The Law: Business or Profession? the Continuing Relevance of Julius Henry Cohen for the Practice of Law in the Twenty-First Century: Foreword

By Levine, Samuel J. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, November 2012 | Go to article overview

The Law: Business or Profession? the Continuing Relevance of Julius Henry Cohen for the Practice of Law in the Twenty-First Century: Foreword


Levine, Samuel J., Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction  I. Professionalism in Historical Context  II. Professionalism and the Regulation of Lawyers  III. Professionalism and Lawyers' Virtues  IV. Professionalism and the Lawyer's Role in Society Conclusion 

INTRODUCTION

On April 23-24, 2012, Fordham Law School hosted a Conference, The Law: Business or Profession? The Continuing Relevance of Julius Henry Cohen for the Practice of Law in the Twenty-First Century, co-sponsored by the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Touro Law Center, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal. (1)

Julius Henry Cohen was an influential lawyer who played a substantial role in numerous matters of public interest in the first half of the twentieth century. (2) For example, Cohen assisted in the formation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and served as its general counsel for more than twenty years; he served as a founding member of the American Arbitration Association; along with Louis Brandeis, he helped resolve the 1910 garment workers' strike in New York; (3) and, in opposition to Louis Marshall and much of the legal establishment, he defended the 1920 Emergency Rent Laws through the New York Court system up to the United States Supreme Court. (4)

Yet, for scholars of legal ethics and the legal profession, Cohen's most significant legacy may be his landmark book, The Law: Business or Profession?, published in 1916. (5) Cohen's book represents the first full-length consideration of the business/profession dichotomy, (6) an issue that attracted considerable attention around the turn of the twentieth century (7) and has remained a perennial concern for legal scholars and practitioners alike. (8)

In exploring the question posed succinctly in the title of his book, Cohen closely examined a number of aspects of legal practice that, nearly one hundred years later, remain central in the work of both scholars and bar associations. Among other issues, Cohen addressed: standards of legal education, including evening law school programs; (9) standards of admission to the bar, including discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity; (10) prohibitions on unauthorized practice of law and lay participation in legal practice; (11) the structure and atmosphere of large corporate law firms and the commercialization of legal practice; (12) advertising for lawyers; (13) and the role of the lawyer in society. (14)

Significantly, although Cohen was far from alone in raising concerns over changes in both law and society that threatened the status of law as a profession, Cohen's discussions stand out in both the rigor of his analysis and the rhetoric of his arguments. Cohen carefully avoids simplistic characterizations of legal practice, recognizing the inherently commercial nature of the work of lawyers while at the same time calling on lawyers to uphold the noble ideals of contributing to the good of society. (15) Likewise, although Cohen insists on maintaining high standards of legal education and admission to the bar, he rejects outright the ugly prejudices that entered into both the discourse and the policies of many of his contemporaries. (16) In place of empty platitudes and ugly rhetoric, Cohen's advocacy of law as a profession relies on a thoughtful and intellectually honest consideration of the nature and relationship between salient aspects of law and society.

The Fordham Conference brought together scholars of legal ethics and the legal profession, representing a variety of scholarly interests, who engaged each other over the course of two days in a wide-ranging consideration of the abiding relevance of the themes and analysis found in The Law: Business or Profession? Echoing both the substance and tone of Cohen's book, the Conference produced a thoughtful and open exchange of ideas and perspectives on the underlying question of whether to characterize the law and legal practice as a business or a profession. Taking Cohen's analysis as a springboard for further research, many of the participants examined the business/profession dichotomy in the context of contemporary and international legal practice, while a number of speakers applied interdisciplinary methodologies, undertaking modes of historical, sociological, and empirical analysis to consider some of the assumptions underlying views of law as a business or a profession. …

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