Some Words of Advice for Law Students, from 1811

As the year draws to a close, it might be worthwhile to review the following advice, provided to American law students (clerks, really) precisely two centuries ago.  These words of wisdom come from William Wright’s Advice on the Study of the Law, as published by Baltimore’s Edward J. Coale  with “additional notes for the American student” back in 1811.  (One can view the complete text here, on Google Books.)

  • The student should commence with a firm resolution to become one of the most eminent attornies [sic] of the age : and though the difficulties which he will at first meet with may be great, he should not despond; because despondency will produce negligence. Let him persevere, and he will succeed.
  • Genius is more equally distributed among mankind than is generally allowed. . . . If all men would accustom themselves to reflection, few would be ignorant; and their want of reflection proceeds from their own folly and love of leisure, and not from the insufficiency of their natural endowments.
  • Habits of attention and application, properly directed, produce what is commonly called genius.
  • The student should make himself most intimately acquainted with the practice which is likely to be the most useful.
  • Mankind will undoubtedly form their opinion of the morals and attainments of the young lawyer from those of his companions. . . . If he selects for his confidential friends the libertine, the dishonourable, the malevolent, the trifler, or the uneducated, among such he will himself be classed.
  • The companions of a student should be few; if they are numerous, he will probably be induced to sacrifice more time to friendship and pleasure than is consistent with his professional duties, and his hopes of honourable distinction.
  • Politeness, says Lord Chatham, is benevolence in trifles. This then is all I require of the student.
  • Young men should carefully guard themselves against forming any attachment, even upon honourable principles, till years shall have matured their judgment, and a proper course of study supplied them with knowledge sufficient to enter on the world and to transact their professional business with accuracy. Attachments formed too early in life are commonly of a romantic nature, and tend to dissipate thought and unhinge the mind, and seldom terminate so happily as lively imaginations are willing to expect.
  • An attorney should commence his professional labours with the laudable resolution of preventing litigation, as much as possible; for petty suits are always vexatious, and seldom productive of advantage either to the litigant parties or to society.
  • When consulted professionally, a young attorney should not, if he can avoid it, give his opinion hastily; but consider and re-consider.

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1 Response

  1. Matt says:

    It seems like quite reasonable advice, except probably the part about having few friends and avoiding libertines. Both of those seem pretty clearly wrong.