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The writer of the following pages graduated in law at the University of Virginia, receiving the degree of B. L. in June, 1872; was admitted to practice law by the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City in September, 1872; by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in October, 1872; and by the Supreme Court of the United States in the Fall of 1875, and since his first admission to the Bar in 1872 he has practiced continuously before the Courts of Baltimore and the State of Maryland to the present time (1908), as well as having tried cases in the Courts of other States and in the Supreme Court of the United States, giving his personal attention to his professional duties continuously since his admission.
He became a member of the Bar Association of Baltimore City on the date of its formation, December 26th, 1879, and has served as a member of the Committee on Admissions of that association for three years, the last of the three as chairman of that committee. He also became a member of the American Bar Association in 1886, and of the Bar Association of the State of Maryland in 1903, and has continued a member of these three Associations from the dates of his admission to each respectively until the present time. On his initiative the Bar Association of Baltimore City adopted the code of legal ethics previously adopted by the State Bar Association, and it was on his motion that the code was with slight amendments adopted on April 7th, 1903, by the City Bar Association.
He is not conscious of ever during the whole of his thirty-six years of practice having deviated from the courtesy and just consideration due to the Courts, to counsel, or to others.
He has taken the liberty of bringing to the attention of the reader the above personal matters only as some justification for writing the following paper on the ethics of the practice of the law.
Ethics of the Practice of the Law
A Code of Ethics for practicing lawyers having been adopted by so many Bar Associations in this country, there is thus sanctioned a set of rules which every gentleman in his intercourse with others would likely by instinct and training have conformed to without being obligated to memorize the formulas which embody such. Hence in the following pages I have only gratified the inclination to illustrate in a natural way some of the principles of conduct that will appeal to those who are engaging in the practice of law-what is said does not profess to be didatic, but is written in a wish to entertain the reader in setting forth ethical questions confronting a lawyer in the practice of his profession.
It can never be lost sight of that one adopts the profession of law to engage in its practice, and that sensible ethical rules should be proposed for the advancement of the lawyer as a necessary factor in promoting the welfare of the community.
A professional life will provide interesting reading, dull though may be the customary routine of its plodding work. Indeed, even a toiling day cannot be a fruitless field to a careful observer, and one may emerge from its tasks with convictions not less chastened from the contest. One can acquire more or less clearly certain conceptions that may appear as truths. In obtaining a better knowledge of human nature one will have a more hopeful opinion of its operations. If he is convinced that society should have been constructed upon the principle that the law of self-preservation is more effectually to be secured by furnishing to each the incentive to zealously labor for his neighbor, and thereby be a participant himself in the
results of such a system, he will conclude that the world may possibly be slowly drifting along in that direction; and that many persons whose creed this is, do in fact aspire to, in some degree at least, practice homiletic theories. The choice of an occupation is so seldom the result of deliberate, judicious selection, that not in a few instances it may be said that a grotesque notion is his who enters upon a career in law. Assume a careful education and a college degree and then well-inculcated legal studies, with a law-school diploma, and the aspirant for legal activities will ordinarily regard the peculiar merit he possesses entitled to attract occupation and commensurate reward. If the reward is slow, as may be likely, he will ponder the cause and desire to seek its solution in the experience of others who may have traveled the route he now would pursue. An account of what has come under the observance of one who has pursued that route, coupled with unbiased criticisms, may furnish some aid in that respect. Viewed by him who decides to study for the legal profession, the latter is usually a closed book, for a discussion on the motives leading thereto will in each instance likely prove a clear misconception of the nature of the reward that is sought. The quiet contemplation of listening to statements of a law case, with a few questions and some slight criticisms, do not, as might appear, bespeak ease and leisure, nor does the confounding of a witness or the convincing argument in a trial mean a great pecuniary reward or a glorious reputation from cotemporaries.
Strong nerves and a young heart make the prospect in life eminently cheerful, the vanity of the struggle being as yet relegated to the keeping of the aged. What brighter career to be pictured than the practitioner full of the joyous inexperience of youth, strong in confidence, in skill yet untried.
Schooled with a care, perhaps unusual, the novitiate enters to engage on a career in which no visions appear other than pleasing. To each may be assigned some motive that excites the desire to engage in his chosen