Johnson said that no lawyer should question the right or wrong in the case he advocates.

The speaker then discussed the question of advocating or giving up a case which a lawyer knew to be wrong. The best way for every lawyer is to undertake no case unless he is convinced of its justice. The first thing for a careful lawyer to do is thoroughly to examine his client as to the facts and circumstances connected with the case. The trouble with many clients is that they seldom tell their lawyers everything connected with the case and thus there is a weakness which may easily be seen by the lawyer of the opposite side.

There are two courses open to an honorable lawyer when he doubts the justice of his clients case, first, to bring about a compromise, if possible, (and it is in this way in which many cases end); secondly, to present a fair argument and let the case stand wholly on its merits. Then, too, that lawyer is the most honorable and will in the end succeed best, who treats all witnesses fairly and courteously. Too many lawyers think it advisable to bulldoze all men with whom they come in contact, but the best cross-examiner is he who treats the witnesses as if they were guests in his own house. But people will say, "Yes, this is all very well in theory, but how is it in actual practice?" Judge Smith admitted that there are many men who do not care for the justice of a case but are willing to undertake any case if they see a chance of winning. The majority of lawyers, too, are very slow to abandon a case when once fairly started, but there are lawyers-and these constitute no small quota of the legal profession-who refuse to take a case which is morally unjust, though admitting legal advocation. Of this class the most notable example is Abraham Lincoln.

Judge Smith then spoke of "Utopia," in which no lawyers were to live; of Bellamy who said in his "Looking Backwards" that in the 20th century no lawyers would live in Boston; of the Knights of Labor, by whose by-laws "liquor sellers, bankers, gamblers and lawyers" are barred from membership.

But the greater part of a lawyer's practice does not consist of pleading a case in court, but in what is termed "non-contentious business" -such as drawing up wills and other documents, looking after estates, collecting money, etc. For even more than crime and immorality are defects of memory and imperfections of language the causes of lawyer's business. For a lawyer to succeed, many qualifications are necessary. First of all come industry and patience. Law is not an easy mistress and he soonest learns her smile who reads incessantly and carefully, and at the same time brings to his reading a thoughtful mind and a habit of discrimination. Then, too, in addressing the jury, care should be given more to matter than manner. The most successful jury lawyers are those who adopt in talking to the jury not an oratorical manner and tone, but an easy, conversational tone. Earnestness, too, should be aimed at.

Judge Smith. in conclusion, then spoke of the chances of pecuniary success for the young lawyer. The oft repeated saying that "there is always room at the top" was never so true as it is today. There is probably not so much room at the foot now as there was fifty years ago, for many things done then by lawyers are now performed by others. The young lawyer must experience many years of patient waiting before he can hope for success, but if he employ these years of waiting in a profitable manner, if he keep brain, eye and ear alert and act always in an honorable manner, success will surely crown his efforts.

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