Guest Jennifer Uhlarik and Western Lawyers

juhlarik-HR-3BECOMING A LAWYER IN THE OLD WEST

Thank you, Fillies, for having me today! I’m so excited to share a little about my story, Wedded to Honor, from The Convenient Bride Collection. In this novella, trouser-wearing tomboy Honor Cahill marries Eastern-bred attorney Ashton Rutherford III, in order to keep her beloved California ranch from falling into the hands of her greedy half-brother. Ash earned his law degree from Harvard, but in order to write this novella, I found myself having to research the various ways one could become a lawyer in the 1870’s.

Would it surprise you to know that during the colonial days, there were no law schools, either here in America or back in England? It wasn’t until a few years after the American Revolution that the first colleges—the College of William and Mary and the University of Pennsylvania—added a “Chair in Law” to their collegiate staff. By 1784, the Litchfield Law School opened, becoming the first official law school. It wasn’t until the 1840s and beyond that Yale, Harvard, and other prestigious institutions known today opened the doors to their law schools. And if you were a woman hoping to practice law, your choices were even fewer. Women were not allowed to study law in colleges and universities until the late 1800s or early 1900s.

So how did one become a lawyer with few choices for schooling? The short answer is—you became an apprentice. Sounds simple enough, though in my estimation, the process was anything but…

The process, called “reading law,” was composed of only two steps. First, the would-be lawyer would need to find an experienced, practicing lawyer who was willing to apprentice or mentor him. Second, under the tutelage of a willing teacher, the new apprentice would begin a period of study. There was no determined length of this period of study, so I’m led to believe the term depended on the how quickly the student learned and could convince his teacher he understood the law.

Commentaries_on_the_Laws_of_England_Title_PageEdward Coke Title PageThere were two main texts used in this study time. The first, The Institutes of Lawes of England written by Sir Edward Coke, was a series of legal articles first published between 1628 and 1644. The other, Commentaries on the Laws of England written by Sir William Blackstone, was a 18th century publication on the common laws of England published in four volumes. Can you imagine trying to muddle through these extensive tomes on a self-study course? It would be difficult at best, and would probably require many long discussions between the experienced lawyer and the apprentice. In addition, other lesser-known texts could be used for clarification and support, and lectures by the “Chair of Law” professors at various colleges and universities were also used to bolster the apprentice’s understanding, if he were near enough to attend such events. For those living in out of the way places, they relied strictly on the two resources named above.

As the study progressed and the apprentice grew in knowledge, the mentoring lawyer would allow him to do more of the work of a full-fledged lawyer, whether that was researching laws, filing petitions, or helping to prepare for trials.

In 1878, the American Bar Association was formed. Due to the association’s pressure upon the states not to admit just anyone to the Bar, the method of apprenticeship began to wane. By the 1890s, the new standard was to attend at least a couple of years of law school before one could be admitted to the bar.

Interestingly, while the standard today is for people to attend law school, California, Maine, Vermont, Virginia, and New York allow for would-be lawyers to “read law” under a practicing attorney. In 2013, sixty people in the U.S. were admitted to the Bar Association under this process.

It’s your turn: Would you employ the services of an attorney today who had “read law” rather than attended law school? Leave me a comment, and you will be entered in the drawing for a copy of The Convenient Bride Collection.

 

The Convenient Bride Collection--Lrg

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The Convenient Bride Collection:

Join nine brides of convenience on their adventures in a variety of times and settings gone by—from a ranch in California…to the rugged mountains of Colorado…to a steamship on the Mississippi…to the dangerous excitement of the Oregon Trail…into high society of New York City. No matter the time or place, the convenient brides proceed with what must be done, taking nuptials out of necessity. . .and never dreaming that God might take their feeble attempts to secure their futures and turn them into true love stories for His glory.

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

 

 

 

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42 Comments

  1. Probably not today. In fact I wish we could find out how well they did in school too lol. I’m afraid a lot of lawyers have bad reputations – you just have to find the right one. But it is interesting that some states don’t require it – maybe if they had a good lawyer teaching them it is okay.

    1. I’ve never thought about the benefit of seeing how well a lawyer did in law school, castledy. That could be quite helpful in choosing the right one! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts!

  2. welcome,,very interesting post,,I think i would drather have a real lawyer from law school ,,I think it would have more clout than someone who just read law,,I had a uncle that went to law school and failed the board 5 times,,he never got his diplomia,,all that work for nothing,,but maybe not so much work,,lol,,he didnt pass

    1. Hi Vickie, thanks for stopping by! Even if your uncle didn’t officially become a lawyer, it was still a lot of work, in that he had to attend the classes some of the time to pass them. That would be tough!

  3. I think that I would like a lawyer with years of schooling and practice in today’s world. On the other hand back then there were fewer laws on the books.

    1. Very true, Connie. Perhaps because there were fewer laws and there was more common sense on the part of the general public, the country lawyer was better able to thrive in times past.

  4. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Jennifer, and best wishes with the new book! Collections and anthologies are my favorite reading lately due to time crunches; I’m liking the shorts more and more. I actually think and wish law was so simplified normal people could understand it on their own, but to answer your question, I definitely want somebody who has a degree from a law school, and a good reputation, too.

  5. I am with you on all points, Tanya. It surely seems that things are ridiculously complicated these days. Thank you for the kind welcome. 🙂

  6. Very interesting, I didn’t know those things about lawyers. personally I would want to employ someone who had been to law school not just someone who had read law.

