How The Legal Profession Evolved Over The Centuries?

The history of the legal profession of lawyers goes back to ancient Greece. The orators of ancient Athens could be called the first lawyers. But the first lawyers faced several obstacles in their work. Let’s look at how the history of this legal profession has evolved over the centuries.

How the First Lawyers Pleaded?

The first defenders had to plead their own cases. And they didn’t have any bachelor of law degrees. Gradually, people started asking their friends for help. But by the middle of the 4th century, the Athenian authorities stopped allowing their people to ask a friend to defend them. Another new regulation was enacted and it has remained a part of the legal system in Greece since then. Although there are undeclared exceptions, the orators in Athens were since then not allowed to take fees for pleading for another person. The law always remained in force but was not followed effectively by the masses.

The Athenians just showed that they were citizens helping represent their friends for free. This prevented the orators to organize themselves into legal ‘professionals’. There were no titles or associations and they couldn’t be compared to their current counterparts. And obviously there were no bachelor of law degrees. So when it comes to the discussion of the first people who could be called lawyers, they were the orators of Athens.

Evolution of the Legal Profession

Starting the 1100s a tiny number of men started gaining expertise in canon law. But their primary goal was to service the Roman Catholic Church. They served the Church as priests. Until the beginning of the 13th century, there were some major changes and some of these men started practicing canon law as a profession they practiced throughout their life. Gradually the title of esquire developed as someone who was a jurist or lawyer of the time.

How the Church Helped in Developing the Legal Profession?

The legal profession made a major comeback in the 13th century when both the state and the church regulated it. A few French councils made it necessary that lawyers take an oath of admission before the bishop’s courts in their areas before they start practicing. Even the papal office in London propagated a similar regulation for the lawyers a few years later.

Far away in Sicily the king also enforced a similar law for those practicing in his civil courts. Thanks to all these developments taking place in Europe, by the middle of the 13th century the core of a new and improved legal profession had formed. One major development that took place at this time was the creation of a proposal during the Second Council at Lyon. It required that all the church-based courts make an oath of admission. It may have been rejected by the council, still it made a big impact on such courts in Europe.