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
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.

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, 

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, 

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,

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.

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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