Friday, March 27, 2015

Hibbitts on the Topography of Law Practice in Pittsburgh

Bernard J. Hibbitts, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, has posted Lawyering in Place: Topographies of Practice and Pleadings in Pittsburgh, 1775-1895, which originally appeared in the University of Pittsburgh Law Review 73 (2012): 620-47.  Here is the abstract:
Pittsburgh Panorama at U.S. Courthouse (LC)
Even in the digital age, lawyering is always located. Lawyers live and work in physical space, and they deal with other lawyers and with clients who also have at least some measure of physicalized existence. Distracted and ofttimes overwhelmed by written records, legal historians have traditionally paid little attention to the physical environment of lawyering, but there are signs that this is beginning to change, largely under the influence of developments in contemporary multimedia technology that regularly remind us of worlds beyond text. Indeed in light of several recent works on American, English and even ancient law it may be time to recognize the birth pangs of a new interdisciplinary field that we might label “legal topography”, literally the study of law in place. Part geography, part architecture, part art, part rhetoric, part anthropology, part psychology, and part performance studies, legal topography would study lawyering in its physical environment, examining how professional and public perceptions of (and interactions with) law are constructed by conditions and dynamics of place, and how those conditions in turn shape legal behavior and even understandings of lawyering and law itself.

This paper probes some of the parameters of legal typography by exploring aspects of lawyering in place in Pittsburgh over a period of 120 years, from 1775 to 1895. This great American city is not only a convenient, but also a compelling candidate for this treatment: its metropolitan and legal history is considerably shorter than other American legal centers such as Boston or New York, yet its experience encompasses a number of key legal topographical shifts that doubtless also occurred elsewhere. In the larger saga of American history, moreover, Pittsburgh at various stages not only represented but defined the frontier, the ante-bellum “market revolution” and late nineteenth-century industrialization, all circumstances that profoundly affected the physical environment of local lawyering. It is Pittsburgh’s remarkable and repeated ability to stand for America in these and other contexts that most appropriately draws our legal topographical gaze.