    1. Hi Laurie, glad you stopped by today. I think I’m with you–a college educated lawyer is almost necessary in today’s difficult legal world. 🙂

  7. I would lean more towards someone that went to school to study law… very interesting… thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Colleen. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. Hi!
    It’s always nice to meet authors. I am looking forward to reading this collection of stories.
    I like collections for my bedtime story.(Yes I’m 50 years old and still need a bedtime story)
    I agree with some of the other comments about knowing how a lawyer did in school. I knew a man who went to law school, got very good grades but didn’t pass the bar on his first try so he decided being a lawyer wasn’t for him. Then he went to medical school, never became a practicing doctor. Last I heard he was a research assistant at a university. I think he just liked school.
    In your research, did you find out how much money it cost to go to law school back then?

    1. Hi Andrea, unfortunately, I didn’t come across the price of a law school education during that time period. Of course, my character Ashton Rutherford III was from a well-to-do family, so money wouldn’t have been an issue for him. (In other words, I wasn’t particularly looking for that info). Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. For simple things, a lawyer who learned on his own would be fine, I think.

    1. That’s a very good point. It probably does matter why you need an attorney as to whether you choose the college-educated one or the country lawyer version. Than you for offering your thoughts.

  10. I’d want a lawyer who went to law school and passed the bar. There’s a lot to be said for real world experience, but meeting a standard is important to me.

    1. Very true, Heidi. Thanks for offering your input.

  11. HI Jennifer! Welcome to Wildflower Junction and best wishes for your writing career! I would want someone who had passed the bar and who also had lots of experience, but wasn’t jaded. When I was visiting Williamsburg, VA I gleaned a bit about some of the laws back then by the docents. They mentioned that in the 1700s the intent of the law when it said one would be judged by a jury of peers was that they would be people who knew you–knew your parents, knew your upbringing, etc. By today’s standards it sure doesn’t meant that anymore! Sure enjoyed your post today!

    1. Oh, what an interesting fact, Kathryn! I never knew that about the jury of peers. It sure would seem that if they knew you or the family you came from, they could make a more informed decision on the matter of guilt or innocence. Of course, you wouldn’t want to get a juror with a grudge against you or your family either. I’m so glad you shared this interesting bit!

  12. I think I would definitely rather have someone who went to law school than just “read law” – I took a course in college called Business Law & it was so confusing so I would be much more comfortable with someone who has years of study!

    1. Hi Sharon. Thanks for offering your thoughts. The closest I came to taking any kind of classes in law was a “law studies” course in high school. Very interesting, but a very cursory glance at the legal system. It was enough for me to realize I didn’t care to get into the legal profession.

  13. Avatar

    I definitely would prefer someone that had been to law school, but also someone with common sense. These days lawyers have such a sleazy reputation what with all the commercials and ambulance chasers.

    1. You are so correct, Gail. Many do have very poor reputations (whether they personally deserve it or not). I’d prefer one with some morals and convictions similar to my own.

  14. It was probably a lot easier to understand the law back then since not a lot of the laws and regulations were enacted yet.

    1. Too true, Joye! Thanks for stopping by.

  15. I’d rather employ a lawyer who not only went to law school and passed the bar but has plenty of experience!

    1. The experience is worth a lot, Trixi! Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Interesting post, Jennifer – thank you!!I would love to read “Wedded to Honor”, as well as the other novellas in the collection. I guess my answer to your question would depend on how badly I needed legal representation. I would much rather an attorney I seek not only have finished law school, but to have had a lengthy experience in his/her expertise, also. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!!

    1. Hi Bonnie, thanks so much for swinging by. I’m sure you’d love all the stories in the collection. Every last one of them is wonderful.

  17. Today? Maybe for something basic and straightforward. If it were something complicated, I’d hire a traditional lawyer.

    1. I’m right there with you, Glenda! Thank you for stopping by.

  18. I would defiantly not want to be a lawyer in the old west. A person could get themselves killed or shot. No way. Thank you for a chance to win this great book.

    1. LOL That’s a very good point, Tammy. One did take his life in his hands to practice law in the Old West. 🙂

  19. Thanks so much for sharing this interesting post, Jennifer! I’m eager to read this wonderful collection and appreciate the giveaway opportunity!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Britney! Thank you for stopping by.

  20. That is a hard question. If the individual was competent and had experience I wouldn’t mind using them. If they know what they are doing, they will know the best way to research what they don’t know and be willing to act on it.
    Thank you for some interestg information. I had heard the term “reading the law, but didn’t know where it came from.

    1. Hi Patricia. Thank you so much for stopping by. I really like the fact that you’d be willing to give a lawyer who’d “read law” a chance under the right circumstances. From the previous responses, few would have such a willingness, me included. Glad I was able to teach you a little bit through my post.

  21. Thank you for your most interesting post, Jennifer! I want a law school graduate!

    1. Hi Melanie, thanks so much for coming by. It would seem most everyone wants the law school lawyer. Good thing there are LOTS of them in today’s American culture. 🙂

  22. Yes, I would hire a lawyer who read for the law. First, they probably read under an attorney who specialized in the field in which the apprentice hopes to specialize, thus would become well-versed on the peculiarities of that branch of law. Second, I took the first year of law and the “Baby Bar” before I decided to do something different. The bar is nothing to sneeze at. You must know your law, including being reasonably familiar with all aspects of the law, or you are not going to pass the Baby Bar let alone the full bar.

    1. Hi Robyn, you bring a different viewpoint to the discussion, and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this matter. I can see where you would be correct in a person who reads for the law apprenticing under a specialized lawyer, so they get a lot more of that particular branch. I hadn’t really considered that angle, but it makes sense. Thanks for offering your thoughts!

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