This article addresses one of the central contemporary debates over the nature of the practice of law, reflected in the business/profession dichotomy. Specifically, the article presents an exploration of the discourse and underlying attitudes of early twentieth century legal professionalism, in the context of a close analysis of Cohen's 1916 classic, The Law: Business or Profession?, a highly influential work that is a standard citation in the contemporary debate. The article contrasts Cohen's rhetoric and underlying approach to professionalism against the anti-Semitism, nativism, classism, economic protectionism, and general elitism often expressed by leaders of the early twentieth century bar who, like Cohen, promoted the notion that law is a profession rather than a business. Although Cohen shared and relied upon many of the concerns of his contemporaries over the commercialization of legal practice, he offered a unique vision of professionalism, one that eschews notions of bias and self-interest in favor of intellectual honesty and a sincere concern for the good of society. The article suggests that, although Cohen's unique approach may have resulted largely from various ways in which his personal life and experiences differed from those of the typical member of the elite legal establishment, a more interesting and more important lesson may be found in Cohen's ability to maintain his own rhetorical integrity and intellectual independence while allying himself with many who shared his goals, if not his sensibilities and sensitivities.
47 Am. J. Legal Hist. 1 (2005)
47 Am. J. Legal Hist. 1