Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Transformative Change in the Market for Lawyers: A Query

I’ve been thinking lately about what legal historians can contribute to understanding the sweeping restructuring of the legal market that appears to be well under way in the United States.  One possibility is a comparison of the present with other periods of transformation in the American legal profession.  Especially interesting are episodes which elites in the legal profession experienced as cataclysmic but which ended with profession as a whole still on its feet, with its members overseeing or facilitating new realms of economic or political life.  I sometimes think of this as the “lawyer as cockroach” phenomenon.

Two episodes occur to me just now.  The first is the first decades of the nineteenth century, which saw the opening up of a hierarchical late-eighteenth-century legal profession to facilitate the expanding credit system and other aspects of “The Market Revolution.”  (I’m thinking here of the view from volume 1 of Konefsky and King’s edition of Daniel Webster’s legal papers.)  The second is the emergence of administrative agencies a century or so later.  Ronen Shamir’s Managing Legal Uncertainty would provide one entree into that episode.  I’d be grateful to learn in the comments whether other episodes occur to readers of the blog.

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