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Part 1

Thus far, the primary focus of our investigation has been on the role of information technologies in the evolution of law practice and the legal profession. Other forces have shaped crucial elements of both the practice of law and the legal profession. This section will trace a brief demographic history of the legal profession in the United States in order to explore the roles of such influences as politics, economics and discrimination in the formation of our methods.

You may be asking, "Why do I need to know this history"? What will an analysis of these facts contribute to my understanding of how technology affects the legal profession? Such questions are in fact crucial to your understanding of this topic, and precisely what we would like you to keep in mind as you read this segment and those that follow.

Summons from Hartford County (Connecticut) 1794

Currently in United States, the estimated population of lawyers is more than one million. The growth of the profession is astronomical considering its unsteady beginnings in the early stages of U.S. history. Definitive statistics regarding the number of people practicing law during the pre-Revolutionary War era are sparse partly because no formal law training was available. There were no law schools in Colonial America, which attributed to the profession's lack of structure. Though an apprenticeship system ultimately took hold, participation was not required, thus the amount of legal knowledge possessed by lawyers varied greatly. Even in the late eighteenth century, apprenticeships were mandatory only in urban sections of the colonies. At this time, for example, New Jersey sheriffs, clerks and justices of the peace provided legal services. Throughout the colonies there were complaints about shysters and others, untrained in the law, who posed as attorneys and caused trouble and confusion among the citizenry.

Not only were lawyers few in number during the colonial period, they were also generally not well received. Lawrence Friedman, in his A History of American Law explains colonial sentiments toward the law:


"The Puritan leaders of Massachusetts Bay had an image of the ideal state. Revolutionary or Utopian regimes tend to be hostile to lawyers, at least at first. Lawyers of the old regime have to be controlled or removed; a new, revolutionary commonwealth must start with new law and new habits. Some colonists, oppressed in England, carried with them a strong dislike for all servants of government. Merchants and planters wished to run their affairs, without intermediaries. The theocratic colonies believed in a certain kind of social order, closely directed from the top. The legal profession, with its special privileges and principles, its private, esoteric language, seemed an obstacle to efficient or godly government."

Nevertheless, the role of lawyers grew in prominence after independence. This had as much to do with a change in government as it did with economic growth and the frontier movement. As Robert Stevens points out in "Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s" (p.7), "Without a monarch or a clearly defined aristocracy, with a practical utilitarian outlook, with little by way of competing professions, the new nation was almost inevitably bound to rely on lawyers to perform a wide range of functions. Lawyers became the technicians of change as the country expanded economically and geographically..."

Section 1
Section 2
The Print Revolution
Section 3
Brief Demographic History of the Legal Profession
Part 1 Part 4
Part 2 Part 5
Part 3 Part 6
Section 4
State of the Profession
Section 5
Section 6
Structural Supports