After the Revolution, the legal profession became somewhat more egalitarian in several ways. First, the distinction between barristers and attorneys—in imitation of the English system—disappeared with democratization of the legal profession. Second, standards of admission to the bar became somewhat loosened. Third, bar associations weakened and even disappeared as their powers waned. Between about 1800 and 1870, local courts granted admission to the bar. In its most extreme form, this meant that admission in one court conferred no right to practice before others, although it was more usual for the right to practice in one court to enable one to practice before any other court in the same state.
During this period, admission to the bar required neither a college education nor a law degree. The bar examination itself was usually oral and administered in a casual fashion. Legal education throughout the nineteenth century was similarly informal. The principal method of education was apprenticeship in a lawyer’s office (as was true for Abraham Lincoln), during which the student performed small services, served papers, and copied legal documents. In his spare time, he (almost all apprentices during this time were men) read what law, history, and general books were available. Students in the offices of leading lawyers were often charged fees for apprenticeship.
The first law schools grew out of specialized law offices offering apprentice programs.
They used many of the same techniques as the offices. The earliest such school was founded in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1784. It proved successful and grew rapidly in size. In time, it gained national reputation and attracted students from all over the country. It offered a 14-month course and taught law by the lecture method.
University law schools started gradually to replace the Litchfield type as the main alternative to office training, but legal training at the university level was still rare (Freeland, 1992).
A few university professorships of law were established as far back as 1779 at the College of William & Mary, 1793 at Columbia University, as well as at Harvard University in 1816 and at Yale University in 1824. But attendance was spotty, and the courses given were short and informal, covering the same materials as apprenticeship programs and allowing students to drop in and out as suited their own convenience. Legal standards for passing the course were minimal, and only a single final oral examination was required at some universities. Even at Harvard in the mid-nineteenth century, the standards were very low, and “there were absolutely no examinations to get in, or to proceed, or to get out. All that was required was the lapse of time, two years, and the payment of the fees” (Friedman, 1998:242).