Roger writing the LAWmag
Mar 2009

Rules To Practice By, Bottled in 1890

University of MississippiJust before the turn of the century a senior but little-known country judge spoke to a small group of law students at the University of Mississippi.

The topic: rules to practice by; practical advice for the young lawyer.

Judge J. R. Yerger was from a family of the law: one of seven Lebanon, Tennessee brothers who became attorneys in Tennessee and Mississippi.

His thirteen Rules to Practice By are now some 120 years old, and were first spoken in an era without airplanes, automobiles, telephones, televisions or the Internet.

Just to attend the convocation of law students at the U of Miss., Judge Yerger would of required horse travel.

Known to few except the most hardy of American legal historians, Judge Yerger's timeless advice is well worth a swig.

Like a Daniel Webster quotation, it just sounds better with age.

Rule #1:

He warned the students not to over-extend themselves and stay focussed on being a good lawyer.

"The law is a jealous mistressUnflagging industry (is) the most important element of success at the bar."

Rule #2:

If you have any political aspirations, wait until your law practice is well-grounded. Otherwise, a young lawyer would:

"... only discover when it is too late to rectify the fatal error that he has committed professional suicide."

Rule #3:

A young lawyer should consider relocating to a developing urban area. Manage your law career like you would a stock portfolio. If there are too many lawyers in your hometown, go to where the people are going.

Rule #4:

If the local bar is strong, active and ethical, seek out mentors.

Rule #5:

Avoid getting into a long-term partnership at the commencement of a law career.

"One needs to learn to be one’s boss."

Rule #6:

Get ready for long hours.

"Clients come seeking counsel at all hours of the day."

Rule #7:

"Punctuality and correspondence is a professional duty that can never be violated with impunity. Any business letter should be answered no later than the day after it is received."

Rule #8:

Maintain strict order in your filing system and always keep a copy of anything you write.

Rule #9:

Do not be shy about supervising courts clerks. If a court clerk is sloppy, complain about it. An efficient court benefits everybody.

Rule #10:

Make sure you know the law, or have researched it properly, before stating any position to either your client or the other side.

"A client is always in danger whose lawyer does his writing first and his reading afterwards."

Rule #11:

Meticulously store and organize client records.

Rule #12:

When handwriting, always write clearly and legibly.

Rule #13:

Read the law constantly. Make it your ongoing duty to keep up-to-date with developments in the law.


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, LAWmazing 5, re Yerger, Yerger, Yerger, Yerger, Yerger, Yerger & Yerger.
  • Landon, M., The University of Mississippi School of Law: A Sesquicentennial History (University of Mississippi Press, 2006), pages 38-39.

Posted in Legal Profession and Lawyers