Teaching the History of Lawyering

Reposting from the Legal History Blog an interesting discussion on teaching the history of lawyering  “Who Do We Think We Are?: A History of Lawyering” by Bernard Hibbits of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.  Let me provide an extract, as he talks about how he put a course on the history of lawyering together:

“. . . I began to find lawyers in places and positions where I didn’t really expect to find them, and I began to rethink the very idea of offering a “professional” history of lawyering, slowly inclining towards a broader “cultural” history of lawyering that would overtly regard lawyers as having a truly fundamental role in the development of American society in particular, from explorers to investors to orators to revolutionaries to framers to politicians to poets to evangelists to soldiers to editors to entrepreneurs to CEOs to activists and so on, and on, and on. Here, right before me, were individuals who as a class could truly be described (pace Gramsci) as the “organic intellectuals” of the American experience (arguably much more so than members of any other professional or occupational group), but about whom we had told our law students little or nothing.

How crazy is that? Right now, when we want to inspire our law students, raise their horizons, broaden their minds, and prepare them (by necessity) for a world beyond the Scylla of BigLaw on the one hand and the Charybdis of solo practice on the other, shouldn’t we be telling them about these people, their successes and their failures, their strengths and their weaknesses, their dreams and their delusions? This is no celebratory “lawyers’ history” that I’m proposing, but rather a living, breathing, warts-and-all history of lawyering – a history of lawyers as people whose examples and actions, for good or ill, can be offered to our students. What do they have to gain from all this? Two things at least: first, a better, more accurate and more ambitious sense of themselves and their own potential as lawyers, and second, a humility that comes from knowing that they are not the first generation of lawyers to strive, to struggle, to succeed and even sometimes to fail. . . .”

Professor Hibbitts’s post will apparently be the first of a series by him on the history of lawyering course at that blog running this month.

By Colin B. Picker

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