History of the legal profession

The legal profession has its origins in ancient Greece and Rome. Although in Greece it was forbidden to take payment for pleading the cause of another, the rule was widely flouted. After the time of Claudius, lawyers (iuris consulti) could practise openly, although their remuneration was limited. A skilled and regulated profession developed gradually during the late Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire: advocates acquired more status, and a separate class of notaries (tabelliones) appeared.

16th-century painting of a civil law notary, by Flemish painter Quentin Massys. A civil law notary is roughly analogous to a common law solicitor, except that, unlike solicitors, civil law notaries do not practice litigation.

In Western Europe, the legal profession went into decline during the so-called Dark Ages, re-emerging during the 12th and 13th centuries in the form of experts on canon law. The profession started to be regulated and to extend its reach to civil as well as ecclesiastical law.