“The Devil can sometimes do a very gentlemanly thing” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Ladies and Gentleman of the Court, first I would like to thank our patron, Satan.
Ladies and Gentleman of the Court, first I would like to thank our patron, Satan.

I recently ran across evidence of what we have always collectively suspected buried in the September 2013 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, that is, that lawyers are in league with the devil.  In an article entitled “Lawyers as Agents of the Devil in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game”, learned scholars of jurisprudence conclude, more technically, “All the data available on differential outcomes in the dispute resolution systems studied here are consistent with the incentives present in a prisoner’s dilemma. In short, the data imply that it is individually rational for the parties to retain costly agents so as to increase the likelihood that they will prevail, even though there is little evidence that the result will be any different from what would occur if both parties did not retain agents” (Ashenfelter, Bloom, & Dahl, p419).  More succinctly, everybody but lawyers would be better off if lawyers weren’t involved.  In all fairness, this alone is not enough to convict an entire profession and brand them with diabolical sympathies, especially when we have ample additional evidence in their traditional choice of a patron saint, a certain Saint Evona, who as it turns out, inherited the position by default when the Catholic Church balked at their first choice, which happened to be Satan.

By the 13-14th Century A.D.  European guilds had evolved from simple, local confraternities of workers into combinations of professional associations, trade unions, cartels, and secret societies.  You get yourself a letter of patent from a monarch, set up systems of apprenticeship, and start controlling who, what, and where people can sell their crafts or labors, and bang, you’ve got yourself a guild. Medieval Christianity was a bit leery of the burgeoning guild system based on the binding oaths artisans took to help and support one another, denounced as “conjurations”, but it seems the guilds had an ingenious solution to the problem.  They all started adopting patron saints.  Unfortunately, lawyers were late to the game, and this deeply troubled one particular jurist named Evona of Brittany.

St. Evona, a famous Lawyer of this Country, in the days of our early ancestors, was piqued, we are told, for the honour of the Robe, that his Profession should have no Saint to patronize it, when almost every other employment had some pious person, whose memory every one of the same way of life might revere, and under whose good auspices they might follow the same track. The Physicians, he knew, had St. Luke; the Champions had secured St. George to themselves; and Music and Painting were not without their Tutelar Saint: but the Lawyers he found had none. The Pope, he was bound, as a good Catholic, to think could help him out in this emergency (Wynne, 1785, p36-37).

Since all the cool saints had already been snapped up, Evona was in a bit of a bind. A minority of lawyers were numbered among the canonized (and those few had been more involved with being archbishops), “but neither St. Swithin, nor St. Thomas of Canterbury, lawyers though they were, deigned to take the legal profession under especial protection, and to mediate with particular officiousness between the long robe and St. Peter” (Jeaffreson, 1867, p210).  Evona opted to turn to the Pope for his assistance in identifying an appropriate patron saint for his chosen profession, with decidedly unexpected results.

It is the generally received opinion that lawyers have the reputation of a certain intimacy with the Devil; but why they should be credited with this companionship is not so widely known. It would seem that an English lawyer, St. Evona, went to Rome to entreat the Pope to nominate a patron to his brethren of the gown. His holiness could think of no saint who had not been appropriated to one or another guild or profession; but he suggested, as a way out of the difficulty, that St. Evona should go blindfolded around the interior of the Church of San Giovanni di’ Laterano, and after repeating a specified number of Aves, he should stop, and place his hand on an image, and that image should represent the future patron of his profession. The lawyer followed the Pope’s suggestion, and at the end of his Aves he had reached the Chapel of St. Michael, where he laid hold of a figure, and cried out, “This is our Saint, let him be our Patron!” He had stopped before the figure of St. Michael, but had laid hold of the Devil under the saint’s feet! Through thick and thin the Devil has stuck to them; even the tavern in Fleet Street, frequented by them of old, was called “The Devil.” When the various volunteer corps were formed, each was distinguished by some appropriate appellation, usually to do with the neighborhood whence they were drawn. The lawyers formed a “Temple” corps, which modest title, however, scarcely coincided with the opinion of the public, who improved upon it by dubbing them “The Devil’s Own.” The 14th Middlesex, Inns of Court, Volunteers, continue to flourish, and are second to none in their loyalty to king and country—a courteous, mirthful company, as they assemble at their headquarters overlooking the sunlit expanse of greensward. In action, the enemies of England would have good cause to declare the very Devil was among them (Wall, 1904, p133-135).

