The Rule Day Club began in 1932 during the final year of prohibition, and the beginning years of the great depression. This club acquired its name because it met on the second Monday of every month, which at the time was colloquially known as “Rule Day” or the day “the law made certain writs returnable after service to the civil common law courts in Baltimore. ”
Unlike the Lawyers’ Round Table—which respected the legal restraints imposed by prohibition—the members of the Rule Day Club “freely imbibed” on the grounds that liquor was an “institutionalized ritual. Indeed, the Rule Day Club was founded at Congressman John Philip Hill’s rowhome at 3 West Franklin Street, which the congressman had conveniently renamed “Franklin Farms” in order to avail himself of an exception to prohibition which permitted farmers to brew beer and ferment wine. Congressman Hill was later indicted for violating prohibition, but he was acquitted.
Thereafter: In December, 1960, John W. Sause, Jr. Assistant State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, invited himself and seven other lawyers to attend a very exclusive luncheon at the Merchants’ Club for the purpose of discussing the formation of a “law club. ” The seven invitees were F. Hooper Bank, Charles Cahn, II, P. McEvoy Cromwell, Joseph G. Finnerty, Jr. , Robert J. Martineau, Shale D. Stiller, and H. Rutherford Turnbull, III. The date of the luncheon was January 12, 1961. The club initially met at the University Club. On September 18, 1961, the group resolved to call themselves “The Serjeants’ Club.
In March of 2012, however, the club decided to change its name to “the Serjeants’ Inn. ” Indeed, the name that this club chose for themselves is telling and consistent with the objectives of this club’s predecessors to improve and “elevate” the integrity and legitimacy of the bar. A serjeant was traditionally the highest ranking title in the hierarchy of the order of the coif. At that time, a lawyer could only become a serjeant by a direct writ from the king, and between 1164 and 1875 kings created serjeants at a rate of about 1. 5 a year.
Most notably, however, a serjeant had a duty not only to act as counsel to the sovereign itself, but also to the King’s subjects directly. Indeed, upon elevation, a serjeant: Shall swear well and truly to serve the King’s people as one of the Serjeants-at-law, and you shall truly counsel them that you be retained with after your cunning; and you shall not defer or delay their causes willingly, for covetness of money, or other thing that may turn you to profit; and you shall give due attendance accordingly. So help you God. Until 1979, membership in The Serjeants Inn was limited exclusively to men.
In 1980, the club for the first time admitted three women to the club. The club’s minute book for that meeting reads, “Citadel of male chauvinism crumbles—The opening meeting of the Serjeants’ Inn was marked by the attendance of the club’s first female members . . . ” Prior to adopting the club’s gender-neutral admission policy, the club had met at the Hamilton Street Club. After integrating women into the ranks of the Serjeants’ Inn, however, discussion arose about changing the club’s venue because of the club’s all-male policy.
In 1989, the members of the Serjeants’ Inn wrote the owners of the Hamilton Street Club and petitioned them to reconsider their policy, and were successful in persuading the club’s owners to change their policy. The Serjeants continued to meet at the Hamilton Street Club for many years until they moved to the Johns Hopkins Club where they currently meet. Consistent with the obligations of the original serjeants-at-law, so too did the members of Baltimore’s The Serjeants’ Inn aim to improve the integrity and legitimacy of the bar through scholarship and congeniality.
Importantly, Baltimore’s law clubs are not merely a vestige of a bygone legal era. Although it is true that many of the city’s successful law clubs have roots dating back to the early 20th century, this tradition continues with groups of lawyers regularly organizing to form new clubs. Take for example the Black Aggie Society organized in 2012, by judge, then-master William M. Dunn of the Maryland District Court. The Black Aggie Society was organized to cater to younger members of the bar and provided a more relaxed meeting structure that called for group topic discussions rather than the lecture format adopted by other law clubs.
The Black Aggies accomplish this goal by maintaining a membership of twenty-five, but requiring sixteen percent of the members to be under the age of thirty. Indeed, whether by its inclusive membership policy, its relatively low membership dues, or by the informal nature of its meetings, the objective of the Black Aggie Society was to promote congeniality among its members and the bar. As Judge Dunn reported, “If someone doesn’t feel welcome in a law club, then I don’t think the law club is properly serving its purpose, or our profession. ”
We would be remiss if we did not note that it is often difficult to account for a omplete history of Baltimore’s law clubs, and, accordingly this article does not purport to be an exhaustive historical account of this unique local phenomenon. Indeed, by their very nature law clubs tend to by “[m]ysterious,” as “[t]here is no definitive list, and few clubs advertise or even have websites. ” Additionally, there also exist other regional, state-wide, and national, law clubs that exist outside Baltimore’s city limits; including the Loophole Club, The Dissenters, and various chapters of the American Inns of Court.
Finally, other clubs, such as, “The” Law Club, The Trial Table Law Club, and the Roger B. Taney Club have folded over the years. Nevertheless, the unique institution of Baltimore’s Law Clubs has proven to be a beneficial and resilient force in the Baltimore legal community. As H. H. Walker Lewis wrote, Man is a clubbable animal and Baltimore law clubs are one of his more pleasant inventions. They are also a means of self-preservation. Regardless of years, old age is when you stop learning. To this should be added Gerald Johnson’s favorite bit of gospel: “While we laugh we line. ” It would be hard to find these twin remedies in a more gratifying form.