The Very First Lawyers

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As civilizations began to grow thousands of years ago, rulers found it important to establish codes of laws. These laws were needed to ensure that some relative amount of order was maintained. In these ancient civilizations, technology was very limited. Because of these limitations, laws had to be very harsh. The different legal codes of the ancient world served as the basis for how modern laws were created. These different codes offered bits and pieces that exist in modern laws today. The presumption of innocence, for example, was first created in the Code of Hammurabi four thousand years ago. The idea of monetary compensation for bodily harm was created in the Code of Ur-Nammu. However, these codes did not provide for lawyers. The accused and the accuser were expected to represent themselves before a judge or magistrate. So, when did the first attorneys appear?

Athens

Every lawyer in the world can trace his or her profession to ancient Greece. A Perth criminal lawyer continues the tradition of Athenian orators from the fourth century BCE. Under Athenian laws, individuals were expected to plead their own cases, but they would often ask friends for assistance. Due to the common practice of having someone speak for you, Athenian law disposed of the restriction against speaking on someone else’s behalf. However, there was an obstacle. Athenian law forbade anyone from accepting money for pleading another person’s case. Obviously, this law was generally disregarded, but it remained on the books. This meant that orators could not market themselves as legal professionals, though they were in practice. Ironically, the first lawyers broke the law to practice their profession.

Criminal Law

Ancient Rome

Since Athenian orators could not publicly accept money for legal representation, they could not form guilds or professional associations. Therefore, if the definition of lawyer is restricted to those who could legally practice law, the first lawyers came from the Roman Empire.  The Roman Republic and early Roman Empire had similar restrictions against compensation for legal representation. Emperor Claudius abolished the ban and legalized advocacy. He did, however, impose a cap on the fees an attorney could charge. The cap was 10,000 sesterces, which was not very much money. Juvenal states that there is barely any money for an advocate.

These early lawyers were trained in rhetoric and oration, not the law. The judges were not trained in the law either. As advocacy grew as a profession, jurisconsults sprang up. These were amateurs who learned the law. Therefore, advocates would consult with jurisconsults for an opinion on the law. The jurisconsults were the first people in the world who spent large amounts of their time thinking about the law and legal issues. Because of this focus, Roman law became very exact and technical.

By the Byzantine Empire, advocates and jurisconsults had become very official and well-established. Juris consults actually began to decline during the reign of Emperor Hadrian because the advocates had begun actually to learn the law. During this time, courts held bars and an advocate had to be enrolled to be able to argue.