In the 16th and 17th centuries the corporate life of the Inns of Court in London became less and less active. The general decay of the organization of crafts and gilds showed itself among lawyers as among other craftsmen. Successful barristers, sharing in the general prosperity Legal education.of the country, became less and less able and willing to devote their time to the welfare of their profession as a whole.
The Inns of Chancery, though some of their buildings still remain—picturesque survivals in their “suburbs”—ceased to be used as places for the education of students. The benchers of the Inns of Court, until the revival towards the middle of the 19th century, had wholly ceased to concern themselves with the systematic teaching of law. The modern system of legal education may be said to date from the establishment, in 1852, of the council of legal education, a body of twenty judges and barristers appointed by the four Inns of Court to control the legal education of students preparing to be called to the bar. The most important feature is the examination which a student must pass before he can be called. The examination (which by degrees has been made “stiffer”) serves the double purpose of fixing the compulsory standard which all must reach, and of guiding the reading of students who may desire, sooner or later, to carry their studies beyond this standard. The subjects in which the examination is held are divided into Roman law; Constitutional law and legal history; Evidence, Procedure and Criminal law; Real and Personal Property; Equity; and Common law. The council of legal education also appoint a body of readers and assistant readers, practising barristers, who deliver lectures and hold classes.
Meanwhile the custom remains by which a student reads for a year or more as a pupil in the chambers of some practising barrister. In the 18th century it first became usual for students to read with a solicitor or attorney, and after a short time the modern practice grew up of reading in the chambers of a conveyancer, equity draftsman or special pleader, or, in more recent times, in the chambers of a junior barrister. Before the modern examination system, a student required to have a certificate from the barrister in whose chambers he had been a pupil before he could be “called,” but the only relic of the old system now is the necessity of “eating dinners,” six (three for university men) in each of the four terms for three years, at one of the Inns of Court.
The education of solicitors suffered from the absence of any professional organization until the Incorporated Law Society was established in 1825 and the following years. So far as any professional education is provided for solicitors or required from them, this is due to the efforts of the Law Society. As early as 1729 it was required by statute that any person applying for admission as attorney or solicitor should submit to examination by one of the judges, who was to test his fitness and capacity in consideration of a fee of one shilling. At the same time regular preliminary service under articles was required, that is to say, under a contract by which the clerk was bound to serve for five years. The examination soon became, perhaps always was, an empty form. The Law Society, however, soon showed zeal for the education of future solicitors. In 1833 lectures were instituted. In 1836 the first regular examinations were established, and in 1860 the present system of examinations—preliminary, intermediate and final—came into effect. Of these only the last two are devoted to law, and both are of a strictly professional character. The final examination is a fairly severe test of practical acquaintance with all branches of modern English law. The Law Society makes some provision for the teaching of students, but this teaching is designed solely to assist in preparation for the examinations.
At the universities of Oxford and Cambridge there has, since 1850, been an attempt to promote the study of law. The curriculum of legal subjects in which lectures are given and examinations held is calculated to give a student a sound fundamental knowledge of general principles, as well as an elementary acquaintance with the rules of modern English law. Jurisprudence, Roman law, Constitutional law and International law are taught, as well as the law of Real and Personal Property, the Law of Contract and Tort, Criminal law, Procedure and Evidence. But the law tripos and the law schools suffer from remoteness from the law courts, and from the exclusively academical character of the teaching. Law is also taught, though not on a very large scale, at Manchester and at Liverpool. London University has encouraged the study of law by its examinations for law degrees, at which a comparatively high standard of knowledge is required; and at University College, London, and King’s College, London, teaching is given in law and jurisprudence.
SOURCE: 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 9-English Law