Legal Profession as Depicted in David Copperfield

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Doctors' Commons

      Doctors' Commons was a fellowship of lawyers and Proctors. Snobbery dominated the law; barristers' for instance, were divided from solicitors (or attorneys, as they were then called), with other such irrelevant distinctions based on income or social position.

      Steerforth, when asked by David to advise him on the legal profession he was about to take up, described a Proctor as a sort of monkish attorney, a profession which was slightly lower than that of a lawyer and solicitor. Proctors were for the federal courts (which were held in Doctors' Commons) what solicitors were for the courts of law and equity.

      Doctors' Commons was a notorious place for cheating the unwary Etigants. Dickens tried to bust this racket by opening the eyes of the public. For this purpose, he ridiculed the existent legal system in most to his novels. In David Copperfield he ridiculed the practice of advocates and Proctors - a fixed set of people - appearing in such diverse cases as that of the Ecclesiastical (which at that time included divorce), admiralty and probate cases, dealing with matters as diverse as wills, marriages and nautical cases, the same men being sometimes judges, sometimes advocates. The time and expense incurred by the litigants even for trivial cases made the whole thing into a sort of round game for the benefit of the lawyers at the expense of the litigants.

      Dickens satirized all the aspects of the legal system, the chaotic storage of wills at the Prerogative office, the Registrar's fleecing of the public and the degradation outside the Commons for people desiring marriage licenses or even the proving of a will.

Firm of M/s Spenlow and Jorkins

      A person who wanted to take up the profession of a Proctor had to pay a premium to an advocate (lawyer) or a solicitor. The Proctors used to employ the services of the advocates or rather they acted as assistants to them. David too had to pay a premium of a thousand pounds and had to undergo a period of probation. On payment of his premium, David was taken on probation by the firm of M/s Spenlow and Jorkins. Mr. Spenlow took David to the court.

      M/s Spenlow and Jorkins was a firm managed by two professionals of the law. Mr. Spenlow and Mr. Jorkins were the two partners in the business. Mr. Spenlow, a light haired gentleman with stiff white cravats and shirt collars and his stiff dress cut a straight figure. Because of his dress it was difficult for him to bend down and whenever he had to take a look at his papers on the table, he had to move his whole body from the bottom of his spine, somewhat like punch.

      Mr. Jorkins was the other partner of the firm. He had full faith in Mr. Spenlow. Mr. Spenlow could do anything that he liked in Mr. Jorkins' name. Mr. Spenlow would state that he was unable to make any concessions to his clients because, Mr. Jorkins was not agreeable to it. Actually, the case was not like this at all. Since Mr. Jorkins was hardly ever seen at the office, it was a good strategy to blame Mr. Jorkins for everything that was not very agreeable and thus extract the maximum from the clients. Thus Dickens manages to expose the meanness, selfishness and deceit of such firms which traded in people's difficulties. David was refused a reduction in the premium on the same pretext that Mr. Jorkins would not like it. It is under the same pretext that David is refused a refund by the firm when Miss Betsey loses her money and he wants to withdraw from the firm so as to help his aunt.

Legal Profession in the Eyes of the People

      In David Copperfield, we find David's aunt Miss Betsey advising David to take up legal profession. Ambitious young men took the legal profession. This profession was considered respectable. She even lends him the money to join the legal firm Messers Spenlow and Jorkins. Uriah Heep too plans to take up this profession. Although he was just an ordinary clerk in the service of Mr. Wickfield, he used to read law books, in order to become a lawyer someday. But since nobody could know the law thoroughly unless he had read Latin, David helped. Heep in this regard. However, it seems that Uriah Heep had learned law in order to know the ways and means to evade it.

      Mr. Micawber too had tried to master law. Later he became a magistrate in Australia. It was Micawber and Traddles who combined to expose the evil deeds of Uriah Heep. In fact, Dickens brings these characters into conflict to contrast the good and the bad aspects of the legal profession. Dickens seems to imply that a competent knowledge of the law and mtegrity is of utmost importance to weed out the rampant corruption in the legal system. Had Micawber and Traddles not known the law thoroughly they would not have been capable of exposing Uriah Heep. David's knowledge of the law too helps him in completing certain formalities regarding the assets of her aunt's husband.


      After reading the novel David Copperfield, we are convinced that Dickens had an intimate knowledge and understanding of the law and its application in his own times. He has drawn a very realistic picture of the legal profession and satirized its Working. He has exposed the selfishness and heartlessness of people engaged in it. When Miss Betsey loses her fortune and David asks for the refund of the balance of his fee from Mr. Spenlow, his request is turned down by him heartlessly, little caring for the problems of David and his aunt Miss Betsey. Mr. Micawber's imprisonment and release also show how the law could be manipulated by selfish people to their own advantage, though inherently it was not faulty and people could get redressal through it if there were honest and competent people to help them. David's nurse Miss Peggotty, later Mrs. Barkis, was able to complete the formalities regarding her husband's assets through legal channels only because of the help of an honest and competent David. It is the honest Mr. Micawber who is able to expose the nefarious deeds of Uriah Heep with the help of a competent Traddles. Thus we see that Dickens while satirizing the legal systems points out the favorable aspects of the legal system.

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