As I write, it is May 19, feast day of the patron saint of lawyers, St. Ives, a.k.a. Yves, Yvo, Ivo, Ervoan, and Evona. He lived from 1253 to 1303, and was canonized by Pope Clement VI in 1347. Still, his fate at the hands of folk culture proves that, no matter what benefit lawyers have brought to human society, throughout history we remain the dog who’s acquired a bad name, tarred with the sticky brush of the shyster. On this day, then, I propose that we acknowledge the thousands of lawyers who have devoted their careers to public service and pro bono publico – legal aid, civil rights, social reform, conscientious government, children’s advocacy, the terminally ill and mentally dysfunctional, duty counsel (public defender) work, and, yes, ethical business, family, and criminal law, as well. They are all essential to the cultural fabric.
From Ives’s days as a law and theology student, and throughout his adult life as a lawyer and priest (simultaneously) in Brittany, he devoted himself to service and self-sacrifice. Giving up his clothing, food, and even his bed to the poor and compromised, he became known as “the pauper’s advocate.” Of the scant reporting of his law cases, the most celebrated (or legendary) is his defence of “the widow of Tours”:
Two travelling salesmen had lodged at the woman’s home, leaving with her a box of what they said were valuables, instructing her to return it only to both of them, together. One of the men, Smith, returned and, explaining that his colleague Jones was otherwise engaged, obtained the box from the landlady then fled with it. After Jones returned to discover the box was gone, he pursued the widow in the ecclesiastical court, claiming she had broken their agreement about safeguarding the box. Ives obtained judgment for the woman when he insisted that Smith also appear before the bishop’s court, presumably with the box. (If both men had a claim, he argued, they both should attend.) This called the con-men’s bluff, such that they admitted their scam and the box was shown to contain nothing of value. Some versions of the case say it was scrap iron; I base my account on that of the famous American legal scholar, John Wigmore, a champion of the saint’s, who gives his name as Ervoan Heloury Kermartin.
Wigmore, the secular patron saint of evidence law, accepts at face value the tales of miracles Ives is said to have performed from his tomb and that led to his canonization – supplying the names of thieves, curing a growth on a young woman’s eye… . The professor concludes:
Even a brief perusal of his recorded career makes one realize that here we have a character who may well represent the ideal for a profession. He was made a calendar-saint … because from his adult youth for thirty-five years he lived consistently an ideal life of service and sacrifice in the cause of Justice. … And he had pursued this career as an ordinary man, amidst the very same everyday conditions that surround any lawyer and any judge at any time in any country. Well may he be enshrined in our aspirations as an ensample of the ideal of Justice attainable in real life by a member of our profession!”
As I’ve suggested, whether through envy or reflexive cynicism about a profession with ready access to great power and material comfort, a demonic inversion of St. Ives’s story grew up. It was reported as early as 1688 by William Carr, who says he learned it in Rome from a man showing him “a Chapell dedicated to one St. Evona a Lawyer of Brittanie.” Carr writes that Evona went to the pope to complain that lawyers had no patron saint. (There is of course Thomas Becket, but lawyers seem to be only a sideline in his patronage, as he devotes himself primarily to the greater need of politicians, many of whom are, indeed, lawyers with an even worse dog’s name.) The pope instructed Evona to go to the Church of St. John de Latera and while blindfolded pick a candidate for patronage from the statues there. Evona blindly fumbled about until he selected the statue of Satan being ground under St. Michael’s feet. This, Carr claims, instigated a terminal depression in Evona. Upon learning he was a lawyer, St. Peter turned him away from Heaven’s gate, but relented when Evona recounted his pious life as advocatus pauperum. Carr says that this inspired “a witty Poet” to inscribe on Evona’s tomb: St. Evona un Briton, Advocat non Larron, Haeleluiah – “St. Evona, a Breton, lawyer who isn’t a crook, hallelujah!”
This “inscription” seems to be more folk adaptation, a version of what Wigmore tells us is “the saying which has fixed forever [Ives’s] place in the annals of literature, ‘Advocatus sed non latro, res miranda populo,’” “A lawyer yet not a bandit, a thing wondrous to the people” – in other words, a miracle in itself. (Some contend that this Latin “saying” was affixed to Rogier van der Veyden’s portrait “A Man Reading (St. Ivo?),” circa 1450 and now at London’s National Gallery.* See the illustration to the right.) So even in the hagiographic (nice) version of the story, there is a sarcastic dig at lawyers. As I’ve suggested, this is not exactly surprising, given that in the Christian bible, no less, it is “a certain lawyer” who asks a smart-alecky question about duty that prompts Christ’s “Parable of the Good Samaritan.”** Luke 10:25 says the lawyer baits Jesus, “tempting” him on cross-examination with, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” On St. Ives’ day, the answer is made graphic.
*In his Lives of the Saints, Baring-Gould says that the “popular conscience protests” against Ives’s sainthood by singing these words. Baring-Gould adds that Ives’s “emblem” was a cat, and that the feline symbolizes the lawyer, who lies in wait for prey, “darts on it, … and when he has got his victim, delights to play with him, but never lets him escape from his clutches.” So not only the dog gets a bad name…
**Thus Lord Atkin’s use of the story in our leading case on duty at private law, Donoghue v. Stevenson. See my The Structures of Law and Literature for a detailed discussion of this as central to our cultural discourse.
Primary sources for this post:
William E.A. Axon, “Ivo, Saint and Lawyer,” in The Lawyer in History, Literature, and Humour, William Andrews, ed. (London: William Andrews, 1896), 28.
William Carr, Remarks of the Government of Several Parts of Germanie, Denmark, Sweedland, Hamburg, Lubeck, and Hansiatique Townes (Amsterdam, 1688), 80.
Marc Galanter, Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes & Legal Culture (Madison: U. of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 97-98.
John Henry Wigmore, “St. Ives, Patron Saint of Lawyers,” Fordham Law Review (1936), Vol. 5, No. 3, 401-07.