Thursday, July 31, 2014

Becoming a lawyer in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners has scheduled the semi-annual Bar Examination to take place July 30th and 31st, 2014. Passing the bar exam is the last step to becoming a practicing attorney in Massachusetts.

"The BBE evaluates each bar applicant to determine whether they have the qualifications and acquirements required for admission, and whether they '…(e)mbody that degree of honesty, integrity, and discretion that the public and members of the bench and bar have the right to demand of a lawyer.' "

The education of lawyers has changed in interesting ways throughout American history, as reported in these excerpts from the book Legal Education,Law Practice and the Economy: A New England Study (1990):
Early American attorneys like Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall acquired their legal skills as apprentices to George Wythe, often called the “first law professor”. Generally a formal examination (“bar exam”) also was required for admission to the legal profession (the “bar”).

In 1779 William and Mary appointed Wythe to its faculty. Soon other schools followed, and undergraduate law departments were begun, at Harvard (in 1817) and Yale (in 1824)….
By the 1820s, however, separate law “schools” began to emerge. …Although these institutions depended somewhat on practical instruction and apprenticeship training, they also sought to elevate the law as an intellectual discipline (akin to medicine) over other professions or “trades”.
With Jacksonian democracy, however, an anti-intellectual movement began. Many states passed laws that abolished or sharply reduced the formal training required of lawyers and other professionals. Almost anyone could be licensed. Apprenticeship requirements were abolished in Massachusetts in 1836 and in New Hampshire in 1838.
The legal establishment reacted to this “tradesman’s approach” by gradually re-establishing and raising bar admissions requirements, and by allying themselves with university teaching faculties as a separate graduate discipline. By 1870, students at Harvard pursued legal studies as a three-year, postgraduate course instructed by a full-time, academic faculty. Soon thereafter, Harvard’s Christopher Columbus Langdell introduced the “case method” [sic., casebook method], whereby legal principles were extracted from case decisions, rather than presented in lengthy lectures.
By 1900, the norm among recognized law schools was a graduate course of study that, by the 1940s, required seven years of higher education. Although some states still allow for other routes into the profession (including the traditional apprenticeship), virtually the only one used begins with a law school degree (J.D. or L.L.B.). Thus American legal education has moved rapidly from local apprenticeship to substantial formal education.

You can read more about lawyers on the website of the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries. Books in our libraries about legal education include The inception of modern professional education: C.C. Langdell, 1826-1906.