New York Assembly. Remarks on an
Act for Regulating the Fees of Officers and
Ministers of the Court1
[New York, February 21, 1787]
On the different paragraphs which determined the allowance for certain services—much debate ensued.2
Col. Hamilton expressed a hope that the house would not carry matters to an extreme; It would, he thought, be as improper to make the fees of the profession too low as to make them too high. Gentlemen who practised the law, if they were men of ability, would be paid for the services required of them; and if the law did not allow a proper compensation, it would be evaded. Names might be given to things, and charges made; against which there would be no guard. In Pennsylvania and Jersey, attempts had been made to reduce the emoluments of the profession, below the proper standard—this had afforded no relief; on the contrary, the expences of the law and the profits of the practicers had increased since the experiment; the only effect of which had been to transfer the expence from the delinquent debtor to the injured creditor. If the legal fees amount to a reasonable compensation; in most cases the practicer would content himself with them; if they did not, he would consider himself justified in making the best bargain he could—the consequences of this were obvious.
While differences would arise among mankind, and that there would be differences was certain, lawyers would be necessary—and for their services they would be paid. He therefore was of opinion, that in going through the bill, the house should agree reasonable allowances should be made for the services mentioned in the bill, or they would defeat their own object.
The [New York] Daily Advertiser, February 24, 1787.
1. “An act for regulating the Fees of the several Officers and Ministers of the Courts of Justice, within this State,” which was introduced into the 1787 legislative session, was intended as a revision of an act with the same title which had been passed in 1785. See Laws of the State of New York, I description begins Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 and 1784 Inclusive, being the First Seven Sessions (Albany, 1886). description ends I, 124–38. Like its predecessor, the bill introduced in 1787 provided maximum fees for officers of the state courts and for counselors, solicitors, and attorneys practicing in the state courts.
The act was passed by the Assembly on March 17 (New York Assembly Journal description begins Journal of the Assembly of the State of New York (Publisher and place vary, 1782–1788). description ends , 1787, 102) and, after several amendments had been made, returned from the Senate on April 3. The Assembly and Senate finally agreed on a compromise measure which was sent to the Council of Revision. On April 21, the last day of the legislative session, the Council returned its veto of the bill to the Assembly. The Council’s main objection was that the bill was not to take effect for several months. The Assembly overrode the veto of the Council. The Senate, however, again refused to pass the act, and it did not become law (ibid., 177–78).
2. The paragraphs of the act over which debate arose presumably were those which regulated the fees of counselors and solicitors in chancery and of attorneys in the Supreme Court.