Modern Lawyer

From where does the profession of the lawyer originate? What could we construct that we may call a material history of the lawyer? Many historical contingencies had to come together to allow for the existence of the legal profession as we know it today.

Speech is the first human act that is highly valued in the legal profession. Without speech, and language in general, humans would not have the ability to think critically or communicate ideas. As language evolved over time, languages accumulated more words, signs, referents, etc. which allowed for increasingly complex ideas to be communicated.

Rhetoric and philosophy, as practiced in ancient Greece, also play a role in the rise of the role of argumentation, critical thinking, and debate as a valued activity. Many of the techniques developed by rhetoriticians in ancient Greece are still used by lawyers today.

A centralized form of government is also one of the preconditions for the practice of law. A governing body must exist prior to the creation of law. Previously, in societies without central states, there were certainly accepted conventions of behavior and techniques used to enforce social obligations, such as shunning. It could be argued that it is from social obligations that laws originate, but with the emergence of states, large territories were subject to a homogeneous code of laws enforced by central governing bodies.

How were codes of laws repeated throughout territories? The practice of writing is the next piece of the puzzle in the formation of the modern lawyer. Because not all people are taught how to read and write, in early societies with states, class differences arose between the literate and non-literate segments of the population. Scribes and priests learned the intricacies of their despot’s religious legal systems and were the first form of what we today call a lawyer.

Record keeping and accounting played a role in the necessity of a literate class that could meet to interpret, discuss, and argue the finer points of the law. The invention of money should also be mentioned, as courts are used to award damages to victims and fine those who have broken laws.

The presentation of documents and verbal discussions had to be coordinated in a hierarchical fashion, as the legitimacy of the law comes from above in the chain of command. The necessitated the existence of courts and judges. Courts serve as official meeting places for attorneys as well as opportunities for judges to decide cases.

In modern legal systems, attorneys are still under the authority of judges, who in turn must answer to the state; however, lawyers also have a larger role, because people are allowed to defend themselves in court. In criminal cases, a defendant can defend him or herself with legal representation. In civil cases, an attorney represents clients and work to protect them from fines, or maximize the sum they are rewarded.

Law, as a profession, has come a long way, and has more responsibilities now than ever due to the ever increasing complexity of legal systems. As with anything that develops over time, through a process, without disparate, contingent factors coming together, the profession of the modern legal scholar would not exist as we know it.