Medieval Attitudes Toward the Legal Profession: The Past as Prologue
Stetson Law Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1999
25 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 1999
An interesting aspect of the medieval period is its legalistic nature and the resulting role of lawyers. Moreover, what is particularly noteworthy is the persistent hostility toward lawyers. Throughout this period, complaints about lawyers were common. A familiar litany emerged: there was excessive litigation that was caused by excessive lawyers who created a demand for their services and by their misconduct and incompetence. What is striking about these attitudes is similarity to current complaints about the legal profession. Thus, since the inception of the legal profession at the end of the 13th century, the profession has been under attack. On the other hand, it also played an important role and had significant value to the crown, government officials, and certain social groups.
This essay, which is derived primarily from a longer article, The Legal Profession in Medieval England: A History of Regulation, 48 Syracuse L. Rev. 1 (1998), traces the emergence and nature of these attitudes. It also explores their influence of the medieval regulation of the legal profession. Primary emphasis is on medieval attitudes and their impact during that period. In addition, their persistence into the early modern period in England and into colonial America is also described. The essay concludes by raising a fundamental issue about the social function of the profession and the antagonism and controversy that it engendered, and suggests the need for further thought and research about these attitudes and the ambivalence toward the profession.
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