By Judge Michael B. Hyman
Cook County Circuit Court
Two Chicago lawyers. One born in theNorth before the Civil War and the other born in the South under Jim Crow; one a son of privilege and the other the son of poverty. Both immersed themselves in representing the have-nots, the victims of circumstances and those for whom there is little public sympathy - criminal defendants. Both prominently participated in the public debate of the political and social issues of their times. And both resisted the status quo when the status quo was unjust.
I refer to Clarence Darrow and Eugene Pincham, whose names are synonymous with "advocate" in the purest sense of the word.
Darrow and Pincham became icons for their passionate fight to alleviate oppression and discrimination, to abolish the death penalty and to ensure that an accused person's rights are protected.
Cases that other lawyers would shun, due to the formidable odds against success or the controversy surrounding them, tugged at Darrow and Pincham.
Law, for them, was not about fortune, fame or popularity. It was about responding to the cry of an injustice, which moved them to action and spurred them to roar and rail in the manner of electrifying orators, their words full of potency and insight.
In the well of the courtroom, they methodically and consummately dazzled juries, judges and the public with their command of the English language and their theatrical flair.
They kept at it until their last breaths, speaking truth to power on behalf of the powerless, stretching to shelter the storm-tossed and the weak from certain harm, plunging from one sensational case to another and stirring the media and the masses along the way.
I need say little about Darrow (1857-1938), one of the most celebrated trial lawyers in American history. Darrow deemed "lost causes [to be] the only ones worth fighting for." In his almost magical hands, many a lost cause and unpopular case emerged victorious. Darrow used law as a means to avenge wrongs. He understood that a wrong does not cease to be a wrong unless someone rebels against it, and he played the rabble-rouser.
Pincham (1925-2008) also gravitated to lost causes and unpopular cases, transforming many a challenge into a triumph. Gracious and civil in and out of court, Pincham was formidable and fearless on trial, the kind of lawyer who could argue every side of an issue and make it seem right.
Reared in a two-room house in north central Alabama, he never hesitated to tell people that his family was not poor nor indigent but p-o: "We could not afford the four letters it took to spell poor." Pincham marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Chicago and Mississippi, served on the Circuit and Appellate Courts in Cook County, argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and ran for mayor of Chicago in 1991.
Pincham said many of his clients were "nobodies." And, although he declined matters, he never refused to accept a client because the client could not pay his fee.
He thought that criminal defense lawyers had to be willing to go to jail for their case. Once, Pincham was held in contempt for defying a judge's order to proceed with a trial of a black defendant after Pincham accused the prosecutor of improperly dismissing all blacks from the jury. (His case predated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), in which the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors may not exclude jurors based solely on their race.)
A common professional ethic rooted in criminal and social justice guided Pincham and Darrow. To them, this ethic was an obligation that came with the privilege of practicing law. As Pincham expressed it, the strength of the legal profession has been how it treats the downtrodden and poor; the wealthy and affluent can protect themselves.
Darrow wrote, "My sympathies always went out to the weak, the suffering and the poor. Realizing their sorrows, I tried to relieve them in order that I myself might be relieved. I know why I have taken this course - I could not help it. I could have had no comfort or peace of mind if I had acted any other way."
Every lawyer can emulate Darrow and Pincham by advancing, either modestly or profoundly, a lost cause or unpopular case.
The public considers lawyers self-obsessed and greedy. An effective antidote for this perception is for every lawyer to carry forward the legacies of Pincham and Darrow. A broad array of so-called lost causes involving society's hypocrisies and inequities hunger for leaders and catalysts in the mold of a Pincham or a Darrow. Shaking things up as they did. Sticking up for the underdog as they did. Breaking old paradigms as they did.
Then, thousands of "nobodies" who cannot afford to hire a private attorney - folks with problems who otherwise might fall through the cracks of the legal system - want an advocate with the probing mind of Pincham and the burning zeal of Darrow.
Regardless of how busy we think we are, or how many responsibilities we juggle, or how high or low we are on the professional ladder, by following the ethic espoused by Eugene Pincham and Clarence Darrow, we can continue their legacy while creating our own.