History of the American BAR

Chapter IX

Early American Barristers and Bar Associations

The local law office does not account, however, for all the educated American lawyers of the Eighteenth Century.

A far greater number than is generally known, received their legal education in London in the Inns of Court; and the influence, on the American Bar, of these English bred lawyers, especially in the more southerly Colonies, was most potent. The training which they received in the Inns,, confined almost exclusively to the Common Law, based as it was on historical precedent and customary law, the habits which they formed there of solving all legal questions by the standards of English liberties and of rights of the English subject, proved of immense value to them when they became later (as so many did become) leaders of the American Revolution.

Probably from twenty-five to fifty American-born lawyers-had been educated in England prior to 1760;(1) and it has been stated that 115 Americans were admitted to the Inns, from 1760 to the close of the Revolution; (2) from South Carolina 47, from Virginia 21, from Maryland 16, from Pennsylvania 11, from New York 5, and from each of the other Colonies 1 or 2.

Among the more distinguished may be named JohnC


(1) Life and Times of John Dickinson, by Charles J. Stille (1891).
(2) See Chapters I, II, III and IV, supra.


C Rutledge, Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Thomas Heyward, Thomas Lynch, John Julian Pringle, and John Laurens, from South Carolina; John Randolph, Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee and Arthur Lee, from Virginia; Charles Carroll, from Maryland; Joseph Read, from New Jersey; and Thomas McKean, Edward Tilghman and William Tilghman, Jared Ingersoll, Benjamin Chew, William Rawle, Phineas Bond, and John Dickinson, from Pennsylvania, most of these being admitted to the Inner Temple and Middle Temple(1)

An interesting record of the method of procedure in the English Inns is to be found in The Black Books of Lincoln’s Inn, as follows:

“Called to the Bar, May 5, 1762: Joseph Reade, Jr., on his petition setting forth that he is desirous of being called to the Bar this term, having kept Commons, performed all his exercises, and conformed himself to the Rules of the Society, wanting two terms of his full standing; that he is a native of New Yorke in North America, and that it is necessary for him to go thither immediately, which he intends to do, and reside there ….He must pay five years' duties.”

In 1800 the term of years was extended so that “students of college out of the State be not admissible to the Bar until they shall have studied one year longer than those educated at Harvard University;” and “gentlemen admitted to the Bar of other States who have practised there at less than four years must have, a term of study within this county of at least one-year.

In Vermont, by statute of 1787, and by regulations of the Bar, the same conditions prevailed.

In Rhode Island, two years' study for college graduates, and three years' for non-graduates, were prescribed; and a candidate could not be proposed to the court until he had obtained the approbation and Consent of his county Bar.

The same rule prevailed in Connecticut, as early as 1795, either by rule or custom, and after 1807 by rule of the Supreme Court; and the first Bar Association was formed in that State in 1783.

In New Jersey, a lawyer had to be recommended by the justices of the Supreme Court to the Governor for a license to practise, and to receive such recommendation, he must serve as a clerk three years if a college graduate, four years if a non-graduate. He must also pass an examination before a committee of three out of the twelve sergeants.

In New York, a Bar Association had existed from about 1745 to 1770; but little is known of it, and its records are not now extant. In the middle of the Century, the members of the Bar, to prevent inroads upon their practise, made an agreement not to receive into their offices, as clerks, any young men who intended to pursue the law as a profession. This rule did not long prevail; for it was found that it would tend to cause young men to leave the Colony to study – as for instance, John Jay, whose father had derided to send him to England', but changed his mind when the Bar revoked its rule, and placed him in the office of Benjamin Kissam. In 1797, the Supreme Court of New York adopted rules, requiring a period of seven years' study, in the office of a practising attorney, before admission. to practise; but a period not exceeding four years spent on classical studies might be credited on the seven years. (1) After four (changed to three in 1804) years' practise as attorney, or study under direction of a professor or counsellor, a person might be admitted as a counsellor to practise before the Supreme Court.

In Maryland, three years' study under inspection of some practising attorney or judge was required, and also an examination by two gentlemen of the Bar.

In Delaware, three years' study was prescribed.

In Pennsylvania, by rule of the Supreme Court in 1788, the requirements were, four years' study as a clerk and one year’s practise in the Court of Common Pleas, or three years' clerkship and two years' practise and examination by two attorneys; or two years' clerkship after twenty. one years of age and two years' practise, and examination.

In Virginia, only one years study was required.

In South Carolina, a candidate must pass an examination: unless he had served four years as attorney’s clerk.

In Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, the old distinction between attorneys and counsellors existed. In the other States, there were no such separate classes of lawyers; but, in all of them, two years' practise before the inferior court was prescribed before admission was granted to practise in the higher court.


(1) For complete account, see Admission to the Bar in New York -- Yale Law Journal, Vol. XVI (1906).