LAWYERS AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION The training of attorneys and the practice of law have evolved over time in the United States. Today American lawyers practice in a variety of settings and circumstances. Development of the Legal Profession During the colonial period in America (1607-1776), there were no law schools to train those interested in the legal profession. Some young men went to England for their education and attended the Inns of Court. The Inns were not formal law schools, but were part of the English legal culture and allowed students to become familiar with English law.

Those who aspired to the law during this period generally performed a clerkship or apprenticeship with an established lawyer. After the American Revolution (1775-83), the number of lawyers increased rapidly, because neither legal education nor admission to the bar was very strict. The apprenticeship method continued to be the most popular way to receive legal training, but law schools began to come into existence. The first law schools grew out of law offices that specialized in training clerks or apprentices. The earliest such school was the Litchfield School in Connecticut, founded in 1784.

 This school, which taught by the lecture method, placed primary emphasis on commercial law. Eventually, a few colleges began to teach law as part of their general curriculum, and in 1817 an independent law school was established at Harvard University. 

During the second half of the 19th century, the number of law schools increased dramatically, from 15 schools in 1850 to 102 in 1900. The law schools of that time and those of today have two major differences. First, law schools then did not usually require any previous college work. Second, in 1850 the standard law school curriculum could be completed in one year. Later in the 1800s many law schools instituted two-year programs. In 1870 major changes began at Harvard that were to have a lasting impact on legal training

Harvard in stituted stiffer entrance requirements; a student who did not have a college degree was required to pass an entrance test. The law school course was increased to two years in 1871 and to three years in 1876. Also, students were required to pass first-year final examinations before proceeding to the second-year courses. The most lasting change, 

however, was the introduction of the case method of teaching. This method replaced lectures and textbooks with casebooks. The casebooks (collections of actual case reports) were designed to explain the principles of law, what they meant, and how they developed. Teachers then used the Socratic method to guide the students to a discovery of legal concepts found in the cases. Other schools eventually adopted the Harvard approach, and the case method remains the accepted method of teaching in many law schools today. As the demand for lawyers increased during the late 1800s, 

there was a corresponding acceleration in the creation of new law schools. Opening a law school was not expensive, and a number of night schools, using lawyers and judges as part-time faculty members, sprang into existence. Standards were often lax and the curriculum tended to emphasize local practice. These schools’ major contribution lay in making training more readily available to poor,

 immigrant, and working-class students. In the 20th century, the number of people wanting to study law increased dramatically. By the 1960s the number of applicants to law schools had grown so large that nearly all schools became more selective. At the same time, in response to social pressure and litigation, many law schools began actively recruiting female and minority applicants. Also by the 1960s, the curriculum in some law schools had been expanded to include social concerns such as civil rights law and law-and-poverty issues. International law courses also became available

. A more recent trend in law schools is an emphasis on the use of computers for everything from registration to classroom instruction to accessing court forms to student services. Also noteworthy is that more and more law schools are offering courses or special programs in intellectual property law, a field of specialization that has grown considerably in recent years.

 Finally, the increasing use of advertising by lawyers has had a profound impact on the legal profession. On television stations across the country one can now see lawyers making appeals to attract new clients. Furthermore, legal clinics, established to handle the business generated by the increased use of advertising, have spread rapidly. Growth and Stratification The number of lawyers in the United States has increased steadily over the past half century and is currently 

estimated at more than 950,000. Where do all the attorneys in the United States find work? The Law School Admission Council provides some answers in The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, 2001 Edition. Almost three-fourths (72.9 percent) of America’s lawyers are in private practice, some in small, oneperson offices and some in much larger law firms. About 8.2 percent of the legal profession’s members work for government agencies, roughly 9.5 percent work for private industries and associations as lawyers or managers, about 1.1 percent work for legal aid associations or as public defenders, representing those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer, and 1 percent are in legal education. Some 5 percent of the nation’s lawyers are retired or inactive.

America’s lawyers apply their professional training in a variety of settings. Some environments are more profitable and prestigious than others. This situation has led to what is known as professional stratification. One of the major factors influencing the prestige level is the type of legal specialty and the type of clientele served. Lawyers with specialties who serve big business and large institutions occupy the top hemisphere; those who represent individual interests are in the bottom hemisphere. At the top of the prestige ladder are the large national law firms. Attorneys in these firms have traditionally been known less for court appearances than for the counseling they provide their clients. The clients must be able to pay for this high-powered legal

talent, and thus they tend to be major corporations rather than individuals. However, many of these large national firms often provide “pro bono” (Latin for “the public good,” or free) legal services to further civil rights, civil liberties, consumer interests, and environmental causes. The large national firms consist of partners and associates. Partners own the law firm and are paid a share of the firm’s profits. The associates are paid salaries and in essence work for the partners. These large firms compete for the best graduates from the nation’s law schools. The most prestigious firms have 250 or more lawyers and also employ hundreds of other people as paralegals (nonlawyers who are specially trained to handle many of the routine aspects of legal work), administrators, librarians, and secretaries. A notch below those working in the large national firms are those employed as attorneys by large corporations. Many corporations use national law firms as outside counsel. Increasingly, however, corporations are hiring their own salaried attorneys as in-house counsel. The legal staff of some corporations rivals those of private firms in size. Further, these corporations compete with the major law firms for the best law school graduates. Instead of representing the corporation in court (a task usually handled by outside counsel when necessary),

the legal division handles the multitude of legal problems faced by the modern corporation. For example, the legal division monitors the company’s personnel practices to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations concerning hiring and removal procedures. The corporation’s attorneys may advise the board of directors about such things as contractual agreements, mergers, stock sales, and other business practices. The company lawyers may also help educate other employees about the laws that apply to their specific jobs and make sure that they are in compliance with them.

 The legal division of a large company also serves as a liaison with outside counsel. Most of the nation’s lawyers work in a lower hemisphere of the legal profession in terms of prestige and do not command the high salaries associated with large national law firms and major corporations. However, they are engaged in a wider range of activities and are much more likely to be found, day in and day out, in the courtrooms of the United States. These are the attorneys who represent clients in personal injury suits, who prosecute and defend persons accused of crimes, who represent husbands and wives in divorce proceedings, who help people conduct real estate transactions, and who help people prepare wills, to name just a few activities.

 Attorneys who work for the government are generally included in the lower hemisphere. Some, such as the U.S. attorney general and the solicitor general of the United States, occupy quite prestigious positions, but many toil in rather obscure and poorly paid positions. A number of attorneys opt for careers as judges at the federal or state level. Another distinction in terms of specialization in the legal profession is that between plaintiffs and defense attorneys. The former group initiates lawsuits, whereas the latter group defends those accused of wrongdoing in civil and criminal cases.

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