Did some 19th-century images cause the legal profession’s image problem?
Anyone who is tempted to think that lawyer jokes and barbs aimed at the legal profession are a recent phenomenon in the era of late-night talk shows and comedy clubs need only spend a few minutes with the Harvard Law School library collections in Langdell Hall to learn otherwise. They include nearly 50 prints of drawings by Honoré Daumier, the 19th-century French caricaturist known for skewering lawyers, judges, doctors and members of other professions.
Daumier spent untold hours observing lawyers in the courts of France and then capturing them for publication in Le Charivari, an illustrated newspaper published in Paris. The result: a graphic indictment of what he saw as a profession of cynical, heartless scavengers.
The drawings stand in sharp contrast to Harvard Law School’s tradition of public service and its current emphasis on pro bono work. Even still, as the new Center on Lawyers and the Professional Services Industry is launched at the school, perhaps there’s value in these reminders of the profession’s image from not so long ago.