By Rachel Totten Keith
Prior to the establishment of the American Bar Association in 1878, American Lawyers few and far between. During the colonial period, the only formally-trained attorneys we had came from England until Thomas Jefferson established the first law school at the College of William and Mary in 1779. Until then, lawyers were self-taught or apprenticed. After the civil war, law schools became the primary means of training new lawyers. In 1870, Harvard Law School Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell set that standard for law instruction and began using appellate court decisions to train law students rather than the standard lecture. The case method form of instruction, as well as the Socratic “question-and-answer” method, are still used today. According to the ABA, “145, 239 full- and part-time students enrolled in the 200 ABA-approved law schools in the fall of 2009. Forty-seven percent were women” (Neubauer 120) Law school admission is selective and competitive, curriculum is exhaustive and tedious, and the teaching methods (including the Socratic) have been criticized for years. Some schools, however, are now offering students the opportunity to work on actual cases, such as paper work and even in the court rooms.
In the 1870’s New York, a few lawyers formed an organization and stood up to judicial corruption. Other cities followed suit and soon the national organization known as the American Bar Association was formed. Today, “the ABA is committed to supporting the legal profession with practical resources for legal professionals while improving the administration of justice, accrediting law schools, establishing model ethical codes, and more” (About). The ABA’s purpose is to also uphold and regulate professional/ethical standards at both the national and state levels. All law school graduates are required to pass the bar exam for the state they wish to practice in to ensure mastery of general, theory, and local state laws. If anyone has a complaint against a lawyer, whether a client or judge, s/he can file a grievance with the state’s bar association and the bar could possibly revoke the lawyer’s license (indefinitely or not), pending the results of the investigation. Most of the ABA-approved law schools now require their applicants use the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), which is an internet-based service that compiles “the applicant’s academic transcripts, LSAT score, and writing sample; and, and, if the applicant chooses, copies of his or her letters of recommendation” (Neubauer 122). Through the years, the American Bar Association has evolved from an elitist club into a professional organization that ensures its members meet the highest standards by improving legal education, enforcing ethical practice by regulating licensure, and provides services to its members, e.g., ensuring non-lawyers do not practice law, similar to a union.
After obtaining his/her license, the new lawyer can work in a private practice (either solo or in a large law firm), for a business, in government and public agencies, or clerk for judges. There are five primary activities essential to the job s/he will become proficient at: litigation, representation, negotiation, drafting documents, counseling clients, and (sometimes) cause lawyering. Litigation is when the lawyer does most of the work for and in a court trial. Very few lawyers are litigators. Representation involves lawyers representing their clients in cases usually involving the government or large companies. Most often, cases do not ever actually end up going to trial and are settled during what are called negotiations. Negotiating is when both sides meet to try to come to terms and agree upon a decision that both can live with, without going to trial, saving money and time. Plea bargaining is another term for negotiating. Writing is an important skill to have as an attorney because drafting documents is another skill critical for an attorney. Not only does the lawyer have to write during all phases of a case, but many responsibilities of the lawyer involve just merely drafting a legal document including wills, mortgages, articles of incorporation, contracts, and divorces. Counseling clients is an important aspect of the job. Effectively communicating what your client needs to hear while being sensitive to his/her needs is certainly a challenge, especially if the client is going through a divorce or is facing jail time. There is also another, alternate task lawyers can choose to take on called cause lawyering in which a lawyer advocates on behalf of a political cause or social movement.
Neubauer and Meinhold state we have 1,162,124 lawyers in 2008 (143), yet with all these lawyers, we still have people that cannot afford a lawyer or for whatever reason, do not have as much access to legal aid available compared to others in the U.S. In the U.S., we provide free legal representation in the form of a public defender, which is a government-paid lawyer that represents those accused of a crime that can not afford to hire their own attorney. For other services that require legal representation, there are many programs that can help those that do not that have the money obtain divorces, write wills, etc. These programs include legal aid, use of contingency fees, payment plans, and legal clincs that provide assistance pro bono.
Neubauer, David W., and Stephen S. Meinhold. Judicial Process: Law, Courts, and Politics in the United States. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2007. Print.
“About the American Bar Association.” American Bar. ABA Publishing, 2015. Web. September 27, 2015.