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England Occupations Law (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Law[edit | edit source]

In the 14th century the training of lawyers was formalized by the founding of four Inns of Court in London which still exist:

  • Lincoln’s Inn
  • Middle Temple
  • Inner Temple
  • Gray’s Inn

These became, in effect, the third university in England, and students were of two kinds: firstly, those intending to practice law, and secondly, sons of the nobility and gentry for whom a knowledge of the law would be useful in the management of their estates or for their political aspirations. Later students would go first to a university and then enter an Inn.

A number of Inns of Chancery also existed as preparatory schools for younger boys who might go on to study at the Inns of Court, or who might take lesser positions as solicitors, attorneys or proctors. The Inns of Chancery, which no longer exist, were:

  • Staple Inn (affiliated to Gray’s Inn).
  • Barnard’s Inn (affiliated to Gray’s Inn).
  • Clifford’s Inn—the last surviving one which closed in 1900 (affiliated to the Inner Temple).
  • Clement’s Inn (affiliated to the Inner Temple).
  • New Inn (affiliated to the Middle Temple).
  • Thavie’s Inn (affiliated to Lincoln’s Inn).
  • Furnival’s Inn (affiliated to Lincoln’s Inn).

Lawyers were of two types:

1. Those who pleaded and worked on behalf of clients—the barristers, solicitors (also known prior to 1873 as attorneys at law), and formerly also advocates and proctors.

2. Those who heard cases and made decisions—judges and magistrates (also known as Justices of the Peace).

Barristers usually attended a university (only Oxford and Cambridge until Durham and London were founded in the 1830s. They were admitted to the bar through an Inn of Court and acted as advocates in court as well as advising on specialist points of law (Herber). The three levels of barristers were: ordinary barristers, King’s or Queen’s Counsel, and Serjeants at Law.

Solicitors were usually called Attorneys (-at-Law) until 1873 (Herber, Camp 2001). They were members of the Inns of Court up to the end of the 17th century, but then trained at one of the Inns of Chancery during 18th-19th centuries until these closed. Some solicitors went to university, including most since the late 19th century in university law schools. He had to serve a period of training with a qualified solicitor, known as articles, before he could be admitted as a solicitor; from 1728 this was five years, but is now only two. During the period 1710-1811 the deeds of articles were subject to the same stamp duty as apprentice indentures. From 1749 the new solicitor had to swear an affidavit of due execution that he had completed his articles and until the 19th century he had to be formally admitted to practice in each court. Prior to 1873, (Herber, but Fitzhugh says 1875), solicitors specialized in equity matters, and attorneys practised in the superior courts of common law representing suitors who did not appear in person (Fitzhugh). After this date proctors, attorneys and solicitors all became known as solicitors. Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol III. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1994) gives a contemporary view of the profession in 1818. Some individuals were and are qualified to act as both barristers and solicitors. It should be noted that the term attorney is used differently in the USA.

Proctors (or Procurators) prior to 1873 were the equivalent of barristers working in the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts on civil cases. Another old term for them is canon lawyers or canonists, applicable before the Reformation. Titford (Old Occupations: The Proctor. Family Tree Magazine Vol 7 #3, page 4-5, 1991) has more information about proctors.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.