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Take My Advice

I hope everyone will pay proper heed to the call from the Law Society (today's Irish Times) for solicitors to vote, and to urge their clients to vote ‑ if they feel comfortable so urging ‑ for the introduction of a new appeals court, an innovation that the council of the society feels it must support, lest it should feel itself to be “failing in its duty to seek constant improvement in the administration of justice in Ireland if it remained silent”.

Democracy is all very well, and so, up to a point, is making one’s mind up on the evidence presented, but we must surely also value the advice presented by eminent and expert bodies. And nowhere more so than where it is a case of a body so eminent, so experienced and so wise as our aggregated solicitors, speaking “in college” and as it were ex cathedra.

A flavour of the wisdom and experience associated with the profession is given in Herman Melville’s 1853 story “Bartleby the Scrivener”. The speaker is the narrator of the story and the words come at its outset, before his composure has been somewhat disturbed by his growing acquaintance with the clerk Bartleby, whose splendid response to requests from his employer to take on this or that piece of disagreeable work – “I would prefer not to” ‑ I wish I had the courage to make my own.

I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but, in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds, and mortgages, and title-deeds. All who know me, consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method. I do not speak it in vanity, but simply record the fact, that I was not unemployed in my profession by the late John Jacob Astor; a name which, I admit, I love to repeat; for it hath a rounded and orbicular sound to it, and rings like unto bullion. I will freely add, that I was not insensible to the late John Jacob Astor’s opinion.