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The Law: Business or Profession?*

A recent discussion with a lawyer friend of mine reignited the title question in my mind, yet again. I am an attorney who deals almost exclusively with individual clients—real people with real problems, as opposed to corporations or businesses.  And because my cases, my clients, are unique individuals, the inherent tension between law as a business and law as a profession inevitably impacts my practice and is always on my mind.

My colleague and I were chatting about our practices and he’d asked me what I thought about a new practice area he was thinking of getting his firm involved in. It involved a potential new pharmaceutical litigation (an area I am familiar with) and it was his use of certain language that brought the business/profession conflict to the fore.  He referred to possible cases as “inventory” and as items in his firm’s “pipeline.” He talked about having retained a financial consultant to draw up “profit and loss” scenarios related to this new area of practice.  And of course, when we spoke about that actual means of litigating the cases, he noted that “scorched-earth” litigation tactics would be necessary to resolve them.

The law as a business versus law as a profession conflict was apparently as much in evidence over a century ago as it is to some of us today.  In the June 1908 issue of the Yale Law Journal Champ S. Andrews, a prominent attorney and public advocate published a note with the title this blog entry has borrowed. In it, Mr. Andrews derides attorneys who robe themselves in the mantle of public advocate and defender of individual rights while in reality their only goal is to enrich themselves.  He alleges that those who see the law as business should simply say so and drop the pretense that they act only to serve the public good:

“I would have the profession be honest with the youthful enthusiast who knocks at its portals.  I would have them say, choose between the law as a business and law as a profession.  If you decide on law as a business, then strip the calling of its arrogance and cant.  Quit posing as a superior being, as a protector of the weak, as man [or woman] who prefers the reward of duty performed to services paid for.  Let the [law] schools tell also that as a business, it is a precarious one, and brings on the average, more labor and drudgery and less reward than any one of a dozen callings…”

Andrews writes bluntly on the effect that the business of law had on the profession of law back in 1908, effects that are familiar daily to any attorney practicing today:

“In the conduct of cases the old dignity is disappearing. Hammer and tongs are the approved weapons nowadays.  A lawyer’s word now has to be reduced to writing by his opponent who has had experience in repudiated ‘gentlemanly agreements’…all the old courtesy and gentle deportment that once characterized the profession has gone, and it its place has come a rough and tumble scramble on the floor of the forum.  Anything to win is the motto…”

I understand the practical realities of the practice of law, but that understanding does not permit me to view my clients as “inventory.”  To equate a client’s legal claim to something no more significant than a piece of merchandise in a retail establishment is to at once deny the basic humanity of my client and to diminish the human cost of my client’s pain and suffering to a dollar figure arrived at by some odious accounting.

Fortunately my law firm colleagues share a similar view.  We at Locks see our clients for the people they are, and we strive to meet their legal needs by placing their interests above all others.  Our firm has a history of advocating for the rights of regular people no matter who the adversary, in a professional manner that I believe brings to light the best of my profession.

I am a lawyer, an advocate for my clients, and an adversary of injustice.  As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

*With grateful appreciation to Champ S. Andrews.