The New York Legal Scene

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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This Note discusses the legal landscape of New York in the 1900s including the development of the Women's Legal Education Society, the professionalization of the legal profession, and the corruption of the criminal justice system.

Women’s Legal Education Society (WLES) and Law Class

See Chapter Four of WOMAN LAWYER for a discussion of WLES.

For an excellent study and complete bibliography of the Swiss lawyer who was one of the main founders of the Society, see Elena DiMuzio Doctor Emily Kempin, 2004, at WLH Website. EVELINE HASLER, FLYING WITH WINGS OF WAX; THE STORY OF EMILY KEMPIN-SPYRI (Edna McCown trans. 1993) (1991) is backed by solid research, and accurate reports of news stories, though it does not have citations and is partly fictionalized. For a good overview though, she focuses on the later graduates of the regular New York University class, see Phyliss Eckhaus, Restless Women: The Pioneering Alumnae of New York University School of Law, 66 N.Y.U. L. REV. 1996 (1991). As related by Eckhaus, the WLES story started when Fanny Weber, the wife of a prominent doctor was doing charity work among the poor immigrants. While teaching classes in “hygiene and invalid cooking,” she realized that “most of their mental suffering resulted from wrongs that needed legal advice.” She was friends with Emily Kempin, a graduate of the University of Zurich and a recent immigrant. Together with other society ladies and male lawyer volunteers they set up a legal dispensary for the poor, calling it the Arbitration Society.

Kempin trained the society ladies to give legal advice, which led to the idea of the Women’s Legal Education Society and evolved in turn into the special women’s law class at NYU, and also to the admission of women into the regular curriculum. See, Eckhaus, at 2-3.

Contemporary references include: Isabella Mary Pettus, The Legal Education of Women, 61 ALB. L.J. 325 (1900); The Work of the Woman’s Law Class, New York University, 1 WOMEN LAWYERS’ J. 20-22 (1911) (history of the class; laments confusion with regular NYU class); Modern Portias in Practice, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 11, 1894 (Chancellor Robert McCracken quoted on history of women at the school); Law School for Women, Dr. Emily Kempin Will Start a College for Girls, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 5, 1889. In its first decade, the Women’s Law Class awarded certificates of achievement to hundreds of students. See NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, FOR THE BETTER PROTECTION OF THEIR RIGHTS: A HISTORY OF THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS OF THE WOMEN'S LEGAL EDUCATION SOCIETY AND THE WOMAN'S LAW CLASS 10 (1940).

The New Corporate Practice

There is an extensive literature on the history of the legal profession—partly because works on current issues start with a summary of the past. I am listing here only the sources that seemed to me directly related to Clara Foltz. The accepted interpretation is that the legal profession became increasingly professionalized in the late nineteenth century with emphasis on “objective standards of technical competence, superior skill, and high-quality performance.” KERMIT HALL, THE MAGIC MIRROR: LAW IN AMERICAN HISTORY 211 (1989); LAWRENCE FRIEDMAN, HISTORY OF AMERICAN LAW (3rd ed. 2005). At the same time, there was a sense of loss of traditions of statesmanship, of the courtroom lawyer as a dominant figure, and of the law as a smooth path to status and political power. RICHARD HOFSTADER, AGE OF REFORM 156-58 (1955). Robert Gordon argues that the image of lawyers as statesmen and professionals rather than businessmen was something of an illusion. The Ideal and the Actual in the Law: Fantasies and Practices of New York City Lawyers 1870-1910, in THE NEW HIGH PRIESTS: LAWYERS IN POST-CIVIL WAR AMERICA (Gerard W. Gawalt ed., 1984). In another influential article, The Independence of Lawyers, 68 BUL. REV. 1 (1988), Gordon examines the ethic of devotion to the client’s interest above any other concerns.

Wayne K. Hobson, Symbol of the New Profession: Emergence of the Large Law Firm 1870-1915, in THE NEW HIGH PRIESTS: LAWYERS IN POST-CIVIL WAR AMERICA (Gerard W. Gawalt ed., 1984); EDWIN G. BURROWS & MIKE WALLACE, GOTHAM: A HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY TO 1898, at 967-68, 1047 (1999) (excellent descriptions of lawyers and their clients). On the growth of corporate practice, see ROBERT T. SWAINE, THE CRAVATH FIRM AND ITS PREDECESSORS, 1819-1948 (1946-48). Only two women were listed as associates well into the twentieth century. HENRY W. TAFT, LEGAL MISCELLANIES, SIX DECADES OF CHANGES AND PROGRESS (1941) (discussing the changing practice and the founders of big firms).

Criminal Practice

See Chapter Four and sources cited at OnLine Bibliographic Note: New York Politics and the Public Defender Bill for the corruption of the criminal system in New York city.

On Howe and Hummel RICHARD H. ROVERE, HOWE AND HUMMEL: THEIR TRUE AND SCANDALOUS HISTORY 10 (1947) is still the best account because it is well written and very lively. Rovere had the advantage of interviewing people who had known the principals. Another contemporary picture, as noted in WOMAN LAWYER, is ARTHUR TRAIN, the author of MY DAY IN COURT (1939), describing the conditions in the New York criminal justice system. Train also wrote fiction (courtroom procedurals as we would say today) and Abe Hummel was the model of the central figure of his best-selling novel THE CONFESSIONS OF ARTEMUS QUIBBLE (1911). Train described the shyster methods that Howe and Hummel took to the outer limits, such as refusing to plead anyone guilty until his funds were exhausted, bringing the complaining witness to court repeatedly.

A modern treatment of the notorious law firm is CAIT MURPHY, SCOUNDRELS IN LAW, THE TRIALS OF HOWE 7 HUMMEL, LAWYERS TO THE GANGSTERS, COPS, STARLETS, AND RAKES WHO MADE THE GILDED AGE (2010). In largely covers the same cases as Rovere did, though in greater detail. Of particular intereset is the description at 193-195 of the firm’s stable of young stage performers who used the firm to collect large settlements for breach of promise from admirers who could not afford to have a suit filed against them.

See also THERON STRONG, LANDMARKS OF A LAWYERS LIFETIME 254 (1914) (Chapter on Howe in which the establishment lawyer lauds Howe’s abilities a courtroom performer); RICHARD O’CONNOR, COURTROOM WARRIOR: THE COMBATIVE CAREER OF WILLIAM TRAVERS JEROME (1963) (Jerome successfully prosecuted Hummel).

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