Charles Dickens and Lawyers in the Early Nineteenth Century
Lawyers. In today's culture, just the word alone is enough to inspire countless jokes and endless sarcastic comments. Far from being the most loved profession, lawyers have attained a very bad image despite the importance of their work and the prestige and wealth that usually accompanies it. Were lawyers seen in this fashion when Charles Dickens was writing his magnificent pieces of literature? The image of lawyers of that time may not seem so different to the people who are about to enter the twenty-first century.
One eminent historian says of the nineteenth century:
Justice was dilatory, expensive, uncertain, and remote. To the rich it was a costly lottery: to the poor a denial of right, or certain ruin. The class who might profit most by its dark mysteries were the lawyers themselves. (Plucknett 73)
The nineteenth century, especially the early nineteenth century, which would have been most influential on Charles Dickens' writing, was in the midst of a legal upheaval. The justice system was decaying to a point where it needed massive reform movements in order for it to not kill off the people it was trying to serve. However, the years prior to the reform movements saw an age of ludicrous legal extremes.
Where does the heart of the legal problem lie in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century? The legal system of the time was built on English Common Law. This Common Law used earlier legal precedents combined with the facts of a case in order to determine guilt or innocence. However, this system left a great amount of room for interpretation that lawyers of the time were able to use to their advantage. By the early nineteenth century, lawyers were able to twist their interpretations in order to fit their client's viewpoint of the case. Paul Pickerel noted that lawyers gained the ability to break down evidence into whatever their minds saw appropriate (161). The early nineteenth century was a time when lawyers were more concerned with the analysis and interpretation of the law than the "truth" or "facts" of a case. Who they represented determined what facts they chose to see.
The legal system had evolved to a point where it could be "exploited by lawyers for personal gain" (Waters 172). At this point, "truth" was only implicated in cases and lawyers found it much easier to use the law for their own financial advancement. The public seemed to go along with this trend. As John Reed notes, "Talented lawyers were preferential to justice when you wanted someone on your side" (279). Courts became more concerned with which lawyer was presenting the better argument and not with which lawyer was representing the truth.
With the focus centered on talented lawyers in the nineteenth century, the financial aspects of law seemed to take a more prominent role. Any man could afford the truth, but when the "truth" became a fabrication constructed by a talented and...