Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

What One Lawyer Can Do for Society: Lessons from the Remarkable Career of William P. Homans, Jr.

28 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2011 Last revised: 13 Dec 2011

Mark S. Brodin

Boston College - Law School

Date Written: December 12, 2011


William P. Homans Jr. was an iconic civil liberties and criminal defense lawyer who mentored generations of younger lawyers that followed in his path. He appeared in cases that defined his times, from representing targets of the McCarthy-era inquisitions of the 1950s, to defending publishers of books like Tropic of Cancer when the authorities sought to suppress them, to serving on the defense team in the conspiracy trial of internationally-renowned pediatrician Benjamin Spock and four other leaders of the anti-Vietnam-War movement, to defending a doctor charged with manslaughter arising from an abortion he performed soon after Roe v. Wade legalized such procedures. In each case, Homans advanced the larger causes as well as his clients' interests.

William Homans also defended countless persons whose names are not widely known and who paid him little or nothing because, like John Adams before him, he believed profoundly that each accused is entitled to the best defense possible. Acutely aware of the many imperfections and biases in the criminal justice system, he was a passionate opponent of the death penalty, and in a series of landmark cases, he persuaded the Supreme Judicial Court to abolish the penalty in Massachusetts.

Homans's contributions to the law remain a model for the legal profession, and many valuable lessons may be drawn from his fifty-year career at the Bar.

Keywords: William P. Homans Jr., criminal defense lawyers, civil liberties lawyers, United States v. Benjamin Spock, et. al., Roe v. Wade

Suggested Citation

Brodin, Mark S., What One Lawyer Can Do for Society: Lessons from the Remarkable Career of William P. Homans, Jr. (December 12, 2011). New England Law Review, Vol. 46, No.1, pp. 37-63, 2011; Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 232. Available at SSRN:

Mark Brodin (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views