Fictional Attorney of the Month: The Man of Law

Chaucer and the Man of Law, depicted by Ezra Winter in a Library of Congress mural.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales chronicles a group of Christians on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. To pass the time, the travelers tell stories. The narrator dutifully reports each tale, and the opening prologue describes the variety of pilgrims.

One is the Man of Law. Consider how the narrator describes him (and don't miss the "fee simple" pun):

A sergeant of the lawe, war and wys,
That often hadde been at the parvys,
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was and of greet reverence --
He semed swich, his wordes weren so wise.
Justice he was ful often in assise,
By patente and by pleyn commissioun.
For his science and for his heigh renoun,
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
So greet a purchasour was nowher noon:
Al was fee symple to hym in effect;
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle
That from the tyme of kyng william were falle.
Therto he koude endite, and make a thyng,
Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng;
And every statut koude he pleyn by rote.
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote.
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

The most scathing indictment of the man comes in the small line, "And yet he semed bisier than he was." It's a soft reminder today for hectic professionals: the appearance of busyness is often confused with actual busyness.

The Man of Law's tale is not as memorable as, say, the Wyfe of Bath's Tale, or the Knight's Tale, but his tale of adventure and romance is uplifting.