His Only Brief, 1896

From the Weekly Irish Times, 27 June 1896:


QC, MP’ tells a true story infinitely full of pathos.  A fortnight ago a letter reached him in the handwriting of an old college friend, telling a pitiful story of a stranded life.  The writer had been called to the Bar, hoping some day to land on the judicial bench, even if he did not reach the Woolsack.  He had no influence, and very little money.  No business came his way.  But he held on through long years, patiently hoping that some day his chance would come.  Now he was sick, probably unto death, and had no money to buy food or medicine.  His old friend promptly sent a remittance, which was gratefully acknowledged.

At the end of a fortnight, it occurred to him that he would call on the sick man and see what more he could do to help him.  Arrived at the address, the door was opened by a lady-like woman, still young, pretty in spite of the pinching of poverty.  He gave his name and announced his errand.  Whereat the lady, bursting into a passion of tears, told him he was too late.  Her husband had died that morning.

“Would you like to see him?” she asked wistfully.  The two walked upstairs to a small front room.  On the bed lay the body of a man about 40, fully dressed in the wig and gown of a barrister.  In the right hand he held a bundle of foolscap.  ‘What is that?’ the old friend whispered. ‘That’ said the widow, ‘is the only brief he received in the course of 19 years waiting.  He asked me to dress him thus, and put it in his hand when he was dead’.”

A lot to think about in this story for established barristers!  If this man’s successful friend had paid more attention to sending work his way earlier, things might have been different!

Although unattributed by the Irish Times, the above story originally appeared in an English publication, the Strand Magazine.

The Bar is a profession where many of us, starting out, depend on the kindness of colleagues. Sad though this story may be, we must never ever, even when established ourselves, forget what it was like to be briefless!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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