I affirm.

Well, I am officially a lawyer! Yesterday the Judicata team went over to the James R. Browning Courthouse, where Alex Kozinski, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, swore me in to the California Bar. (Or did he? Technically, I affirmed an affirmation instead of swearing an oath. More on that in a bit.)

First, we got a private tour from Kathleen Butterfield, one of the Court’s staff attorneys. The Courthouse is, in a word, incredible. I think that most of what we saw is open to the public during the Court’s bimonthly public tours; if you’re near San Francisco, please, take my advice and attend one. (You might ask if or when Kathleen is leading a tour—she is terrific.)

Some highlights:

(1) So much Italian marble it makes the Hearst Castle look budget:

(2) The bar—literally. Before law schools existed, would-be lawyers would study the law under another lawyer’s supervision. Getting admitted to the Bar involved standing behind the bar with your sponsor and fielding a bunch of questions from the judges. Get enough right and you’d be permitted to—wait for it—literally pass the bar.

(3) The bullet hole from the Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial. In 1918, not five feet from where we held our ceremony, a defendant shot and killed his co-defendant and was then promptly shot to death by a U.S. Marshal. (Amazingly, no mistrial occurred; everybody was found guilty the next week.) You can still see the damage caused by one of the bullets when it hit the judges’ bench—check out the aberration in the tilework, just to the right of the seam in the marble:

After the tour, we hung out in Courtroom One until Judge Kozinski freed up.

After the Judge came in and met the rest of the team, I asked if he’d mind if I chose to affirm rather than to swear. Legally, there’s no difference. Swearing is traditionally perceived to have a religious component to it, whereas affirming is completely secular. This is a pretty mainstream option—the U.S. Constitution explicitly follows every “Oath” with “or Affirmation,” and the official California Bar incantation reads “swear (or affirm)”—but I’d bet that it’s seldom exercised. (Of all my lawyer friends, I know just one who affirmed, and we had discussed it beforehand.)

Why would anyone be so fussy? Naturally, atheists or radically liberal First Amendment zealots tend to be quite interested in keeping things as secular as possible. But even theists have their reasons:

But I say unto you, swear not at all: neither by Heaven, for it is God’s throne;1
But let your communication be ‘yea, yea’ or ‘nay, nay’; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.2

Personally, I chose to affirm because (a) I could, and (b) it seems cooler. Presumably, some of our forefathers argued long and hard to win for us the right to affirm. Why not throw them a cosmic wink? Plus, if it was good enough for Franklin Pierce, it’s good enough for me.

Of course, the Judge was cool with it, and we got it done:

Afterwards, we sat down at the Appellant’s table to chat about Judicata and legal technology. For those of you who don’t know, Judge Kozinski is a pretty tech-savvy guy. After we discussed Judicata’s version of man-machine symbiosis, he dialed back the clock and dazzled us with stories about when he used to program in Fortran on IBM punch cards.

The night ended with dinner at a nearby restaurant. Naturally, the Judge and the whip-smart Ninth Circuit clerks that joined us were delightful company.

I’d like to thank Judge Kozinski and everybody at the Court who made our visit especially memorable yesterday!

Liberalize the law

Nonmembers often complain about state-granted professional licensure, only to shift to defend it should they succeed in acquiring its protection. Like many of my friends, I received the good news today that I’ve passed the California Bar Exam. I’d like to celebrate by sharing some words that Lysander Spooner wrote in 1835 while advocating the disestablishment of weighty restrictions on admission to the Bar. 

[T]he ability [or] learning… of an individual, for the practice of law, cannot, with justice, be made a matter of inquire by the Courts or the Legislature… [those matters] concern solely the lawyer himself and his clients. Any man…has the right to decide for himself whom he will employ as counsel…[I]t is the right of the person so employed to have the same facilities afforded to him for discharging his service as counsel, that are afforded to others, whom the public may think much better or abler lawyers….[T]he professional man, who, from want of intellect or capacity for his profession, is unable to sustain himself against the free competition of his neighbors without the aid of a protective system, has mistaken his calling…

[Moreover,] the present rules operate as a protective system in favor of the rich… against the competition of the poor….Take [the] case…of a poor young man,… fortunate enough to obtain credit and assistance, while getting his education, on the condition that he shall repay after he shall have engaged in his profession—so long is the term of study required, and such is the prohibition upon his attempts to earn any thing in the mean time for his support, that he must then come into practice with such an accumulation of debt upon him as the professional prospects of few or none can justify…. [Yet] no one has ever yet dared to advocate, in direct terms, so monstrous a principle as that the rich ought to be protected by law from the competition of the poor.


I’ve slightly edited this except for the sake of brevity. If you enjoy Spooner’s language or his argument, you should read the whole letter, simply titled To the Members of the Legislature of Massachusetts

Would that my classmates and I are among the last to be required to do what we had to do in order to do what we wanted to do.