previous next

[207] receive as from a friend, I trust. My conversation with you during the delightful afternoon at Mr. Donaldson's has interested me much in your course, and as you then appealed to me, I feel anxious to avail myself of the privilege afforded.

Let me suggest, then, that you should not hesitate to propose to yourself the highest standard of professional study and acquirement. Be not deterred by its apparent impracticability; but strive zealously, and you will be astonished at the progress you make. If you place a low standard at which to aim, you will not surely rise above it, even if you reach it; whereas, failing to reach a higher mark may be full of honor. In plain language, determine that you will master the whole compass of law; and do not shrink from the crabbed page of black-letter, the multitudinous volumes of reports, or even the gigantic abridgments. Keep the high standard in your mind's eye, and you will certainly reach some desirable point. I am led to make these suggestions from knowing, from my experience with law students, that the whisperings of their indolence and the suggestions of practitioners, with more business than knowledge, lead them to consider that all proper professional attainments may be stored up with very slight study. I know from observation that great learning is not necessary in order to make money at the bar; and that, indeed, the most ignorant are often among the wealthiest lawyers: but I would not dignify their pursuit with the name of a profession,—it is in nothing better than a trade. And I feel persuaded, from the honorable ambition which characterizes you, that you would not be content to tread in their humble track. Pursue the law, then, as a science; study it in books; and let the results of your studies ripen from meditation and conversation in your own mind. Make it a rule never to pass a phrase or sentence or proposition which you do not understand. If it is not intelligible,—so, indeed, that a clear idea is stamped upon your mind,—consult the references in the margin and other works which treat of the same subject; and do not hesitate, moreover, to confess your ignorance or inability to understand it, and seek assistance from some one more advanced in the pursuit. In this way, you will gradually—per intervalla ac spiramenta temporis—make advances and clear the way. You may seem to move slowly at first; but it is like the tardy labor of fixing the smooth rails on which the future steam-car is to bowl through the country. I would not have you understand that I am a devotee of authorities. There are few, I flatter myself, who are more disposed than I am to view the law as a coherent collection of principles rather than a bundle of cases. With me, cases are the exponents of principles; and I would have you read them in order to understand the principles of the law and the grounds of them. The best way, therefore, of reading them is in connection with some text-book, following the different references in the margin to their sources, and thus informing yourself of the reasons by which the principles are supported. The most important cases, in which some principle has been first evolved or first received a novel application, are called ‘leading cases,’ and all these should be read with great attention. These are the caskets of the law, containing the great fundamental principles which are applied in numerous subsequent cases of less impression. There are not many who can be

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Thomas Donaldson (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: