How to look for records of... Lawyers

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide provides advice on how to find historical records of lawyers, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. If you are interested in where, when and with which court a particular lawyer practiced, or you want to find some biographical background on a lawyer, the advice in this guide will point you in the right direction.

The National Archives is the best place to look for historical records relating to solicitors and attorneys but for records of barristers we hold relatively few records.

To access almost any of these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£). The few records that are available online are covered in section 5 and section 6.

2. Types of lawyers

In England and Wales an attorney was a lawyer who practised in the superior courts of common law. They dealt with the procedural steps of litigation but, unlike barristers, did not plead for their clients in court.

Solicitors performed a similar procedural role in courts of equity. Solicitors and attorneys both represented private parties involved in litigation.

In 1873 all solicitors and attorneys became Solicitors of the Supreme Court.

3. Types of records

Until 1838 solicitors and attorneys had to be admitted to each of the courts in which they wished to practise. Each court kept its own records of admissions. From 1838 attorneys were unable to practice in a court other than the one in which they were enrolled unless they first signed a roll of the court concerned.

At The National Archives we hold the records of attorneys and solicitors admitted to the Central Courts and records of some provincial attorneys who practiced at satellite courts of the Central Courts, in the Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster.

The following are the main types of records you can expect to find:

3.1 Oath rolls/books of attorneys

The Attorneys and Solicitors Act of 1728 (2 Geo 2, c23) provided that attorneys and solicitors should serve five years as clerks under articles, that they should take the oath prescribed and that their names should be entered on a roll. These rolls or books of attorneys are usually arranged alphabetically and in chronological order of admission.

3.2 Registers and affidavits of due execution of articles of clerkship

An article of clerkship was the agreement binding a person studying to become a lawyer to a practicing attorney or solicitor, allowing that person, after five years, to enter the profession in his own right. These student or apprentice lawyers are known as articled clerks.

From 1749 a further Act (22 Geo 2, c46) required that an affidavit attesting due execution of articles should be filed with the court within three months of admission. The registers of these affidavits will show to whom the attorney or solicitor was articled. These registers are mostly indexed. The affidavits themselves, or the articles, if they survive will also show the name of the parent or guardian, if any, who arranged the articles.

3.3 Certificate books

From 1785 an annual certificate of admission was required before an attorney or solicitor could practise. Books of such certificates occur among court records. From 1790 the printed Law Lists were based on these certificate books.

3.4 Records kept by the Law Society

The Law Society has records of the Registrar of Attorneys and Solicitors, set up in 1843. These include lists of admissions from 1845 with additional lists of admissions from about 1790 for most courts and some Registers of Articles of Clerkship from about 1860. The Law Society Library can carry out a search into the records for a fee. For a list of the records held at the library, see The Law Society website.

It is best to start with the printed Law Lists, a directory of lawyers published annually between 1775 and 1976, bearing in mind the following caveats:

  • lists between 1775 and 1789 are known to contain names of persons never actually admitted to a court
  • until 1861 lists do not give the date of admission
  • for each year from 1790 lists only give the names of those attorneys and solicitors who had taken out their annual certificates to practise and omits those not practising that year

Lists of attorneys and solicitors admitted in 1729 and 1730 were printed for Parliament. The Law Society has a complete run of Law lists.

The next step, and for more detailed records of an attorney or solicitor, you should consult the records of the court to which the lawyer was admitted. These records are broken down, court by court, in the remaining sections of this guide.

For lawyers admitted before 1750, you should start with the admissions to the Court of Common Pleas since admissions to that court exceeded those to any other during the first half of the 18th century. After 1750, on the other hand, it is best to look first at admissions to the court of the King’s Bench.

5. Court of Common Pleas

For attorneys admitted to the Court of Common Pleas the following records exist:

5.1 Registers of articles of clerkship and affidavits of due execution

These registers and affidavits are in record series CP 71. You can search for them online at Ancestry.co.uk (£).

The registers are arranged in chronological order of filing with the court and no complete alphabetical index exists. In addition to the names of the clerks, the masters, and the persons proving the execution of the articles there are marginal notes which indicate the courts to which admission was finally made. This information is gained from the following index volumes:

5.2 Articles of clerkship

Search articles of clerkship using the name of the qualified solicitor or the person they were training. Click on CP 5 to search for records.

There is a personal name index with the printed version of the CP 5 series list, available in the reading rooms at The National Archives in Kew.

5.3 Admission papers 1729-1838

Admission Papers, 1729-1838 are also in CP 5. These may include articles of clerkship, affidavits of due execution of articles, affidavits of payment of stamp duty and fiats for admission. In case of persons admitted in other courts who were seeking further admission to the Common Pleas, only affidavits of due payment of stamp duty or evidence of admissions in other courts may be found. These records contain papers of attorneys who did not complete their service under articles. Furthermore, not everyone admitted to the Common Pleas is recorded. The admission books described below are a more satisfactory record.

5.4 Admission books 1724-1853

These are arranged alphabetically in two series running from 1729 to 1853. The first series contains the addresses and exact dates of admission of attorneys enrolled. The second series contains the same lists of admissions but gives only the county and year.

Series 1 CP 70/1 1729-1751
CP 70/2 1752-1775
CP 70/3 1776-1814
CP 70/4 1815-1848
Series 2 CP 72/1 1740-1819
CP 72/2 1820-1853
CP 72/4 1838-1843
CP 72/5 1843-1862
CP 72/6 1863-1875
Supplementary admission registers CP 69/1 1656-1761 (incomplete)
CP 72/3 1830-1844 (contains names of Welsh attorneys)

5.5 Admission rolls 1838-1860

These include the signatures of attorneys already entered in the volumes above, arranged alphabetically. Search in CP 8.

5.6 Rolls of attorneys 1730-1750

These are lists of various dates between 1730 and 1750 showing, alphabetically, the names and addresses of attorneys practising in the Common Pleas. The earlier lists in particular contain names not available elsewhere. Search for them in CP 11.

5.7 Oath rolls 1779-1847

There are 31 rolls comprising a general series, 1789 to 1843; Roman Catholics, 1790 to 1836; Quakers, 1835 to 1842 and ‘Qualifications’ (subscriptions to the Test Act and the Act of Settlement in addition to the usual oaths, 1779 to 1847). The rolls record signatures, arranged by legal term and year. Search for them in CP 10.

6. Court of King’s Bench

For attorneys admitted to the Court of King’s Bench the admission papers between 1838 and 1875 including articles of clerkship have not survived (for specimens of these records, see section 17 on other sources).

The following records do exist:

6.1 Affidavits of Due Execution of Articles

These are the main source of information for attorneys admitted to the Court of King’s Bench. On completion or execution of articles for the King’s Bench, an affidavit was filed with the Court and given a serial number. There are eight successive series of these affidavits. The first started in 1749, a second in 1817 and a third in 1834. Further series began in 1846, 1856, 1862, 1871, 1874 and 1875. Up to about 1840 they can be obtained by reference to the appropriate Indexes and Registers. Search for them in KB 105, KB 106, and KB 107.

The Indexes are arranged alphabetically by the year of execution and give the name of the clerk, the attorney to whom he was articled and a serial number. The registers are arranged chronologically in serial number order. Next consult the series lists for KB 105, KB 106, and KB 107 as appropriate, using the serial number. The registers give sufficient details to identify the clerk.

Between 1840 and 1849 the affidavits are filed not according to the date of execution but according to the date of admission and are usually accompanied by affidavits attesting payment of stamp duty and by the judge’s fiat for admission.

From 1849 there is a further change in the method of filing. From then until 1873 affidavits are filed according to the date of execution. Affidavits of persons admitted between those dates have not survived.

6.2 Indexes to registers of affidavits of due execution of articles

The references in this table are for indexes to the registers listed in section 6.3.

KB 170/14 1749-1784
KB 170/15 1787 – 1806
KB 170/16 1806 – 1818
KB 170/17 1818 – 1824
KB 170/18 1824 – 1831
KB 170/19 1831 – 1845
(missing) 1845 – 1860
KB 170/20 1860 – 1866
KB 170/21 1867 – 1873
KB 170/22 1874 – 1876 (July)

6.3 Register of affidavits of due execution of articles

For indexes to these registers see section 6.2.

KB 170/1 1749 – 1784
KB 170/2 1785 – 1802
KB 170/3 1802 – 1814
KB 170/4 1814 – 1822
KB 170/5 1822 – 1829
KB 170/6 1829 – 1837
KB 170/7 1837 – 1845
KB 170/8 1846 – 1854
KB 170/9 1854 – 1862
KB 170/10 1862 – 1868
KB 170/11 1868 – 1871
KB 170/12 1871 – 1874
KB 170/13 1874 – 1877

6.4 Affidavits of due execution articles

Series 1 Nos 1-3000, filed 1749 to 1775 are missing. Nos 3001-20,000, filed 1775 to 1817 are in KB 105
Series 2 Nos 1-15,000, filed 1817 to 1834 see KB 106. Note that some affidavits from this series have been placed with other admission papers in KB 107
Series 3 Nos 1-7079 and subsequent series filed from 1837 up to 1875 are, in so far as they survive, in KB 107. There are indexes to KB 107 for 1835 to 1875

6.5 Indexes to attorneys articles of clerkship

KB 171/1 1838 Hil – 1855 Mich.
KB 171/2 1856 Hil – 1870 Mich
KB 171/3 1871 Hil – 1875 Mich

6.6 Rolls of Attorney

The rolls of attorneys are divided into what are termed ‘Private’ ‘Public’, and ‘Abstract’ rolls. The ‘private’ rolls contain the names of admitted attorneys arranged in order of date of admission under the first letter of their surnames, the addresses of the attorneys are also given and the name of the examiner. ‘Public’ and ‘Abstract’ rolls are similar to each other and do not contain the full addresses. In addition a ‘Wales Roll’ lists attorneys practising in the Court of Sessions and Great Sessions in Chester or Wales who were also enrolled at Westminster.

