Law Without Lawyers in Ancient Greece

Blowhard, Esq. writes:


Lawyers never secured a stable foothold in the societies of ancient Greece. Athenians showed little enthusiasm for the practice of law, although they enthusiastically indulged in philosophical speculations about the nature of legal systems. Indeed, they sought to discourage the formation of a legal profession. The Stoic philosopher Zeno even advocated that the courts should be abolished altogether. Among the charges levied against Socrates was the accusation that he encouraged friends who were involved in lawsuits to secure the services of advocates. Litigants in ancient Athens required permission from the jury to call in an orator to speak on their behalf, and although such requests were rarely refused, the advocate could not be paid for his services and was forbidden to appear in that capacity more than once.

Despite these obstacles, advocates did manage to practice before Athenian courts, and by the middle of the fourth century BCE litigants regularly employed them. By that time, formal restrictions on legal practice had relaxed to the point that they were routinely ignored. Athenian advocates, however, never showed great interest in legal analysis. They concentrated instead on rhetorical skills, which they cultivated with considerable success. They apparently considered legal expertise a shade undemocratic.

James Brundage, The Medieval Origins of the Legal Profession

Another point worth mention is that the notion of law does not include of necessity the existence of a distinct profession of lawyers, whether as judges or as advocates. There cannot well be a science of law without such a profession; but justice can be administered according to settled rules by persons taken from the general body of citizens for occasion, or in a small community even by the whole body of qualified citizens; and under most advanced legal systems a man may generally conduct his own cause in person, if so minded. In Athens, at the time of Pericles, and even of Demosthenes, there was a great deal of law, but no class of persons answering to our judges or counsellors. The Attic orator was not a lawyer in the modern sense.

F.W. Maitland, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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