Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Matzko's "Best Men of the Bar" (and Introduction by Funk)

Well, this is unexpected.  Historians interested in the American bar at the turn of the twentieth century have long known of John Austin Matzko’s work on the American Bar Association–if not his dissertation, than his chapter in The New High Priests, a collection of essays edited by Gerard W.  Gawalt.  In July, the dissertation is to be published by Talbot Publishing (an imprint of Lawbook Exchange) as Best Men of the Bar: The Early Years of the American Bar Association, 1878-1928:
Matzko illustrates how the early American Bar Association endeavored to create a traditional professional gatekeeping organization by gaining control of legal education, entrance examinations, and ethical codes. The early ABA supported reformist values of political and social change if such change could be overseen by courts. It was not until the second decade of the twentieth century that it began its transformation into a more conservative group.
 Here is an endorsement:
"In this penetrating and gracefully-written account of the formative first-half century of the American Bar Association, Matzko actually makes institutional history absorbing - an excellent account of the personalities and ideas that formed the legal profession on a national level, the transition from a "Gentleman's Club" to a professional association and, in due course, an entity which established widely-shared minimum standards for the quality of legal education and admission to the State bars. Likely to be the definitive account for some time to come. William E. Butler, Dickinson Law, Pennsylvania State University.
The book includes an introduction by Kellen Funk, Columbia Law School, who was one of Professor Matzko’s students at Bob Jones University, where Professor Matzko taught for over forty years.  Professor Funk's introduction, now posted on SSRN, is a valuable review essay on the history of the legal profession during Professor Matzko’s period.  Here is its abstract:
John A. Matzko's The Best Men of the Bar began as a dissertation defended in 1984. Despite the central importance of the ABA to the turn-of-the-century class stratification of the bar, the accreditation of legal education, the emergence of the “canons” of legal ethics, and the settlement of the codification controversy with model laws and restatements, no institutional history of the ABA appeared in the intervening years. Literatures have arisen devoted to the entrance of women and African Americans to legal practice in the late nineteenth century, while the internal dynamics of the elite (mostly male and white) bar during the New Deal has received sustained attention. But as of yet, the elite of the bar to which women, minorities, and New Deal progressives were reacting has been relatively neglected.

Indeed,The Best Men of the Bar presciently offered a number of arguments that today puts the work right at home in contemporary historiography of America’s legal profession, particularly in its focus on the control of legal education and the interconnections between codification and access to the profession. The central argument of the book is one that both anticipates recent literature yet also extends it by disrupting our conventional attempts to describe the elite bar of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in the United States. While recent studies have challenged the notion of a monolithic classical legal “orthodoxy,” Best Men of the Bar clarifies the story by dividing the ABA’s early history into two periods: one that drew on and was shaped by the age of reform, and a later period of reaction and retrenchment. This introduction surveys the major historiographical debates about the turn-of-the-century American legal profession to illustrate the power of this argument. One of the recurring themes of the works surveyed within is the slightly embarrassed admission that the Gilded Age bar in many ways countered the trend towards conservatism that developed later in the Progressive Era.
–Dan Ernst