Vol. 76, No. 8, August
Societal and professional patterns revealed over
time - such as the reason for forming the organized bar in Wisconsin -
have continued meaning today, and can influence our future.
by George C. Brown,
State Bar executive director
The State Bar Association of Wisconsin was formed on Jan.
9, 1878. Why? Why then? What were the reasons for and the causes of the
formation of an organized state bar association at that time? The stated
purposes as enunciated by then Chief Justice Ryan give us clues: to weed
the profession of unworthy members, to limit access into the profession,
and to influence legislation affecting the law and justice system.
Historian Robert Wiebe of Northwestern University shows in his 1967
book, The Search for Order, 1877-1920, that Wisconsin was not
alone in this effort. Wiebe's thesis is that during this period, the
United States moved from an agrarian culture based in small insular
communities that were relatively isolated from one another to an
increasingly impersonal industrialized society where traditional,
community-based values no longer mattered. In this post-Reconstruction
era, people were searching, consciously and unconsciously, for new
values and new societal organizing devices.
A new middle class also was developing at this time. Wiebe believes
that this "class" could be divided into two broad categories:
professionals of various sorts and specialists in business, labor, and
agriculture. By the early nineteenth century, the professionals -
including lawyers, doctors, and teachers - all had been fairly well
protected by rigid requirements for admission to the professions. For
lawyers, educational and apprenticeship requirements excluded many from
the profession. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, as
Wiebe states, "equalitarianism and decentralization had broken this
monopoly, as it was called, so that by mid-century almost anyone could,
and a great variety did, enter what had once been a profession." In the
law, this "deprofessionalization" was accomplished when "democratized,
decentralized admission to the bar demolished practically all standards"
and "training passed from colleges to a convenient law office." As a
result, only bankers were held in lower regard by the public.
Wisconsin was a perfect example of this "deprofessionalization." Many
of Wisconsin's earliest lawyers attended Eastern colleges before moving
to the Wisconsin Territory, and therefore the territorial legislature
required a three-month residence and two year's legal study in a law
school or a practitioner's law office as a prerequisite to practice law
in Wisconsin. Only a year after Wisconsin became a state in 1848, the
state legislature struck the study rule and required courts to admit
every resident-applicant of good moral character. By 1878, as Justice
Ryan stated in his bar association founding speech, "the rule of
admission is uniformly lax. The door is not ajar, but wide open."