History of the American Law Firm

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Day Time Location
FRI 10:30 am - 1:20 pm TNH 3.129

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A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN LAW FIRM: ASPECTS OF A LEARNED CALLING AND BUSINESS ENTERPRISE This course considers aspects of the nature and history of the law firm in the United States, largely from a perspective “inside” different types of law firms: successful, defined in various ways, and self-destructive. This investigation requires students to consider history, law, economics, and sociology. A central theme is that the law firm reflects, and has always reflected, the structures of a market-driven society but nonetheless embodies, and largely continues to embody, non-economic aspirations and values. Students will study the dynamics of American law firm practice over the last two centuries as reflected in the rise and evolution of capitalism and the expansion of the regulatory state. Rather than examine how these socio-economic changes affect the law firm from a purely academic, “objective” standpoint, the over-arching perspective of this course comes from within law firms themselves. Thus, these changes will be analyzed through exploring the narratives of specific firms and the individuals who shaped them. A portion of these narratives, drawn from the popular press, law press, and scholarly articles, will focus on the conflicts (and occasional catastrophes) in the evolution of the large law firm. Finally, the course will consider whether there can continue to be one model—and one set of guidelines and aspirations—for the law firm, or whether such a monolithic concept is now obsolete.


Headshot of Ellis, Billie J. Jr. Ellis, Billie J. Jr.
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