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Our Learned Friends
by [?]

Now what of the Bar? Is the barrister after anything other than his own advancement? He follows what gleam? What are his ideals? Never mind whether he fails more often or less often than others to attain them; I am not bothering about that. I only want to know what it is that he is after. In the quiet hours when we are alone with ourselves and there is nobody to tell us what fine fellows we are, we come sometimes upon a weak moment in which we wonder, not how much money we are earning, nor how famous we are becoming, but what good we are doing. If a barrister ever has such a moment, what is his consolation? It can only be that he is helping Justice to be administered. If he is to be proud of his profession, and in that lonely moment tolerant of himself, he must feel that he is taking a noble part in the vindication of legal right, the punishment of legal wrong. But he must do more than this. Just as the doctor, with increased knowledge and experience, becomes a better fighter against disease, advancing himself, no doubt, but advancing also medical science; just as the schoolmaster, having learnt new and better ways of teaching, can now give a better education to his boys, increasing thereby the sum of knowledge; so the barrister must be able to tell himself that the more expert he becomes as an advocate, the better will he be able to help in the administration of this Justice which is his ideal.

Can he tell himself this? I do not see how he can. His increased expertness will be of increased service to himself, of increased service to his clients, but no ideal will be the better served by reason of it. Let us take a case–Smith v. Jones. Counsel is briefed for Smith. After examining the case he tells himself in effect this: “As far as I can see, the Law is all on the other side. Luckily, however, sentiment is on our side. Given an impressionable jury, there’s just a chance that we might pull it off. It’s worth trying.” He tries, and if he is sufficiently expert he pulls it off. A triumph for himself, but what has happened to the ideal? Did he even think, “Of course I’m bound to do the best for my client, but he’s in the wrong, and I hope we lose?” I imagine not. The whole teaching of the Bar is that he must not bother about justice, but only about his own victory. What ultimately, then, is he after? What does the Bar offer its devotees–beyond material success?

I asked just now what were a barrister’s ideals. Suppose we ask instead, What is the ideal barrister? If one spoke loosely of an ideal doctor, one would not necessarily mean a titled gentleman in Harley Street. An ideal schoolmaster is not synonymous with the Headmaster of Eton or the owner of the most profitable preparatory school. But can there be an ideal barrister other than a successful barrister? The eager young writer, just beginning a literary career, might fix his eyes upon Francis Thompson rather than upon Sir Hall Caine; the eager young clergyman might dream dreams over the Life of Father Damien more often than over the Life of the Archbishop of Canterbury; but to what star can the eager young barrister hitch his wagon, save to the star of material success? If he does not see himself as Sir Edward Carson, it is only because he thinks that perhaps after all Sir John Simon’s manner is the more effective.

There may be other answers to the questions I have asked than the answers I have given, but it is no answer to ask me how the law can be administered without barristers. I do not know; nor do I know how the roads can be swept without getting somebody to sweep them. But that would not disqualify me from saying that road- sweeping was an unattractive profession. So also I am entitled to my opinion about the Bar, which is this. That because it offers material victories only and never spiritual ones, that because there can be no standard by which its disciples are judged save the earthly standard, that because there is no place within its ranks for the altruist or the idealist–for these reasons the Bar is not one of the noble professions.