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from the Preface... The Common Law of England must be the best-documented body of law existing in the world today. The records of cases brought in the superior courts extend back year by year in continuous series to the reign of Richard Coeur de Lion.
Published reports of the more important decisions of these courts have been steadily accumulating for more than half this period, and now run to nearly three thousand eight hundred volumes. But what of the Common Lawyers, who have been responsible for this vast expenditure of parchment, ink and paper? Among the welter of records and precedents they seem to have been overlooked, largely, I suspect, because lawyers have always had an instinctive aversion to publicity.
They make their way down the passage of time, as they go to heaven, softly. So much of what they hear is disclosed in confidence, that secrecy is apt to become an occupational disease, and details of their lives are usually hard to come by.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising to find that very little attempt has ever been made to trace the history of either branch of the legal profession. In fact, only one writer, E. B. V. Christian, has previously ventured to write a comprehensive history, and his Short History of Solicitors was published over sixty years ago. Since this book appeared histories of the English legal system have touched upon the subject of the profession, and a good deal of information is scattered among the volumes of Sir William Holdsworth's monumental History of English Law.
In every case, however, the emphasis has been upon the profession rather than the lawyer. The first real attempt to depict the lawyer against the background of English society only appeared last year when Dr. Robert Robson published his study, The Attorney in Eighteenth Century England. Fortunately neither Dr. Robson nor I had access to the same unpublished material; so in relation to the eighteenth century our books are to a large extent complementary.
I must admit that my preference is for the individual rather than the group. In this attempt to relate the story of solicitors I have tried to do so in terms of actual persons. Of course, such a method has its drawbacks, and one can never be sure that those whose activities are described were typical of the profession at large. On the other hand, it seemed to me that this method was best calculated to show the sort of people who became lawyers at different periods, the kind of lives they led, and how they fitted into the social pattern. In short, my aim has been to present a slice of social history.M.B.