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Category Archives: Lawyers

We have TOO many federal judges!

I wish you to consider whether it would not be useful, by a circular to the clerks of the federal courts, to call for a docket of the cases decided in the last twelvemonth, say from July 1. 1801. to July 1. 1802. to be laid before Congress. it will be satisfactory to them, & to all men to see how little is to be done by the federal judiciary, and will effectually crush the clamour still raised on the suppression of the new judges. I think it a proper document to be furnished annually, as it may enable us to make further simplifications of that corps.
To James Madison, August 30, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders seek documentation for their choices.
Before President Adams left office in 1801, the Federalist Congress greatly increased the number of judges in federal courts. This had the desired effect of saddling the incoming Jefferson administration with a politically hostile judiciary. The new President took whatever steps he could to reverse or curtail those appointments. His actions infuriated the Federalists.

In this letter to his Secretary of State, Jefferson asked his opinion about requiring court clerks to document how many cases each judge had decided in the previous year. He would present that report to the Congress, proving how little work the judges actually did. That should “crush the clamor” that still surrounded his efforts to reduce their number. In addition, if that information was tracked each year, it would provide the basis for reducing the federal judiciary even more.

Madison responded four days later, suggesting this documentation might better be required by the Congress. The Executive Branch had no funding to accomplish it. It also had no authority to require the court clerks to do it, and some might simply refuse. Nevertheless, he would proceed however the President wished.

”I would highly recommend your organization consider Mr. Lee
for an event that will be memorable for years to come.”
Conference Chairman, Nevada Association of Land Surveyors
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Which profession is better, law or medicine? Part 2 of 2

… [doctors, like lawyers] are also numerous. yet I have remarked that wherever one sets himself down in a good neighborhood, not preoccupied, he secures to himself it’s practice, and, if prudent, is not long in acquiring whereon to retire & live in comfort. the Physician is happy in the attachment of the families in which he practises. all think he has saved some one of them, & he finds himself every where a welcome guest, a home in every house. if, to the consciousness of having saved some lives, he can add that of having at no time, from want of caution, destroyed the boon he was called on to save, he will enjoy in age the happy reflection of not having lived in vain …
To David Campbell, January 28, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This lawyer leader preferred medicine over law.
Campbell wanted the President’s advice for his 18-year-old son, Thomas Jefferson Campbell, whether to be a lawyer or doctor. Jefferson began and ended by deferring to the young man’s ability and the father’s direction. In between, he gave his opinion of both professions.

Lawyers did not fare well, but doctors did:
1. The doctor who settled in a community and devoted himself to his practice would earn a good livelihood and retirement.
2. Everyone would believe he had saved lives.
3. He would be welcome everywhere.
4. In addition to saving lives, if no deaths could be attributed to him for lack “of caution,” in old age he could be confident his life had not been in vain.

“Thank you for, yet another, outstanding performance.”
President, Missouri Valley Adult Education Association
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What kind of a man was Patrick Henry?

he was certainly the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution. were I to give his character in general terms, it would be of mixed aspect. I think he was the best humored man in society I almost ever knew, and the greatest orator that ever lived. he had a consummate knolege of the human heart, which directing the efforts of his eloquence enabled him to attain a degree of popularity with the people at large never perhaps equalled. his judgment in other matters was inaccurate in matters of law it was not worth a copper: he was avaritious & rotten hearted. his two great passions were the love of money & of fame: but when these came into competition the former predominated.
To William Wirt, August 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
How do leaders assess other leaders?
Wirt asked Jefferson’s detailed assistance for a book about Patrick Henry. Jefferson declined, citing the time it would require. Instead, he made these general observations. Henry was:
1. In public, almost “the best humored man” he had ever known.
2. The greatest public speaker with an unequalled ability to influence people
3. Lacking in judgment in matters other than oratory
4. Incompetent as a lawyer
5. Greedy and dishonest, motivated by money and fame

Jefferson did not comment on their political differences, which were many, but on Henry’s character as a person. Nor did he mention Henry’s accusation of his (Governor Jefferson’s) cowardice in fleeing Monticello as British soldiers ascended the mountain to capture him in 1781, charges that grieved him for years.

