by Arthur R. Carmody, Jr. 

September 2003

It is said that much ofthe civility found in the practice oflaw in England is due to The
Inns ofCourt. Indeed, the Inns are unique and a brieflook at their history may be ofinterest.
They are not schools oflaw, social clubs or trade unions, but have elements of each and, as
such, have contributed greatly to the status of the English bar.

Their origins generally are placed in the late 13th century when Edward I became the
first of the English kings to help stabilize the legal profession. By the mid-l300s the Inns
were coming into existence. The first record of Lincoln's Inn is in 1422, the year of the
death of Henry V. By that time a number of large houses existed on the boundary of the
conventional City of London and the royal City of Westminster, where the judges then sat
in the King's palace. In the beginning these houses were used as residences for lawyers who
came in from the country for short periods and during vacation times were used for the
instruction of pupils in the knowledge and practice of law. As time went on each house
began to develop its own style and personality.

For several centuries instruction was largely oral, including lectures, mock trials and
critiques, with the more senior members of the Inn doing the tutoring of their juniors. Soon
the Inns became like residential colleges, similar to the patterns of Oxford and Cambridge,
with residents living under scholastic discipline with lecture rooms, a dining hall and moot
court rooms. Not all patrons of the Inns were prospective lawyers. Many came simply to
learn how to manage their estates and others to better pursue employment in public service.
There was also time for fun, with Christmas celebrations lasting into February, followed by
a Lord of Misrule celebration, somewhat akin to our Mardi Gras.

The ready availability of printed books and paper, and the Civil War of the 17th
Century, broke the traditional operation of the Inns. Lectures and moots disappeared and
students, often without direction, began reading for the bar. The former Inns had become
mere dining clubs until the l800s arrived. In the l830s the Law Society, which was the
governing body for solicitors and barristers, had established the qualifications for the bar
including the successful completion ofextensive written examinations. To meet these goals
the Inns began to revert to their traditional roles.

By the 1870s the Inns had regained much oftheir original luster, still training the Bar
of England by providing a special finish on the knowledge oflaw the student had acquired
in university. The dining halls were reopened and lectures and after dinner critiques and
discussions renewed. Libraries were enhanced and collegiality fostered.

The Lincoln Court is perhaps best known of the Inns. It was established in 1734,
having its quarters on the upper floor of the Great Hall. The lower floor housed the
courtrooms for the Chancery Court and judges and practitioners there were accommodated
by the Inn. Thus the rarified air of the courts of equity permeated the Inn and did much to
temper the rough and tumble practices ofthe common law. The presence ofso many learned
men, practicing refined and complex equity matters, imported to the Lincoln Inn an
atmosphere of perceived superiority which continues to this day.

In 1843 the Lincoln Inn built a large, handsome neo-Tudor structure near the old
location which was opened in a grand ceremony by Queen Victoria, causing the prestige of
the Inn to rise correspondingly.

Other notable Inns include Gray's Inn, known as a producer ofjudges, The Temple,
and its sister Inn, The Inner Temple, which were both in place at the time of Chaucer and
were known for actively pursuing political squabbles and a perceived special allegiance to
the Crown. The Inns have well served to train and refine the English bar and to promote and
foster a spirit of collegiality.

While the nature of American law and practice renders impossible the establishment
of parallel Inns, the concepts of mentoring, learning and collegiality can be recognized and
encouraged in our practice today.