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Advice to Youngsters Going into Law

Justice Felix Frankfurter

Felix Frankfurter was an American lawyer, professor, and jurist. He served as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court1). He held that judges should adhere closely to precedent, disregarding their own opinions, and decide only “whether legislators could in reason have enacted such a law.”

In May 1954, Paul Claussen, a 12-year-old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Justice Felix Frankfurter, expressing his interest in entering into the legal profession and seeks advice for beginning preparation for the same while still in junior high school. The judge writes back a brief letter which became iconic, not just in the legal industry but across all professions. It has ever since been considered as a formula for success and completeness in personal, career and social life. In this article, we will read the reply letter and also discuss what’s been written.

Paul Claussen received the following reply by Justice Felix Frankfurter:

My Dear Paul,

No one can be a truly competent lawyer, unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you, I would forget all about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to come to the study of the law as a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in the easily available reproductions, and listening to great music.

Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget all about your future career.

With good wishes
Sincerely yours
Felix Frankfurter

Be a seeker of knowledge

Knowledge, according to Kingderence, is one of the keys to be successful. Hence, as early as now, if a person really wants to be a lawyer someday, he should render most of his time in reading relevant materials. Getting information from books, articles, and other materials from time to time would enable a person to be a competent lawyer in this fast changing world.

Cultivate imaginative faculties. Furthermore, according to Frankfurter, “No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music.”

This profession should be fueled up, not only with abundant information, but also with life experiences. The minds of the people should be equipped with wisdom through literary stuff. Lawyers are not only bounded to read law books and legal matters. They should also engage with the beauty of the world by empowering their imaginations. We lawyers have an ethical duty to zealously represent our clients, but we must remember that zealous advocacy is not coercing or bludgeoning the panel into seeing things the way we want them to. That is not advocacy; that is bullying. It has no place in the practice of law. And neither does effective advocacy consist of distorting the facts or the law, or telling half-truths. We lawyers have a word for that sort of thing too, and it’s not “advocacy.” The word for that behavior is lying. And lying to the court or opposing counsel is not only wrong in and of itself, it is also foolish. The lawyer caught lying risks being disciplined or disbarred.

Understanding your audience

A critical step in effective advocacy, then, is understanding your audience and learning to empathize with your audience’s values and opinions and experiences. In order to understand your audience, you must respect the people you are trying to persuade —the judges on the court before whom your client’s appeal is pending — as distinct human beings entitled to be treated with dignity. Advocacy is not about you: It’s about appreciating where everyone else in the process (particularly the people you are trying to persuade) is coming from. It is about picking up cues, sensing what is going on in the present moment, and feeling the atmospherics in the courtroom.

Envision your role in the highest, best, and most noble way: As an appellate lawyer, you are the heir to an ancient and honorable profession. You speak for the powerless and the helpless and the disenfranchised. You are a guardian of the rule of law that keeps us free. And you are the direct descendant of Cicero and John Adams, of Lincoln and Gandhi, and of so many other lawyers who have made the world a better place. As a lawyer, you have a sacred responsibility to use your skills, not only to represent your clients zealously, but to try to improve the legal system and build a more just society. This is a high calling, but also an honor and a privilege.

Avail the opportunity, the best way

Always remember, no matter if the case is large or small, that when you represent someone on appeal, you are involving yourself in one of the most important experiences in your client’s life. Try to approach each case as an opportunity for you to expand both your human skills and your abilities as an advocate. Douglas S. Levine2)

About the Author

author Sunil Sharma is an advocate; editor and compiler of legal commentaries, having authored more than 40 books.

Journal of Appellate Practice, Volume 15 Issue 2

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