The evolution and history of lawyers is very similar to the evolution and history of mankind. Like the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungus, lawyers and humans have an important, interlocking relationship going back to the dawn of man.
Legal anthropologists have not yet discovered the proverbial first lawyer. No briefs or pleadings remain from the proto-lawyer that is thought to have been in existence more than 5 million years ago.
Chimpanzees, mans and lawyers closest relative, share 99% of the same genes. New research has definitely proven that chimpanzees do not have the special L1a gene that distinguishes lawyers from everyone else. (FN 1)
This disproved the famous outcome of the Scopes Monkey Trial in which Clarence Darrow proved that monkeys were also lawyers.
Charles Darwin, Esquire theorized in the mid-1800s that tribes of lawyers existed as early as 2.5 million years ago. However, in his travels he found little evidence to support this theory.
Legal anthropology suffered a set-back at the turn of the century in the famous Piltdown Lawyer scandal. In order to prove the existence of the missing legal link, a scientist claimed he had found the skull of an ancient lawyer. The skull later turned out to be homemade, combining the large jaw of a modern lawyer with the skull cap of a gorilla. When the hoax was discovered, the science of legal anthropology was set back 50 years.
The first hard scientific proof of the existence of lawyers was discovered by Dr. Margaret Leakey at the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Her find consisted of several legal fragments, but no full case was found intact at the site. Carbon dating has estimated the find at between 1 million and 1.5 million years ago. However, through legal anthropology methods, it has been theorized that the site contains a the remains of a fraud trial in which the defendant sought to disprove liability on the basis of his inability to stand erect. The case outcome is unknown, but it coincides with the decline of the Australopithecus and the rise of Homo Erectus in the world.
In many sites dating from 250,000 to 1,000,000 years ago, legal tools have been uncovered. Unfortunately, the tools are often in fragments, making it difficult to gain much knowledge.
The first complete site discovered has been dated to 150,000 years ago. Stone pictograph briefs were found concerning a land boundary dispute between a tribe of Neanderthals and a tribe of Cro-Magnons. This decision in favor of the Cro-Magnon tribe led to a successive set of cases, spelling the end for the Neanderthal tribe.
Until 10,000 years ago, lawyers wandered around in small tribes, seeking out clients. Finally, small settlements of lawyers began to spring up in the Ur Valley, the birthplace of modern civilization. With settlement came the invention of writing.
Previously lawyers had relied on oral bills for collection of payment, which made collection difficult and meant that if a client died before payment the bill would remain uncollected. With written bills, lawyers could continue collection indefinitely.
In the late 1880s, legal anthropologists cracked the legal hieroglyphic language when they were able to determine the meaning of the now famous Rosetta Stone Contract. The famous first paragraph can be recited verbatim by almost every lawyer: In consideration of 20,000 Assyrians workers, 3,512 live goats and 400,000 hectares of dates, the undersigned hereby conveys all of the undersigneds right, title, and interest in and to the property commonly known as the Sphinx, more particularly described on Stone A attached hereto and made a part hereof.
The attempted sale of the Sphinx resulted in the Pharaoh issuing a country-wide purge of all lawyers. Many were slaughtered, and the rest wandered in the desert for years looking for a place to practice.
Greece and Rome saw the revival of the lawyer in society. Lawyers were again allowed to freely practice and they took full advantage of this opportunity. Many records exist from this classic period. Legal cases ranged from run-of-the-mill goat contract cases to the well-known product liability case documented in the Estate of Socrates vs. Hemlock Wine Company 123 Roman2d 675 (Roman Feudal Court)
The earliest people who could be described as “lawyers” were probably the orators of ancient Athens (see History of Athens). However, Athenian orators faced serious structural obstacles. First, there was a rule that individuals were supposed to plead their own cases, which was soon bypassed by the increasing tendency of individuals to ask a “friend” for assistance. However, around the middle of the fourth century, the Athenians disposed of the perfunctory request for a friend. Second, a more serious obstacle, which the Athenian orators never completely overcame, was the rule that no one could take a fee to plead the cause of another. This law was widely disregarded in practice, but was never abolished, which meant that orators could neverpresent themselves as legal professionals or experts. They had to uphold the legal fiction that they were merely an ordinary citizen generously helping out a friend for free, and thus they could never organize into a real profession—with professional associations and titles and all the other pomp and circumstance—like their modern counterparts. Therefore, if one narrows the definition to those men who could practice the legal profession openly and legally, then the first lawyers would have to be the orators of ancient Rome.
The most famous lawyer of this period was Hamurabi the Lawyer. His code of law gave lawyers hundreds of new business opportunities. With the creatiion of a massive legal system, the demand for lawyers increased ten-fold. In those days, almost any thief or crook could kill a sheep, hang-up a sheep skin, and practice law, unlike the highly regulated system today which limits law degrees to only those thieves and crooks who havent been convicted of a major felony.
The explosion in the number of lawyers coincided with the development of algebra, the mathematics of legal billing. Pythagoras a famous Greek lawyer is revered for his Pythagorean Theorem which proved the mathematical quandary of double billing. This new development allowed lawyers to become wealthy members of their community, as well as to enter politics, an area previously considered off-limits to lawyers. Despite the mathematical soundness of double billing, some lawyers went to extremes. Julius Caesar, a Roman lawyer and politician, was murdered by several clients for his record hours billed in late February and early March of 44 B.C. (FN7)
Before the Roman Era, lawyers did not have specific areas of practice. During the period, legal specialist arose to meet the demands of the burgeoning Roman population. Sports lawyers counseled gladiators, Admiralty lawyers drafted contracts for the great battles in the Colisseum, International lawyers travelled with the great Roman armies to force native lawyers to sign treaties of adhesion. Many of these treaties lasted hundreds of years until they were broken by the Barbarian lawyers who descended on Rome from the north and east, and the ever-popular Pro Bono lawyers (Latin for cant get a real job) who represented Christians and lost all their cases for 300 years.
