The Bar: a Community of Rivals

In the early and mid 19th Century, the North Carolina Bar was a much tighter community than it has become since.

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Bishop Joseph Cheshire

Tarboro lawyer (later, Episcopal bishop), Joseph B. Cheshire described the early community of North Carolina lawyers and hinted at the later impact of a  disruptive technology (railroads), as follows:

The old lawyers and judges were more social and lived more together than members of the Bar do now. The country was more thinly settled; there were fewer people and fewer lawyers, less office business, and relatively more litigation and more of forensic controversy. Each lawyer, as a rule, attended all the courts in his district, or at least most of the terms of the Superior Court. And they usually, before the days of railroads, drove in company in their buggies or gigs or rode horseback from one country town to another with much sociability and joviality as they went “jogging along,” or as they lodged together in the old taverns by the roadside or in the county towns.

[Cheshire, Joseph Blount, Nonnulla: memories, stories, traditions, more or less authentic (The University of North Carolina Press 1930) page 41.]

Connections among members of the Bar continued to attenuate steadily throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, both as the result of the vast expansion of “office business”  and reflecting the concomitant rise of law firms and 20th Century technologies (automobiles, telephones) – and that has had its effect on the role and practice of lawyers.

Curiously, the same tools that, today, are driving globalization (and practicing law over greater and greater geographic distances) may also be altering the trend of fewer connections among lawyers. Connections of new kinds are coming into being. 21st Century technologies and practices may be enabling new forms of social and professional collaboration.

Bishop Cheshire’s original 19th Century model matters, though. Understanding law practice as, fundamentally, the conjoint work of a community rather than a ceaseless contest of rivals, will improve our profession’s contribution to the wide world.

How is that done? Well, that’s one of the most interesting facets of what’s happening now. It is happening though – evolving over time –and, if you read all of the earlier posts here, you’ll get some sense of it.

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  • […] to develop and form true professionals. Always, the profession has been shaped by its models. In the 19th Century, the bar itself was a cohesive community and a ready source of models. In the 20th Century, those roles shifted to firms. In the 21st […]

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