The image of the Anglo-American lawyer was once inseparable from his identity as a master of oral advocacy. Bacon, Webster, Erskine, and Darrow, to name several famous lawyers of the past, were part of a great tradition of presenting ideas lucidly, and moving men by speech in ways often unpredictable and against the weight of prejudice and fashion. Buttressed by the theatricality of the adversary system, a form which sharpens moral alternatives by locking opposing forces in conflict, lawyers captured the public imagination through the beauty and pith of their words. Their speech seemed all the more powerful because they periodically stood against the state as defenders of the small, the unpopular, the rebellious, and the presumed guilty.
In England, judges still consider questions of law presented orally by lawyers without the benefit of written briefs, but in this country the tradition of the eloquent pleaders is in decline. Many of the most skilled and influential attorneys in the United States never appear before a jury and rarely even go to court. The few lawyers that the public knows best--Edward Bennett Williams, F. Lee Bailey, Percy Foreman, William Kunstler--remain those who have fired the trial courts with emotion, but most