Boswell on Johnson on Lawyering

Samuel Johnson (courtesy of Frank Lynch's entertaining Samuel Johnson site)
Boswell – who incidentally was a lawyer – asked "Johnson" (The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791)
whether, as a moralist, he did not think that the practice of the law, in some degree, hurt the nice feeling of honesty.

JOHNSON: Why, no, Sir, if you act properly. You are not to deceive your clients with false representations of your opinion: you are not to tell lies to a judge.

BOSWELL: But, what do you think of supporting a cause which you know to be bad?

JOHNSON: Sir, you do not know it to be bad or good till the judge determines it. I have said that you are to state facts fairly; so that your thinking, or what you call knowing, a cause to be bad, must be from reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments to be weak and inconclusive. But, Sir, that is not enough.

An argument which does not convince yourself may convince the judge to whom you urge it; and if it does convince him, why, then, Sir, you are wrong and he is right. It is his business to judge; and you are not to be confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad, but to say all you can for your client, and then hear the judge's opinion.

BOSWELL: But, Sir, does not affecting a warmth when you have no warmth, and appearing to be clearly of one opinion when you are in reality of another opinion, does not such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in the intercourse with his friends?

JOHNSON: Why, no, Sir. Everybody knows you are paid for affecting warmth for your client; and it is, therefore, properly no dissimulation: the moment you come from the bar, you resume your usual behavior. Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the bar into the common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble upon his hands when he should walk on his feet.

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