Wirt’s 1817 book on Patrick Henry is the source of Henry’s famous address to the House of Burgesses in 1775, claiming “… give me liberty or give me death!” None of Henry’s speeches were written down at the time of delivery. This version, given more than 40 years later, is considered fanciful, as is Henry’s most famous quote.

“… we would like to express our sincere appreciation for your excellent portrayal
of Thomas Jefferson at our Annual Volunteer Banquet and Awards Ceremony …”
National Park Service, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Mr. Jefferson will inspire your audience, too!
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Are judges above the law?

… but the third [branch of the government, the federal judiciary], unfortunately & unwisely, made independant not only of the nation but even of their own conduct, have hitherto bid defiance to the public will, and erected themselves into a political body with the assumed functions of correcting what they deem the errors of the nation.
To Gideon Granger, October 22, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
ALL leaders should be accountable to their constituents.
Preceding this excerpt, Jefferson expressed his pleasure that the legislative and executive branches remained republican (small r), giving themselves to the “great reformation in our government” that occurred with the election of 1800. The courts were another matter.

Federal judges were appointed for life. Some of the still-serving justices were Federalists, political opponents appointed by President Adams before he left office in 1801. The means of impeaching justices for professional or personal misconduct were unenforceable. That left the judicial branch unanswerable to anyone but themselves. This allowed them to assume a role Jefferson never thought they were meant to have, passing judgment on the actions of the other two branches of the national government.

(Any number of times, I’ve read both Jefferson’s thoughts and others’ analysis of those thoughts regarding the proper role of the judiciary. I still can’t make sense of them.)

“With your impressive speaking skills,
you captivated an audience of over 300 lawyers.”
Associate Executive Director, Arkansas Bar Association
If Mr. Jefferson can captivate lawyers, he can captivate your audience!
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Is being honest all that is needed in a judge?

It is not enough that honest men are appointed judges. All know the influence of [special] interest [s] on the mind of man, and how unconsciously his judgment is warped by that influence. To this bias add that of the esprit de corps, of their peculiar maxim and creed that “it is the office of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction,” and the absence of responsibility, and how can we expect impartial decision between the General government, of which they are themselves so eminent a part, and an individual state from which they have nothing to hope or fear.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even honest leaders must be held accountable.
Jefferson continued his thoughts on federal judges who held a lifetime appointment:
1. Even honest judges could be led astray, without knowing it, as special interests influenced them.
2. By their very nature of setting precedent in their rulings, judges sought to expand their authority. Since they were federal judges, any expansion would be of national power.
3. If federal judges were not answerable to anyone, how can they rightly judge issues between the national government, which gave them the office of judge, and a state, which gave them nothing?

“We’ve had motivational speakers before, but you did a much better job
combining motivation with practical information that would benefit us,
both in the workplace and in our personal lives.”

Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central NY Chapter
Mr. Jefferson brings both motivation & practical help to your audience.
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What do you expect from a bunch of lawyers?

If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150. lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, & talk by the hour? That 150. lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected. But to return again to our subject.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This is the 5th and final post taken from one long paragraph in Jefferson’s autobiography, where he interrupted his orderly progression to describe how the Confederation Congress members conducted themselves in debate.

Jefferson was a lawyer, but unlike most, he was never a debater, never openly contentious. How did he describe his fellow lawyers?
– They question everything.
– They yield nothing.
– They talk by the hour.
– It is unrealistic to think a group of lawyers could cooperate with one another enough to accomplish anything.

Jefferson’s last sentence acknowledged he had gotten off-task. Today, he might say, “But I digress …”

“Organizations of lawyers rarely agree on many things,
but I received unanimous praise for your presentation.”
American College of Real Estate Attorneys
If even lawyers praise Mr. Jefferson, how might your audience react?
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Are interns taken advantage of?

