Marcus Tullius Cicero
A lawyer widely respected for his philosophical writing, understanding of Greek philosophy and the structure that his analyses gave to Roman law. He viewed justice as the highest human virtue, and his work is a cornucopia of percipient observations about law. He was murdered as an opponent of Octavian.
An outstandingly thoughtful jurist and prolific writer whose influence upon the theory and practice of law has been extensive. He forged the systematisation of rules, and the exposition of legal principles, in a way that has since shaped the law of more than 60 countries. When the Emperor Justinian published the unprecedented Digest of Roman Law in AD533, one third of it was extracts from Ulpianus’ work.
The son of impoverished pioneers, and largely self-educated, he qualified as a lawyer and went on to become the 16th president of the United States. In 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in areas under the control of the southern Confederate states. On November 19, 1863 he gave what became known as the Gettysburg Address. It is one of the most quoted speeches in human history. It invokes in an inspiring way the principle of human equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence, opening with the words: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. It ends with the assertion that in a new America “. . . government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth".
Louis Dembitz Brandeis
Deeply concerned with issues of social justice, and the originator of what became a ubiquitous form of legal argument, the “Brandeis brief”. In a US Supreme Court case in 1907 about a state statute, Brandeis, who later became a Supreme Court judge, innovated a form of legislative interpretation by introducing social study reports to assist the court in construing the law.
Celebrated American defence lawyer and formidable orator, committed to defending freedom of expression and opposing the death penalty. He defended war protesters charged with having violated sedition laws, and in 1925 defended John Scopes, a high school teacher who had broken state law by presenting the Darwinian theory of evolution. In 1926 he won an acquittal for a black family, that of Dr Ossian Sweet, who had resisted a savage racist mob trying to expel it from a white district in Detroit.
John Mensah Sarbah
1864 – 1910
After completing his secondary education at Mfantsipim in his teens, Sarbah was sent to London for legal training and was called to the bar in 1887 – the first African barrister from his country to qualify in this way.
Later, Mensah Sarbah became a leading critic of British colonial rule, especially in connection with land ownership. Sarbah, the lawyer, argued that land in Africa belonged to someone, and that therefore its confiscation by the British was illegal. He also appealed to the principle 'no taxation without representation'.
European imperialism created complex pressures for new African leaders. John Mensah Sarbah chose a path of utilizing Western standards in defence of African rights. A member of the Fante tribe on the Gold Coast, in the area now known as Ghana, Mensah Sarbah was a scholarly man who trained in English law and was the first African from his region to be admitted to the English bar.
Mensah Sarbah used English constitutional arguments to claim that the British had no right to rule the Gold Coast and were consistently violating established African Laws. He actively urged expanded responsibilities for educated Africans who could preserve Africa's traditional communal virtues. His multi-volume Fante National Constitution (1906) followed from his elaborate research on customary law. He also founded several organizations designed to protect traditional African land titles in British legislation of 1898. Mensah Sarbah thus worked in two worlds, an early example of a leader striving to unite Western methods and African goals.
He wrote a book titled Fanti Customary Laws, a brief introduction to the principles of the native laws and customs of the Fanti and Akan districts of the Gold Coast, with a report of some cases thereon decided in the Law Courts (1904)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The world-famous advocate of non-violent social reform qualified as a barrister and joined Inner Temple, London. His practice flowered in South Africa and became more socially angled after he was asked to take off his turban in court. He refused. He was later imprisoned in South Africa and India for his activities. A superb exponent of the arts of negotiation and mediation.
William Henry Thompson
A solicitor from Preston, Lancashire, who qualified in 1908, was imprisoned as a conscientious objector, and became the country’s leading expert on working people’s compensation. A supporter of the suffragettes and co-founder of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty), he established a law firm in 1921 to act for workers. Today, Thompsons is the largest personal injury and employment rights firm in the UK with 50,000 cases being run at any time.
Lord Denning of Whitchurch
A man of monumental influence on the development of English law, both in its substance and style. His time at Oxford as a mathematical scholar was followed by legal study, and then a highly successful career as a barrister. During his forty years as a judge he reformed many areas of English law including the law of contract, of unmarried partners, and of judicial review. Not, though, an unblemished record of greatness as his views on racial issues were somewhat contentious.
A Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former President of South Africa who has helped to shape modern history. He was the only black student in his law faculty. He set up his own practice in 1952 and acted for clients who were victims of apartheid. He insisted on using the “whites only” entrance to courts, and campaigned relentlessly for an end to apartheid. He successfully resisted an attempt by the Transvaal Law Society to have him struck off the rolls of attorneys.
Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.
1937 – 2005
Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr was an American lawyer best known for his leadership role in the defense and criminal acquittal of O. J. Simpson for the murder of his former wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Cochran also represented Sean Combs (during his trial on gun and bribery charges), Michael Jackson, actor Todd Bridges, football player Jim Brown, rapper Snoop Dogg, former heavyweight Champion Ridd**k Bowe, and Reginald Oliver Denny, the trucker beaten by a mob during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He also defended athlete Marion Jones when she faced charges of doping during her high school track career. Cochran was known for his skill in the courtroom and his prominence as an early advocate for victims of alleged police abuse.