Debate and Switch: William Howard Taft on Law As a Vocation
6 Journal of Law 1 (2016)
7 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2016 Last revised: 17 Aug 2016
Date Written: July 28, 2016
Were William Howard Taft’s shifting views on the proper roles and supply of lawyers really just manifestations of crass professional self-interest? Did President Taft talk trash about lawyers in Congress to get a leg up on policy competitors without regard to the collateral effects of America’s most powerful lawyer impugning the integrity of a whole category of other powerful lawyers? Did Professor Taft write enthusiastically about careers in law to a generation of young Americans serving their country in World War I knowing full well – at least according to himself just three years later – that back home the nation was already oversupplied with lawyers? (A ploy known to a later generation as a law school scam.) And did Chief Justice Taft demean as incompetent and unnecessary many members of the bar – those who lacked a college education, at a time when access to higher education was far more limited than it is today – in order to prop up the profession for those who already had (or would be able to get) a college degree? Or, instead, was Taft getting wiser with age? Or were his views shifting in keeping with changing times? Or did someone or some new idea trigger a shift? Reasonable minds can differ about the answers, but Taft himself could have made it easy. He could have explained himself – why he was reversing, or at least refining, his thinking. Or how circumstances had changed while his thinking had not. Isn’t that what good leaders (and scholars and judges) do?
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