I always was of opinion that the placing a youth to study with an attorney was rather a prejudice than a help. we are all too apt by shifting on them our business, to incroach on that time which should be devoted to their studies. the only help a youth wants is to be directed what books to read, and in what order to read them. I have accordingly recommended strongly to Phill to put himself into apprenticeship with no one, but to employ his time for himself alone. to enable him to do this to advantage I have laid down a plan of study which will afford him all the assistance a tutor could, without subjecting him to the inconvenience of expending his own time for the emolument of another.
To Thomas Turpin, February, 1769

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Hands-on or hands-off for a leader-in-training?
Thomas Turpin was Jefferson’s uncle and the father of two sons, Horatio and Phillip. He had written to Jefferson asking if he would take Phillip as an apprentice to become a lawyer. (There were no law schools.) Jefferson was not quite 26. He had been in the practice of law for just two years, after five years of study.

In this response, Jefferson declined the request for two reasons, one practical and one professional.
1. He was on the move. Still living at home, he expected to be traveling in the practice of law seven of the next nine months. Come winter, he hoped to move to a small cottage he was building across the river from his current residence, and would not have room to house an apprentice. (That cottage would become the South Pavilion, the first building constructed on the hilltop complex that would come to be known as Monticello.)
2. Too often, legal apprentices were expected to spend much of their time doing the lawyer’s work for him and not enough time studying law itself.

What his aspiring young cousin really needed was a plan of study and the proper books to read. Jefferson provided that plan and a catalog of books. The cost of those books was “pound 100 sterling.” One source indicates that might be $15,000 in today’s money. Another source doubles that amount. Regardless, it was sizeable, but Jefferson offered two suggestions to lessen the burden.
1. He divided his catalog in quarters, so it could be acquired in pieces, one-fourth at a time.
2. The cost could be considered as part of his cousin’s inheritance and deducted from that amount later.

“The evaluations have been tallied … There is not a doubt about it.
You were the hit of our annual conference.”
MO Association for Adult Continuing and Community Education
Mr. Jefferson will be the hit of your conference, too!
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How do you keep an honest man honest?

It is not enough that honest men are appointed Judges. All know the influence of interest on the mind of man, and how unconsciously his judgment is warped by that influence. To this bias, we add that of esprit de corps, of their peculiar maxim and creed that “it is the office of a good Judge to enlarge his jurisdiction” … I repeat that I do not charge the Judges with wilful and ill-intentioned error, but honest error must be arrested, where its toleration leads to public ruin … so judges should be removed from their bench, whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution.
Autobiography, 1821
Taken from Koch & Peden’s Life & Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 78-79

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know that even honest people must be held accountable.
Jefferson had been concerned for years that federal judges had no check on their authority. They were appointed for life. Even honest men could be drawn astray. Unlike members of Congress and the President who were accountable to the voters, judges had no such limitation on their authority. They could be impeached, but several instances had convinced Jefferson that impeachment provisions were toothless.

In order to keep an honest man honest (a judge or any other person), he must be held accountable in a realistic and practical manner. While affirming the judiciary and its practitioners in general, he wanted a way to remove judges who got carried away with personal or political interests that threatened the republic.

“Mr. Lee was the epitome of professionalism during our entire business relationship …
[We] highly recommend Mr. Lee for an event you’ll find most memorable.”
Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Director of Entertainment

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Thomas Jefferson on lawyers in Congress

Do lawyers add value?
If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour? That one hundred and fifty lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected.
Autobiography, 1821, 1991

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
None needed.

Thomas Jefferson, though a lawyer, will do business with you and will not argue!
Instead, he will inspire, instruct and entertain your audience.
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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Thomas Jefferson on lawyers agreeing

Can lawyers ever agree?
On every question, the lawyers are about equally divided, and were we to act but in cases where no contrary opinion of a lawyer can be had, we should never act.
Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1808, 129

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson was a lawyer and practiced law from 1767 to 1774. Through the years, he made several cryptic comments about lawyers and their profession.
Albert Gallatin was Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury for both of his presidential terms, from 1801 – 1809.

Leave a comment Posted in Lawyers