Lawyers? Who are they then?

In the 13C Laymen (not ordained clerics) were to be seen in the Kings court they were called “Professional Pleaders” which makes sense because inevitably if you were caught foul of the law back then the likelihood was you were going to be “offed” or at the very least lose a limb. Not necessarily at the hands of an axeman either. Many punishments might lead you to death through their very nature. The was an old chines method whereby an offender had a wooden board fastened to his neck. The board was so large he could reach with his hand to feed or drink. If no one helped there would be only one outcome. A particularly horrid affair was the “Pressing” If a person refused to plead guilty or not guilty to a crime they were pressed. A wooden board was placed on their body and stone or iron weights were added until the person agreed to plead – or died. The last man to be pressed to death in England died in Horsham, Sussex in 1735.

But if you had a pleader you may get off. In early times larger issues were dealt with by the King and so travel to the court was required especially in terms of land rights an other such. If you didn’t make it then you lost, end of. It was precisely because of this issue pleaders and subsequently barristers/solicitors came about. The dangers of travelling around the country for several days was clear. In fact there is a story of a cornishman travelling who got waylaid and picked up in England. Being a real Cornishman he spoke no english and he was tried as a spy. He missed his date with the King as no one knew where he was and his land was confiscated. As pleaders became more common and knowledgeable Judges were often pick from their number this in the 14C led to a number of schools that formed the 4 Inns of Court we know today.

In the reign of Elizabeth I these Inns, the Inner and Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn, all on the Westminster side of London, attained their zenith. Anthony Wagner says they “became in effect the third university of England, to which the nobility and gentry sent their sons to acquire knowledge of the world and of a subject then as useful as any for the management of property and the pursuit of worldly and political ambitions”. In fact, as time passed, the majority of students went to Oxford or Cambridge before entering an Inn.  The number of those who qualified at the Inns of Court and were “called to the bar” grew by about 40% between the 1590s and the 1630s. By 1689 there were perhaps 3,000 barristers in England with more than twice as many attorneys. Students for the bar had to keep a certain number of terms at their Inn before being called, a public examination being introduced only in 1853.

To keep things simple Attorneys (Solicitors) were not called to the “bar” barristers were. For this reason barristers speak in court and solicitors do not. I have it on good authority that both types can talk for England but only one gets an audience. Hope you enjoyed that little dip into history.