Question: How can an advocate lend his exertions to all, while lending himself to none: this appears a logical contradiction? Lending exertions to all logically, implies 'lending something of oneself to all'.

Secondary Source: p. 96 Top, Is Killing People Right? (2016) by Allan C. Hutchinson.

Indeed, the mantra of the defence bar is that they 'lend their exertions to all, and themselves to none.'

Primary Source:

Brennan J considered the proper role of counsel in an adversarial context in Giannarelli v Wraith (1988) 165 CLR 543 at 578-79:

Counsel (whether barrister or solicitor) may appear to represent the adversaries, but counsel’s duty is to assist the court in the doing of justice according to law. A client - and perhaps the public - may sometimes think that the primary duty of counsel in adversary proceedings is to secure a judgment in favour of the client. Not so. The true position was stated by Lord Eldon in Ex parte Lloyd (5 November 1822, reported as a note in Ex parte Elsee (1830) Mont. 69, at p. 70n., at p. 72):

He lends his exertions to all, himself to none. [Bold mine] The result of the cause is to him a matter of indifference. It is for the court to decide. It is for him to argue. He is, however he may be represented by those who understand not his true situation, merely an officer assisting in the administration of justice, and acting under the impression, that truth is best discovered by powerful statements on both sides of the question.

1 Answer 1


This quote is actually the source of the motto of the New South Wales Bar Association and this article describes the route from the judgement in 1822 to the motto in 1960. It means:

'that barristers will take any briefs from anyone without prejudice, but will take orders on how to conduct cases from no one'

In other words - a barrister is bound to represent anyone who asks them to do so (subject to legal impediments like conflict of interest), however, how they choose to represent them is entirely a matter for the barrister: not the client or anyone else.

  • 1
    By "who", do you mean "how"?
    – user6726
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 5:47
  • If only American lawyers had that kind of freedom. :(
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 0:36
  • @ohwilleke AFAIK, they do. Just like here they are officers of the court. Of course a barrister may choose to follow the client's wishes anyway.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 1:04
  • 1
    An American lawyer has a much higher duty to a client to follow the client's wishes in how the case is prosecuted than a barrister. Settlement and half a dozen other matters at least are within the client's authority to direct. Officer of the court has a different meaning in the U.S. than in a barrister system.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 1:20

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