The U.S. Legal Profession into the Early Twentieth Century

The increased emphasis on professionalization and monopoly of the practice of law brought about concerted efforts to improve the quality of legal education, to raise admission standards, and to intensify the power of bar associations. Attempts to improve legal education meant, in practice, the adoption of the standards of the leading law schools. The adoption of formal-education requirements for admission to bar exams further strengthened the schools, and by 1940, forty states required 3 years of law school study. At the same time, many states began to require at least 2 years of college education for entrance into law school, and two-thirds of states had this requirement by 1940. By 1950, 3 years of college had become the norm, and by the 1960s, 4 years of college were required. A law student of today would find it hard to believe that until the 1950s, the number of lawyers who had not been in college exceeded the number of those who had been (Stevens, 2001).

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) was first ready for general use in 1948. The ABA, in 1929, established law school accreditation standards, and the bar-admitting authorities encouraged the ABA’s accreditation efforts. Today, graduation from one of the many ABA- approved law schools satisfies the legal-education requirement for admission to the bar (after passing the bar exam) in all jurisdictions in the United States.

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