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THE LAST WORD by Anthony Tsontakis MY
Practice Virtuously, or Die!
In Plato’s view,
certain kinds of
sentenced to death.
or wrongfully aiding others to such suits,
shall be liable to prosecution.”
If the charge “results in conviction,”
Plato continues, “the court shall determine
whether the defendant, in its judgment,
acted from ambition, or from greed of
money,” which Plato also calls “lucre.” In
other words, there are two types of motive
for practicing law that can get an attorney
convicted in Plato’s utopia: practicing out
of ambition and practicing out of the profit
motive. Have you, dear reader, ever encoun-
tered an ambitious attorney whose motiva-
tions for practicing law included making
If a lawyer
is convicted for
practicing out of
court shall fix
a space of time
during which the
guilty party shall
have no right to
enter a suit against
any man, nor assist
any man in a suit.”
In other words, a
attorney will have
his license to practice suspended.
A bit harsh, sure,
but not life threatening.
And the attorneys greedy for profits? “If
the offense be found due to greed of gain,
the culprit shall suffer death for his insatiate
love of lucre.” That’s right: the raw death
penalty for those who practice law out of the
depraved motive of seeking to make money.
I know what you’re thinking: Why is
Plato so lenient on the ambitious attorneys,
relative to the merely greedy ones? But he’s
not as lenient as appears at first glance: “Also
a second conviction of the same offense
from the motive of ambition shall lead to
sentence of death.”
Thus we arrive at Plato’s decree: Practice
virtuously, or die!
Near the end of his life, Plato wrote
Laws, the only of his dialogues that discusses
the proper role of lawyers in an ideal society.
In Plato’s view, certain kinds of attorneys
should be indicted, convicted, and sentenced
to death. His distaste for the legal profession is so epic—advocating the state-sanc-tioned murder of certain attorneys is a touch
extreme—that I felt compelled to write this short blurb summarizing
what the greatest philosopher of antiquity despises so much about the
practice of law.
Plato loves justice.
“Justice,” he reflects, “is undeniably a boon to mankind; it has
humanized the whole of life.” Plato loves anything with civilizing effects
on life. He accordingly despises anything with
“Life,” Plato explains, “abounds in good
things, but most of those good things are infested
by polluting and defiling parasites.” Polluting
and defiling parasites? One wonders where Plato
might be going with this.
If “justice is such a blessing,” Plato rhetor-
ically asks, “how can advocacy be other than a
Let Plato count the ways.
The blessing of justice is “brought into ill
repute by a vice that cloaks itself under the specious name of an art.” This vice, Plato explains,
“professes that there is a device for managing
one’s legal business … and that this device will
ensure victory equally whether the conduct at
issue in the case, whatever it is, has been rightful
or not.” So there is a moral dimension to Plato’s
Plato describes in the most basic terms how
legal services are acquired—not to point out the obvious, but to have
us reflect on these basics in a new light: Any person seeking to
take advantage of the “device” of professional legal advocacy need
only “make a gift of money” to a lawyer in exchange for services.
In exchange for cash, a person gets legal representation regardless
of the moral integrity of that person’s character or conduct. And
this Plato will not tolerate.
“Now this device,” he decrees, referring to legal advocacy for
cash without due regard for the moral dimensions of the case,
“must not, if we can help it, strike root in our society.” To protect
against the morally depraved act of accepting money in exchange
for legal services for a client of questionable moral integrity, Plato
suggests enacting a law providing that anyone “who shall fall
under suspicion of attempting to pervert the influence of justice
upon the mind of a judge, of wrongfully multiplying suits at law,
is an attorney for the Arizona