As time went on, the population of lawyers continued to grow until 1 out of every 2 Romans was a lawyer. Soon lawyers were intermarrying. This produced children who were legally entitled to practice Roman law, but because of the many defects that such a match produced, the quality of lawyers degenerated, resulting in an ever-increasing defective legal society, and the introduction of accountants. Pressured by the legal barbarians from the north with their sign or die negotiating skills, Rome fell and the world entered the Dark Ages.
After the fall of the western Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages, the legal profession of Western Europe collapsed. As James Brundage has explained: “, no one in Western Europe could properly be described as a professional lawyer or a professional canonist in anything like the modern sense of the term ‘professional.’ ” However, from 1150 onward, a small but increasing number of men became experts in canon law but only in furtherance of other occupational goals, such as serving the Roman Catholic Church as priests. From 1190 to 1230, however, there was a crucial shift in which some men began to practice canon law as a lifelong profession in itself. Esquire, a courtesy title, has been made for indicate substantial lawyers and jurists.
During the Dark Ages, many of the legal theories and practice developed during the golden age were forgotten. Lawyers lost the art of double billing, the thirty-hour day, the 15- minute phone call; they virtually became meer manual laborers, sharing space with primitive doctor-barbers. Many people sought out magicians and witches instead of lawyers, since they were cheaper and easier to understand.
The Dark Ages for lawyers ended in England in 1078. Norman lawyers discovered a loophole in Welsh law that allowed William the Conqueror to foreclose an old French loan and take most of England, Scotland, and Wales. William rewarded the lawyers for their work and soon lawyers were again accepted in society.
Lawyers became so popular during this period that they were able to heavily influence the kings of Britain, France, and Germany. After a Turkish corporation stiffed the largest and oldest English law firm, the partners of the firm convinced these kings to start a bill crusade, sending collection knights all the way to Jerusalem to seek payment.
A major breakthrough for lawyers occurred in the 17th century. Blackstone the Magician, on a trip through Rome, unearthed several dozen ancient Roman legal texts. The new knowledge spread through the legal community like the black plague. Up to that point, lawyers had used the local language of the community for their work. Since many smart non-lawyers could thus determine what work, if any, the lawyer had done, lawyers often lost clients, and sometimes their head.
Using Blackstones finds, lawyers could use Latin to hide what they did so that only other lawyers understood what was happening in any lawsuit. Blackstone was a hero to all lawyers, of course, until he was sued for copyright infringement by another lawyer. (FN8)
Despite his loss, Blackstone is still fondly remembered by most lawyers as the father of legal Latin. Res ipsa loquitur was Blackstones favorite saying (my bill speaks for itself) and it is still heard today.
Many lawyers made history during the Middle Ages. Genghis Kahn, Esq., from a family of Jewish lawyers and senior partner in the firm Hun & Kahn, pioneered the practice of merging with law offices around Asia Minor at any cost. At one time, the firm was the largest in Asia and Europe. Unfortunately, their success became their downfall. Originally a large personal injury firm (if you didnt pay their bill, they personally injured you), they became conservative over time and were eventually overwhelmed by lawyers from the west.
Vlad Dracul, Esq., a medical malpractice specialist, was renowned for his knowledge of anatomy, and few jurors would side against him for fear of his special bill (his bill was placed atop 20foot wooden spears on which the non-paying client was placed). His legendary legal practice became the basis for many 20th Century legal horror films staring such legendary actors as Borris Karloff and Christopher Lee. (FN9)
Leonardo da Vinci, Esq. was multi-talented. Besides having a busy law practice, he was also an artist and inventor. His most famous case was in defense of himself. M. Lisa vs. da Vinci (Italian Superior Court 1513) involved a product liability suit over a painting Da Vinci delivered to the Plaintiff.
The court, in ruling that the painting was not defective despite the missing eyebrows, issued the famous line, This court may not know art, but it knows what it likes and it likes the painting. This was not surprising, since the plaintiff was known for her huge, caterpillar-like eyebrows. Da Vinci was able to convince the court that he was not only entitled to damages, but to attorneys fees, costs and punitive damages as well. The court, taking one last look at the plaintiff, granted the request.
A land dispute case in the late 15th century is still studied today for the clever work of lawyer named Christopher Columbus, Esq. He successfully convinced an Aztec court, in Columbus vs. 1,000,000 Acres, 3 SA3d 1095 (Aztec High Court 1493) that since the Indians did not believe in possession, they could not legally claim the land in question. Therefore, his claim had to be given priority. Despite the fact that the entire court was sacrificed to the gods, the case held and Spain took an early legal lead in the New World. This was due to Columbus recording the courts judgment in the Aztec Public Records. Once recorded, the judgment took priority over every other claim.
As the New World was colonized, England eventually surpassed Spain as the leading colonizer. England began sending all of its criminals and thieves to the New World. This mass dumping of lawyers to the states would come back to haunt England; eventually the grandchildren of these pioneer lawyers would successfully defeat King George III in the now famous King George III v. 100 Bags of Tea 14 F. Supp 34 (Colonial Supreme Court 1783). England by this time was now dreadfully short of lawyers.
Robert J. Bonner, Lawyers and Litigants in Ancient Athens: The Genesis of the Legal Profession (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1927), 202.
James A. Brundage, “The Rise of the Professional Jurist in the Thirteenth Century,” 20 Syracuse J. Int’l L. & Com. 185(1994).
A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284–602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey, vol. 1 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964