Professor David Hoffman (1784-1854)
Bill Long 12/11/05
Fifty Resolutions in Regard to Professional Deportment
David Hoffman was one of the leading lawyers in Maryland before the Civil War. Born the year after Simon Greenleaf (and, he also died the year after Greenleaf died), he began teaching at the University of Maryland in 1816 after leaving a lucrative law practice. Like many before and after him, he found the problems involved with conceptualizing and teaching law to be more interesting than serving the needs of clients. For the next quarter century he taught at the University, publishing two well-known books in the process. The first, in 1817 (greatly expanded in 1836) was A Course of Legal Study Addressed to Students and the Profession Generally. The 1836 edition of the work contained his Fifty Resolutions in Regard to Professional Deportment. These principles would form the basis not only for the ABA's 1908 Canons, but for some state efforts (such as Alabama in 1887) to enact codes of lawyer conduct. Allison Marston, in "Guiding the Profession," has provided a helpful history of the under-appreciated Alabama code. The second of Hoffman's books is listed below.
Before providing the text of the Fifty Resolutions (which exist nowhere else on the Internet), I would like to quote from John G. Marvin, the great bibliographer of English-language legal works before 1847. Marvin's approach to bibliography gives us an insight into how refined authors commented on each other's work in the 1840s. He has the following to say about Hoffman's works:
(1) Legal Outlines (1829). "This volume is composed of disquisitions upon the very foundations of natural, political, and feudal jurisprudence, written in a flowing, eloquent style....Whatever he attempts to elucidate is most thoroughly done, and the reader feels assured that nothing more or better could be said upon the point," Legal Bibliography at 390-91. I love the way that Marvin comes up with a Latinism to describe many of the works he briefly reviews. and here is no exception. "Of the author it may be truthfully said, nullum tetigit quod non ornavit" ('he touches nothing that he doesn't adorn').
(2) A Course of Legal Study (2d ed, 1836). Again, Latin to the rescue: "What Cujacius said of Paul de Castro, has been appropriately applied to Professor Hoffman's Course of Legal Study: qui non habet Paulum de Castro, tunicam vendat, et emat" ('whoever doesn't have Paul of Castro, let him sell his coat and buy it'). Marvin then goes on to quote Justice Joseph Story of the US Supreme Court that "the writers whom he recommends are of the very best authority; and his own notes are composed in a tone of the most enlarged philosophy, and abound in just and discriminating criticism."
Note that Marvin isn't too helpful in running through the contents of Hoffman's work, but Professor Kalish briefly does so in 61 NeLR 54, 60 (1982). He mentions that the 850-page Course, which Hoffman imagined would take students seven years to complete, was divided into thirteen titles and then nine divisions, each of which contained bibilography, interpretive notes and other guidance for the law student to understand significant areas of law. For example, the the thrirteen titles were: (1) Moral and Political Philosophy; (2) Elementary and Constitutional Principles of the Municipal Law of England, of the United States, and of the Roman Civil Law; (3) The Law of Real Rights and Real Remedies; (4) The Law of Personal Rights and Personal Remedies; (5) The Law of Equity; (6) The Lex Mercatoria; (7) The Law of Crimes and Punishment; (8) The Law of Nations; (9) Maritime and Admiralty law; (10) The Civil or Roman Law; (11) The Constitution and Laws of the United States; (12) The Constitutions and laws of the Several States; and (13) Political Economy. Professional Deportment, the topic of our concern, was the last topic under the nine "divisions."
We see just from a listing of the thirteen titles that they covered an enviably wide series of topics in law, what might call a complete conspectus of law in the 1830s. Just the listing of the topics to be covered in a law curriculum stimulates one to think of the way earlier treatises, codes or summaries of law were presented, from Justinian to Blackstone. Such an essay is beyond the scope of my concern here, but is invited by Hoffman's work.
Method of Presenting the Fifty Resolutions
In the next several essays, I propose to give the text of Hoffman's Fifty Resolutions and comment briefly on several of them. Hoffman thought that these principles should be treated "as guides, never to be departed from," and were to be studied and adopted by students as wisdom for life. Indeed, the last resolution simply states: "I will read the foregoing forty-nine resolutions twice every year during my professional life." Hoffman thus is prett confident that what he is articulating here, for the first time on American soil, ought to be a sort of vade mecum for lawyers. He comments:
"We have preferred to frame them in the manner of resolutions, rather than of didactic rules, hoping they may thereby prove more impressive, and be more likely to be remembered," (quoted in 2 AmLSchoolRev 230 (1908)).
The text of the Fifty Resolutions, which originally appeared as a 30+ page "note 18" in Hoffman's Course of Legal Study is reproduced only in the Dec. 1908 edition of the American Law School Review. Since this periodical is, no doubt, quite inaccessible to most people, I will give the text of the Resolutions beginning in the next essay.
Suffice it to say at this point that the Resolutions will be bathed in moral sentiment and will come from the perspective that the primary duty of the lawyer is to the public and to the profession, and that at all times a lawyer is to be dignified, honest and courteous. One gets the impression by studying the Resolutions that lawyers have responded to a high calling, and that calling needs to be treated as almost sacred. Maybe something of what he says might be helpful for us today...
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