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Before he was known around the world as Mahatma (or “great soul”), Mohandas K. Gandhi was known as esquire. He was an attorney. In fact, after being called to the bar in England in 1891, Gandhi practiced law as a private attorney in South Africa and India for over twenty years. He eventually gave up his practice so that he could devote all of his remarkable energies towards public service and independence for India.
During his time as a practicing attorney, Gandhi developed “special,” even “peculiar views” of lawyers and the practice of law. These views are interwoven with his religious and political thinking and are evident in how he practiced both law and his nonviolent action campaigns or satyagrahas. Gandhi’s views are founded upon his unquenchable and unshakeable search for truth, as he understood it. For Gandhi, truth is God. To seek truth, therefore, is to seek God. A deeply religious but also practical man, Gandhi exhorted everyone to seek truth in all things as a means not only for salvation but also for ethical living and happiness. For lawyers, this means putting the pursuit of truth above the more narrow interest of clients, and putting societal interest above self-interest. It means rethinking a lawyer’s duties and functions. This is not an idealist’s flight of fancy. Gandhi was a practical reformer: he dubbed his autobiography “the story of my experiments with truth” because he tested his ideas by applying them to real life situations. In the practice of law, Gandhi endeavored to show readers in his writings and by his example that it is “not impossible to practice law without compromising truth.” At the same time, Gandhi expressed a deep ambivalence about the practice of law, at times denouncing the practice as immoral and even calling upon lawyers to give up their profession. . .