Debate and Switch: William Howard Taft on Law As a Vocation

7 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2016 Last revised: 17 Aug 2016

See all articles by Ross E. Davies

Ross E. Davies

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty; The Green Bag

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?

Suggested Citation

Davies, Ross E., Debate and Switch: William Howard Taft on Law As a Vocation (July 28, 2016). 6 Journal of Law 1 (2016), George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 16-27, Available at SSRN:

Ross E. Davies (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

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The Green Bag ( email )

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