John Adams, Esq.

Slate's blog on legal issues.
March 30 2008 4:26 PM

John Adams, Esq.

Tonight, HBO offers Episode Four in the gripping seven-part mini-series, John Adams .  No doubt, each viewer takes something different away from the series; here is my modest contribution.

/blogs/convictions/2008/03/30/john_adams_esq/jcr:content/body/slate_image

What I enjoyed in the early episodes was seeing such deep political, philosophical, and legal argument coming from a practicing attorney. 

Advertisement

Today, of course, our world is much more stratified:  the lawyers practice law, the professors engage in abstract legal/philosophical debates, and the politicians debate in the arena of government.  Rarely do players cross from one sphere to another, and even less commonly do they occupy multiple spheres at once.

What a far cry from the founding era!  John Adams not only entered the political arena while practicing law full-time, he even maintained his practice until December 1777, when he participated in his last case at the bar.  (According to The Legal Papers of John Adams , his last case was Penhallow v. The Lusanna , a prize cause in the Court Maritime of the State of New Hampshire.  Unbelievably, that case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1795 .)  According to the preface to his collected Legal Papers , he briefly considered returning to full-time practice after his presidential term ended, but never did.

The best example of the founding-era lawyer-writer is, of course, Alexander Hamilton, who despite a full-time practice found the time to write his Federalist Papers -- his contribution to one of the most cogent arguments of political theory in modern times -- on the side!  (As biographer Ron Chernow once said at a book fair, "he was moonlighting the Federalist Papers!")

No doubt, both legal practice and the legal academy have changed since the founding era, and it's far-fetched to think that an Adams or Hamilton could have nearly the same impact on legal debate from a full-time practice as they did in their respective moments of achievement.  Legal practice is perhaps too time-consuming and lucrative; legal teaching and writing is perhaps too stove-piped and insulated and segregated.  The lucky few who exist in both worlds are the exceptions, not the rule.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.