The American legal profession, like the American government, has its roots in English government organization. Colonial America was a transplant of English institutions, but with an emphasis on greater decentralization. The upper class of Southern planters and Northern merchants and planters virtually monopolized the practice of law in the colonial years. In the South, wealthy planters tended to send their sons to the Inns of Court in London for legal training. In the northern colonies, bar associations developed in most of the populous places after 1750, beginning originally as social clubs, but gradually coming to control admission to practice. The colonial legislatures delegated to the courts the power of admission to practice before them. In the late eighteenth century, the local bar associations, in particular in New York and Massachusetts, were in turn delegated responsibility for recommending lawyers for admittance (Hurst, 1950).

Before the Revolution, lawyers were unpopular. Both the Puritans and the planters feared a secular legal profession. The Puritans felt that the Bible was all the “law” they needed (Turner and Kirsch, 2009). The planters opposed lawyers because of the threat they posed to their political power. Lawyers became even more unpopular during the American Revolution than they had been before (Friedman, 2005). Because many lawyers were closely associated with the upper class in background and in interests, it was among this group that the British sympathizers were most concentrated. As a result, a substantial proportion of lawyers immigrated to England during wartime persecutions of Tories. The prevailing custom of the bar to limit practice to a small group of elites also contributed to lawyers’ unpopularity, as did their efforts to collect wealthy creditors’ claims in the period following the Revolution.

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