Medieval Attitudes Toward the Legal Profession: The Past as Prologue

Medieval Attitudes Toward the Legal Profession: The Past as Prologue

By Jonathan Rose

Stetson Law Review, Vol. 28 (1998)

Introduction: In recent years, the legal profession has been quite concerned, perhaps almost preoccupied, with its public image. To some extent, this concern has prompted a crisis of self-confidence. Several well-publicized books have explored this professional self-doubt and recounted the profession’s troubled public image. In part, this professional concern is a response to external events. The rampant, sometime virulent, criticism of the legal profession in the last several years is legend. These repeated attacks on lawyers, which appear almost daily in the popular and professional press, in federal an state legislatures, and in political arenas, are sufficiently well known that specific illustrations are unnecessary. Hostility towards lawyers is a public issue and a matter of major professional concern.

The professional responses to this matter might lead one to believe that these attitudes are a new problem. That conclusion would be inaccurate or at least significantly overstated. Interestingly, these current complaints bear a strong resemblance to the medieval hostility directed at the legal profession. Although these attitudes may have ebbed and flowed, a sufficient number of examples occurred during the medieval period and over time to establish that these current attitudes are not new, but longstanding. The fundamental point is that since the profession emerged in the thirteenth century, there has been a persistent hostility toward lawyers. The image problem has existed as long as there has been a profession. The purpose of this Essay is to explore these medieval attitudes and their persistence over time.

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