History of Law Careers

The history of law and legal careers parallels that of human history. Since the beginning of time, people have realized that rules must be instigated and kept. Those who did not keep the rules must be found and punished. Ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Babylonia, had a foundation of laws. Hammurabi, king of Babylon, is known for a list of 282 laws to govern the behavior of his people. Hammurabi’s Code was put in place about 1700 BCE.

Roman law governed not only Italy, but Europe, until the 18th century. Many of our laws today come from these laws, which were first put into place by tribal leaders and enforced by “tribal policemen.” As the civilizations grew, community law and policing came into effect. In early communities in England, the courts were made up of neighbors. They passed rulings dependent on community law, protecting individual rights and property.

Trade and commercial law also developed during the Middle Ages. As trade between countries grew, laws were needed to standardized transactions and fines for not following the law.

History of Law Careers

Two great rulers in Britain are known for their advances in law. Alfred the Great introduced Roman civil law to his country. He reigned from 871 to 921 A.D. and is best known for his Law Code, which became the foundation for English common law. Edward the Confessor, 1042 to 1066, became known as the great lawgiver for the foundations he laid in English civil law. Even after the invasion of William the Conqueror, English county courts continued to function and administer local law.

In 1215, the first version of the Magna Carta, one of the most important legal documents in history, was introduced. The Magna Carta forced King John to accept that the common people had rights that could not be taken away by the king. It limited the powers of the king. The concept of rights and limited powers was not always followed, but it left a principle that others built on.

By the 1500s, two set of lawyers were in place in England—what we would call prosecutors and defense. In the late 1800s, trial by jury began to take hold of the legal system and law careers as attorneys began.

As a British colony, America first had laws supported by British laws. Just before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Virginia adopted a Constitution stating that legislative, executive and judiciary powers would be separate. That concept was carried through in the U.S. Constitution.

Throughout the history of legal systems, the role of law enforcement has developed as well. From the community policing to a system of sheriffs and federal law enforcement officials, the levels of our present day system have been built. Law enforcement personnel follow current law in their interactions with people, changing as the laws changed.

There have been several outstanding trials in American law history. One of the first was the defense of British soldiers charged with killing civilians in the Boston Massacre in 1770. John Adams took the case, knowing it was a risky move. He was able to get most of the soldiers acquitted with two punished to being branded on their thumbs.

In 1859, John Brown, an advocate for abolition of slavery, led an attack on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry. After capture, Brown was tried and found guilty of treason, conspiracy, and murder. He is hanged.

The case of Miranda vs. Arizona reached the U.S. Supreme Court and their decision led to the method of treatment of suspects in today’s law enforcement world. The Supreme Court ruled that a person must be advised of his rights before questioning.

In April, 1995, a car bomb destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. After a thorough investigation by many law enforcement agencies, Timothy McVeigh was arrested and charged with conspiracy and murder. In 1997, he was convicted on all 11 counts and was executed in 2001.

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges. The FBI suspected that he was planning terrorist acts. After the attacks, he was indicted on charges related to the attacks. The trial took place in federal court in 2006. Moussaoui refuses legal counsel and serves as his own lawyer. He also pleads guilty and offers damaging testimony against himself. The judge has to make many decisions about possible witnesses and evidence, but finally, Moussaoui is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The history of law careers has spanned from local councils and tribal policemen to our current system of courts and law enforcement. The rights of common people are more protected than ever, but work in law careers will continue to be crucial to the development of civilization.

Last Updated: 05/23/2014

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