I am sensible of the mark of esteem manifested by the name you have given to your son … you doubt between Law, & Physic [medicine], which profession he shall adopt. his peculiar turn of mind & your own knolege of things will best decide this question. Law is quite overdone. it is fallen to the ground; and a man must have great powers to raise himself in it to either honour or profit. the Mob of the profession get by it as little money, & less respect, than they would by digging the earth … [contrasted with the doctor] the lawyer has only to recollect, how many, by his dexterity, have been cheated of their right, and reduced to beggary. after all, I end where I began, with the observation that your son’s disposition, & your prudence, are the best arbiters of this question …
To David Campbell, January 28, 1810
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A lawyer-leader’s take on the legal profession
In 1791, David Campbell wrote then Secretary of State Jefferson that he had named his first son Thomas Jefferson Campbell. Eighteen years later, the father sought the namesake’s opinion on whether his son should pursue law or medicine.
Jefferson acknowledged the naming honor and said the decision should be based on young Campbell’s natural inclination coupled with his father’s experience and wisdom. That being said, Jefferson (a practicing lawyer for seven years in the late 1760s and early 70s) weighed in with his opinion on the two professions.
Lawyers did not get high marks!
1. The practice of law was in disrepute.
2. It took an extraordinary man to achieve either honor or profit.
3. Ditch diggers earned more money and respect than most lawyers.
4. The lawyer’s legacy would be how many, by his skill, he had cheated and reduced to poverty.
Jefferson concluded by reiterating his original advice, that the decision should be made by father and son together.