He that duly considers…the Theoretical and Practical parts of the Laws of England that is the Knowledge in Universalities and the Practice in Particulars shall find that most aptly to be applied to this Profession that long since was spoken of another
‘Ars longa, vita brevis, stadium difficile,occasion praeceps, experimentum periculosum’
[ roughly- the art is long but life is short, the opportunity passes swiftly and experience is perilous: Hippocrates]
A learned man in the Laws of this Realm is long amaking, the student therof having sedentariam vitam [a sedentary life], is not commonly long lived, the study abstruse and difficult, the occasion sudden, the practice dangerous…
The Active part is as necessary as the Speculative for ‘usus et experiential dominantur in artibus’, and certain it is that no Art can be perfectly attained unto by reading without use and exercise. What avails the Serjeant or the Apprentice the general knowledge of the Laws if he knows not withal the form and order of legal proceedings in particular cases, and how to plead and handle the same soundly, and most for his Clients advantage?
Good pleading has three excellent qualities, that is to say…it is honourable, laudable, and profitable.
Honourable, for he cannot be a good pleader but he muist be of excellency in judgment, ‘Honor est praemium excellentiae’:
Laudable for the estimation of the Professor ‘laus est fermo elucidans magnitudinem scientiae’
And profitable in three senses
First for that good pleading is ‘Lapis lidius’, the touchstone of the Law:
Secondly to the client, whose good cause is often lost, or long delayed for want of good pleading, for herein is ‘occasio praeceps & experimentum periculosum’:
Lastly to the Professor himself, who being for skill therein exalted above others, ‘tanquam inter viburna Cupressus’, it cannot be unto him but exceeding profitable…
No man can be a complete lawyer by universality of knowledge without experience in particular cases, nor by bare experience without universality of knowledge; he must be both speculative and active, for the science of the Laws, I assure you must join hands with experience. ‘Experientia’ (says the great philosopher) ‘est cognito singularium, ars vero universalium’. The learned Sages of the Law do found their judgment upon legal Reason and judicial precedent.
Note ‘Ars longa, vita brevis, stadium difficile,occasion praeceps, experimentum periculosum’
[ very roughly- the art is long but life is short, the opportunity passes swiftly and experience is perilous. Hippocrates concludes with ‘decision is difficult’ (see Wikipedia.) The difficulty of deciding what the law ‘is’ being a theme that emerges from Coke’s writings. Modern judges are very clear that they can decide what the law should be rather than ‘finding’ it].
Transcribed from the copy in the Cardiff University Library Rare Books Collection.