Lawyers have traditionally been portrayed as models for civic representation, epitomized by their role in the founding of the Republic. In recent studies a consensus has formed around the idea that the legal profession lost its civic-mindedness, sometime between the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Consequently, the story goes, lawyers have lost a key part of the profession that elevated the law to a higher plane compared to other career paths. This paper will explore the history of this shift using New Haven and the greater Connecticut forum for empirical data. The paper will challenge the historical narrative by detailing internal inconsistencies amongst leading scholars, both in terms of time frame of decline and the amount and kind of civic participation envisioned as exemplary. I will show that, at least at the local level in New Haven, the shift of lawyers as history remembers did not occur in a radical, sudden fashion at all; by the end of the century a non-trivial amount of lawyers continued to fully participate in civic life. Finally, I will track prevalent theories behind the myth of the lawyer’s civic decline and superimpose them on the facts relative to New Haven to show that the conflicting results accrued from the data support the absence of causal findings for the current theories in vogue. In sum, the shift of the role of lawyers in public service in New Haven is much more gradual than once surmised, suggesting the change was not a top-down deluge to a new world of corporate law but rather a trickle out of public service into many other fields that valued legal expertise.
Esbrook, Leslie, "Where Did All the Lawyers Go? Challenging Perceptions of the Lawyer as Civic Linchpin in New Haven: 1830-1890" (2013). Student Legal History Papers. Paper 22.