A Day with Oliver Wendell Holmes

How to Make a Life in the Law
William A. Barton

"Every calling is great when greatly pursued . . ."

“The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.
The felt necessities of the time . . .˝

His life in the law lasted into his 90s. But what could a senior jurist of a century ago have of value to share with twenty-first century lawyers about practice, prudence, ethics and success?


How do we harmonize the think like a lawyer idealism of law school with the reality of work like a lawyer practice? Or, as Holmes put it, “How can the study of a dry and technical system, the greedy watch for clients and practice of shopkeepers’ arts, the mannerless conflicts over often sordid interests, make out a life?”

Holmes spent a long and illustrious career answering that question. His wisdom lives today through the thoughtful stewardship of Bill Barton. Barton gives voice and presence to the great dissenter; informing and advising us on the place of the law and role of the lawyer in our American experiment. He is at once practical, inspirational and philosophical.


This is in part a program about Holmes, but it’s also a program by Holmes about…

  • his famous cases and favorite cases;

  • the “clear and present danger” test and the “marketplace of ideas” construction of free speech;

  • the “bad man,” or predictive theory of law as the foundation of today’s economic jurisprudence;

  • the importance of Holmes’ family of origin, particularly his famous father;

  • the impact of the Civil War on his jurisprudence, from class poet to analytic skeptic;

  • the Holmes legacy and its many authors;

  • criticisms of the Justice and his responses;

  • and dozens of other insights which spill directly from the Judge onto your desk

Learn how one of the architects of American life and jurisprudence would approach
today’s constitutional questions, pressures of practice and the challenges of our profession. The ideas generated in this program will have an immediate impact on the quality of your work and satisfaction with your chosen profession.

Spend a few fast-paced hours rededicating yourself to the proposition that your clients
are more than profit centers and that the law lives and breathes through you. Bring your
questions, Justice Holmes welcomes them and will help you work through your most difficult practice problems.

Program Agenda & Detail

4 Hours Including I Ethics Hour

[Part I: 90 Minutes]

Upbringing, Harvard and the Civil War: the incubation of a sharp mind

  • My family, father, and Uncle Waldo

  • The Civil War and its profound impact – from class poet to analytic skeptic

  • Early scholarly work, legal realism v. formalism and the historical model

  • The Common Law(1881)

  • The Practice of Law—the harsh reality of finding clients, earning fees and the practical struggles of life

  • Massachusetts Supreme Court (1882-1902)—over a thousand decisions

  • Why Teddy (Roosevelt) appointed me

15 Minute Break

[Part II: 60 Minutes]

Innovations of The Great Dissenter

  • The American Experiment: Modern Federalism—the inherent tension between judicial restrain and the “felt necessities of the time”

  • The Path of the Law (1897) and my other non-judicial writings

  • Free Speech – the 1919 cases of Schenck, Abrams, Baltzer, Debs and Frohwerk


15 Minute Break

[Part III: 90 Minutes]

The Role of Law in Society

  • The Metaphysical Club and American Pragmatism

  • Contributions to American law

  • The Law flows from social conditions

  • Judges make the common law

  • The Path of the Law (1897) and the “bad man” theory

  • The question of force

  • Arlington Cemetery, Section V: Holmes meets Marshall, Douglas, Brennan and Stewart


Q&A—a conversation with The Great Dissenter


Unconditional Guarantee
If you are not convinced that your understanding of the course topic has
improved after completion of any P.E.G.® seminar, we will refund your course tuition.