A Short History of the Legal Profession

Even though systems of laws have been in existence for thousands of years in many nations, professional advocates or lawyers as we know them today have only come onto the scene as a more recent phenomenon. The profession has undergone a continual transition, spanning centuries from the early Greeks all the way to the Middle Ages and up through our current epoch. When people call on Portland lawyers, or lawyers from any state in the Union, they might not realize the deep history of the field.

Grecian Period
Ancient Grecian “sophists” are often currently recognized as some of the first advocates who practiced their craft. They consisted of intellectuals of their time who were recognized to possess wisdom about human affairs and were able to persuade others through their rhetoric. Although in many cases, Greek (and more particularly, Athenian) law stated that each citizen was responsible for representing his own cause before the Greek Assembly. Eventually this mandate was eroded as more people solicited and requested representation from others they knew and trusted. Despite this progression in the law profession, these advocates were not permitted to be paid for their services.

Roman Period
It was during the time of the Roman Empire in the first century that the legal advocacy profession began to manifest itself with reflections of what we know today. Emperor Claudius instituted a law that allowed professional advocates (i.e. lawyers) to retain a fee for services. From this point forward, these professional lawyers, somewhat akin to our litigation lawyers of today, were allowed to establish a profitable profession. However, for a long time the pay for these advocates was capped at a ceiling that limited the profitability of the profession. Other legal specialists also arose called jurisconsults who spent their time learning about the law and giving their opinions to governors and judges within the empire. Later on, notaries came on the scene within the empire and were experts at creating contracts and drafting wills and conveyances.

Middle Ages
A disappearance of the legal profession occurred during the period often referred to as the Middle, or “Dark” Ages, approximately AD 500 to AD 1000. The legal profession in terms of civil law practice did not really resurrect until the mid-1200s. With the development and declaration of the Magna Carta in England in 1225, a legal-based system of rights began to be given to the broader population. This signaled the first flicker of rights and privileges offered to “freemen” in accordance with the law of the land. With the rise of the Protestant Reformation, additional control was moved away from ecclesiastical Roman Church authority toward the development of civil legal structures and institutions where the profession and practice of law accompanied adherence to established educational and ethical standards.

Beginnings of Modern Democracies
During the 17th century and beyond, with the dissolution of power long possessed by monarchies in Europe and the emergence of the American revolution, the need for legal advocacy and experts in the law grew substantially. The establishment and growth of democratic institutions continued to give the citizenry greater rights and more equal standing under the law. Consequently, the legal profession began to experience its greatest period of intense growth and establishment within societies. A system of legal organizations, structures and associations continued to grow that included regulatory provisions for fees, licensing and procedures that has grown into what we know today as the modern legal profession.

Modern advocates, such as Portland attorneys, are more specialized in their services now than ever in history. Today you can find a lawyer almost anywhere with the necessary knowledge and experience to address any conceivable legal issue on your behalf.

Article written by Christopher Kratsas

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