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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thirty years of honestly demeaning myself at the bar

Section 82.037(a) of the Texas Government Code requires that "[e]ach person admitted to practice law shall, before receiving a license, take an oath that the person will: (1) support the constitutions of the United States and this state; (2) honestly demean himself in the practice of law; and (3) discharge the attorney's duty to his client to the best of the attorney's ability."

A lawyer for whom I have boundless respect and affection — United States Circuit Judge Carolyn D. King, for whom I had the privilege of clerking — administered that oath to me and my co-clerks thirty years ago today.

It's a peculiar oath, containing a subtle but ironic example of the word- and phrase-parsing skills required of lawyers: "demean" most commonly means "to lower in dignity, honor, or standing." Many laymen might experience the hearing or reading of this oath as an "Aha!" moment, as in: "Wow, that explains why all those lawyers have been making asses out of themselves, it's literally a sworn duty!"

But "demean" also means "to conduct or behave (oneself) in a specified manner" — as in "demeanor." And here, Texas law specifies the manner to be an "honest" one. I suppose it's theoretically possible to honestly make an ass of oneself, but law usually does not so obviously mock itself or its practitioners. Instead, the qualifier implies a legislative intent to use the word "demean" in this secondary, now near-archaic, sense.

Once that peculiarity has been spotted, properly masticated, and duly resolved, the oath itself becomes clear. Its actual application in the real world over the course of 30 years has proved to be anything but.

Nevertheless, I've done my best to keep it these thirty years, and shall for however many more are permitted me.

Posted by Beldar at 11:04 AM in Law (2010) | Permalink


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(1) DRJ made the following comment | Nov 24, 2010 6:32:40 PM | Permalink

Congratulations on 30 great years!

(2) Aaron Worthing made the following comment | Nov 29, 2010 12:42:12 PM | Permalink

Well, that is like the word "discriminate"--its been so often misused, that it ends taking on a new meaning. same with demean.

(3) Andy Foth made the following comment | Nov 29, 2010 9:27:30 PM | Permalink

Congratulations on this anniversary! May you continue to demean yourself for many more years as an honest lawyer!

(As a CPA, I can't help but play with the word demean and lawyers. As a tax CPA, I should not throw rocks as others' ethical houses, lol).

Your blog is always enjoyable, though not as often refreshed as some of us would like.

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