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By C. W. Brooks

Historians have lengthy well-known that contributors of the decrease department of the felony career, the ancestors of the trendy solicitors, performed a tremendous half in early glossy English society, yet problems in developing their identities and improving their profession styles have hitherto left them almost unstudied. This paintings charts the large sixteenth-century raise in vital courtroom litigation and provides an evidence of it principally by way of social switch and the decline of neighborhood jurisdictions. whilst, it argues that the interval witnessed an enormous turning element within the dating among the criminal occupation and English society. The variety of practitioners within the reduce department who have been linked to the felony associations of London grew to such an quantity that by way of 1640 the ratio of legal professionals to inhabitants used to be no longer a lot assorted from that during the early 20th century. even if this large progress within the quantity of criminal company and the variety of felony practitioners created a few critical administrative difficulties, the generally held view that the reduce department during this interval was once principally untrained, cheating, and out of control isn't any greater than a delusion.

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Additional info for Pettyfoggers and Vipers of the Commonwealth: The ’Lower Branch’ of the Legal Profession in Early Modern England

Sample text

Then to these must be added the entering clerks and attorneys of the courts of Wards, Star Chamber, and Requests, at least another nine practitioners. Taken altogether, these clerks and attorneys of the prerogative and equity courts come to some 130 men, a figure which includes most of the underclerks. 72 Lawyers and the courts in London 29 Turning to the main common law courts, King's Bench and Common Pleas, a study of the rolls of warrants of attorney for 1560 reveals the names of 178 men who were active as attorneys, most of whom worked in both jurisdictions.

There were as many as six attorneys in the large and litigious county of Yorkshire, but, by contrast, it is difficult to identify positively any practitioners from the counties of the far north, Northumberland, Westmorland, and Cumberland. 16 If there were relatively few attorneys active in the provinces in 1560, there were even fewer of the other principal class of lawyers who worked in Westminster, the pleaders and Serjeants at law. Even if the estimate in Chapter 2 that the upper branch in 1560 contained some eighty to ninety men underestimates by half the numbers of such lawyers, there could have been no more than an average of three for each English county at that date.

Those attorneys of the Common Pleas who were not clerks or underclerks were the only members of the lower branch of the legal profession who did not have a direct vested interest in the established procedures of the courts and the fees which went with them. The growth of this group of men who represented litigants, but who did not necessarily identify with the court officials, was one of the most important features of the profession during this period. If the overlap between the attorneys and their kin in the clerical offices of the Common Pleas was only partial, in the newer equity and prerogative jurisdictions it was very nearly complete.

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