I try not to be too judgmental when it comes to lawyers.  Sure, the big names rake in the bucks with their courtroom antics and trials of the century, but most of those in the legal profession are grinding away at only modestly well-paying thankless tasks and associating with unpleasant characters that would likely drive most of us insane.  It’s darned hard to maintain a sufficiently saintly attitude in such circumstances.  We must certainly, if not endorse the infernal inclinations of many lawyers, than at least empathize with what drives them to the dark side.

The witnesses do not sustain his opening. They will not say in court what they told him out of the court they would say, or what his client instructed him they would say. The judge does not take exactly the same view of the case that he does. Some of his evidence is rejected, and that able and strong speech, which he had prepared to make to the jury, is in consequence all knocked into pi. When the case is over and has been lost, he is for a long time haunted by the ghost of it accusing him in his conscience of having lost it by mismanagement, and he is a very lucky fellow if he is not also haunted by the ghost of his client, following him with accusations and reproaches—a man of a lank figure, with a forlorn sadness of countenance, empty stomach and empty pockets. If any man can go through such trials calm and undisturbed in temper, he deserves to be ranked with St. Evona, the only lawyer I believe that ever was canonized, and that is the reason I suppose so few lawyers are saints (Law Association of Philadelphia , 1867, p26).

Evona of Brittany, being both pious and devoted to law, was extremely distressed at the turn of events that led him to enthusiastically declare Satan as the patron saint of lawyers, and sunk into despondency.  We are told that he died not long after and reports filtered down from the Pearly Gates as to his dispensation.

So being unblindfolded, and seeing what a Patron he had chosen, he went to his lodgings so dejected, that in a few months after he died, and coming to heaven’s gates, knocked hard. Whereupon St. Peter asked who it was that knocked so boldly. He replied that he was St. Evona the advocate. Away, away, said St. Peter; here is but one Advocate in heaven; here is no room for you lawyers. O but, said St. Evona, I am that honest lawyer who never took fees on both sides, or pleaded in a bad cause; nor did I ever set my neighbors together by the ears, or lived by the sins of the people. Well, then, said St. Peter, come in. This news coming down to Rome, a witty poet writ on St. Evona’s tomb these words: — ‘St. Evona, un Briton, Advocat non Larron, Haleluiah’ (Browne, 1867, p303).

In case you didn’t catch what they wrote on his tombstone, it rather cynically reads “St. Evona, A Lawyer Who Wasn’t Dishonest, Halleluiah”.  Of course, the Catholic Church can’t let a guild go around claiming Satan as its patron saint without some serious theological reinterpretations, so they quickly canonized Evona of Brittany, who luckily seemed to be a pretty decent guy to begin with, and foisted him off on the legal profession as their number one advocate in heaven.

The Confraternity of St. Ives, established to give legal advice to those not able to provide for themselves, re-calls the name of one St. Evona, or Ives (Yves), of Brittany, born at Kermartin, 1253, and who died at Louannec in 1303. He was son of Helori, Lord of Kermartin, and was educated for the law at Paris. He became a judge ecclesiastical at Rennes, and, having studied well the Scriptures, he devoted his life to the service of the poor, becoming renowned for his good deeds and reflecting such honor upon both the legal and Christian professions that he was held as patron by the one and was canonized by the other (Leete, 1912, p134).

Not too shabby for a guy who chose the devil as his patron in front of the Pope.  If nothing else perhaps St. Evona merited canonization on the basis of his disarmingly honest selection of a supernatural protector whose concerns most closely resembled those of his chosen profession. This no doubt led Satan to rethink his public policy and imparted to him a more robust understanding of those he should be offering his patronage to, for as the English poet Alexander Pope observed, “Satan now is wiser than of yore, and tempts by making rich, not making poor”.

Ashenfelter, Orley & Bloom, David E., & Dahl, Gordon B.  “Lawyers as Agents of the Devil in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game”.  Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 10:3 (September), p.399-423, 2013.
Browne, Irving, 1835-1899. Law And Lawyers In Literature. Boston: Soule and Bugbee, 1883.
Jeaffreson, John Cordy, 1831-1901. A Book About Lawyers. 2nd ed., rev. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1867.
Law Association of Philadelphia. Dinner Given by the Philadelphia Bar to the Judiciary: At the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia, January 8th, 1867. Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1867.
Leete, Frederick DeLand, bp. 1866-. Christian Brotherhoods. Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1912.
Paterson, James, 1823-1894. Curiosities of Law And Lawyers,. New ed., greatly enl. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1899.
Wall, James Charles. Devils. London: Methuen & co, 1904.
Wynne, Edward, 1734-1784. Eunomus: Or, Dialogues Concerning the Law And Constitution of England : With An Essay On Dialogue. 2d ed. London: B. White, 1785.