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Abstract

Paul C. Kurtz wrote well, spoke and argued eloquently, wore a nice suit, and carried a briefcase. As an observer noted, "'He looked 100 percent like a lawyer and conducted himself as a lawyer." Being an actual practitioner of the law, however, does not make one a lawyer in modern America. Lawyer status is conferred only upon those who satisfy formal definitions based on professional education and bar admission. Not surprisingly, on July 7, 1998, Mr. Kurtz was arrested for passing himself off as a lawyer.

Three hundred years earlier, an English lord similarly refused to confer lawyer status on the legal practitioners of Rhode Island. In September 1699, Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont, arrived in Rhode Island to investigate the colony. Bellomont's Rhode Island visit did not go particularly well. He found little to praise about the colony. In particular, he condemned the men who practiced law. Bellomont disparaged the General Attorney (the Attorney General), John Pocock, as "a poor illiterate mechanic, very ignorant, on whom they rely for his opinion and knowledge of the law."' He criticized the former General Attorney, John Greene, as "very corrupt" and "brutish," with "no principles in religion." He added that those men who served as the Governor and Assistants also knew "very little law." Bellomont was horrified that such legally illiterate men were elected year after year while "several gentlemen most sufficient for estate, best capacitated and disposed for his Majesty's service" were "neglected" and "maligned."

This Article takes issue with Bellomont's judgment - and with the conventional vision of the seventeenth-century colonial legal world as "Law without Lawyers." Adding to a growing number of accounts that seek to rethink the ways in which we understand and discuss early legal practice, this Article argues that legal practitioners were a constant - and powerful - element of early Rhode Island legal culture. Moreover, this Article suggests that these Rhode Island legal practitioners operated not in a colonial vacuum but as creative participants in a transatlantic legal culture.

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