Private rolls:

KB 172/1 1729 – 1788
KB 172/2 1789 – 1803
KB 172/3 1803 – 1821
KB 172/4 1821 – 1832
KB 172/5 1832 – 1842
KB 172/6 1843 – 1851
KB 172/7 1851 – 1861
KB 172/8 1862 – 1869
KB 172/9 1870 – 1875

Public rolls:

KB 172/10 1790 – 1810
KB 172/11 1810 – 1838, Trin
KB 172/12 1838 Mich – 1849, Hilary
KB 172/13 1849 Easter – 1862, Easter
KB 172/14 1862 Trin – 1873, Mich
KB 172/15 1874 Hil – 1875, Trin

There are also abstract rolls in KB 172/16 (1729 – 1814) and Wales roll in KB 172/18 (1).

7. Court of Exchequer: Exchequer of Pleas

The Exchequer of Pleas was the common law side of the Court of Exchequer. Until 1832 only the officers of the court itself were permitted to practise as its attorneys. Surviving admission records do not start until this monopoly was broken.

Records for attorneys admitted to the Exchequer of Pleas are normally in series E 4 and you should consult the series list for E 4 first of all. However they must be ordered as index volumes in the following way:

7.1 Registers of affidavits of due execution of articles

E 4/3 (1833-1855)

7.2 Rolls of attorneys (arranged alphabetically in date of admission order)

E 4/1 1830-1836
E 4/4 1836-1846
E 4/5 1846-1861
E 4/6 1861-1875
E 4/2 1830-1837 and 1844

7.3 Oath rolls

Search in E 3/1 (1830-1842).

For attorneys admitted into other courts who sought to practise in the Exchequer consult the following rolls, which are in order of signing:

E 3/6 1838-1839
E 3/7 1840-1843
E 3/8 1843-1849
E 3/9 1853-1858
E 3/10 1858-1872

8. Court of Exchequer: Equity

The equity side of the court exercised a jurisdiction similar to that of the Chancery Court.

8.1 Entry book of annual licences

This is a book of entries of annual licences taken out by clerks of the court and solicitors practising in the Court of Exchequer as a result of the 1729 Act. It is held in E 108/1 (1785-1843).

Oath Rolls: E 200/1 (1772-1843) Names of solicitors admitted.
E 200/2 Records signatures of Roman Catholic solicitors.
Attorneys’ Certificate Books E 109/1 (1729-1730)
E 109/2 (1794-1841)

8.2 Certificates of admission

Certificates of admission to the Court of Exchequer are all in E 109/3.

9. Court of Chancery/Supreme Court of Judicature

With the formation of the Supreme Court of Judicature in 1875, under whose umbrella the King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer of Pleas and Chancery now gathered, the Petty Bag Office series of solicitors rolls became the main admission record for solicitors (the title of attorney was abolished).

9.1 Admission rolls

The table below lists references for Petty Bag Office volumes on microfilm. There are also two volumes in another series of admission registers which give only the year and not the exact date of admission: IND 1/4613 (1800-1842), and IND 1/4614 (1842-1851), both of which are alphabetical.

C 216/21 1859-1875
C 216/22 1729-1791
C 216/23 1791-1823
C 216/24 1824-1836
C 216/25 1836-1858

Search also in series C 216 for various surviving affidavits of due execution of articles of clerkship, certificates of admission and other minor admission papers.

9.2 Index to Affidavits of Due Execution of Articles

KB 170/13 1874 Nov-1877 Nov
IND 1/29729 1877 Nov-1878 Dec
IND 1/29730 1879 Jan-1881 Feb
IND 1/29731 1881 Mar-1883 July
IND 1/29732 1883 Aug-1886 Apr
IND 1/29733 1886 May-1889 Jan

9.3 Index to Registers

KB 170/22 (1874-1876 July)

9.4 Indexes to Articles of Clerkship

IND 1/29712 1875 Nov-1885
IND 1/29713 1885-1889

The admission papers to which all the indexes above refer no longer survive.

9.5 Oath Rolls of Roman Catholic Solicitors

C 217/180/5 1791-1813
C 214/23/1 1838-1867

10. Court of Bankruptcy

Admission Roll B 2/8 1832-1883 Chronological
Alphabetical registers of attorneys and solicitors: Town (i.e. London) B 2/9 1832-1883
Alphabetical registers of attorneys and solicitors: County (i.e. excluding London) B 2/10 1832-1883
B 2/11 1859-1883

11. Records of attorneys previously admitted in other courts

IND 1/4592 (3) 1843-1867
Oath Rolls KB 113 1750-1874
Residence Books KB 169/1 1790-1815
KB 169/2 1815-1829
Applications for Certificates J 89/6/1-4 (formerly in J 10) 1875-1889
Certificate Books J 89/23/1-39 (formerly in CP 9) 1786-1843

12. Palatinate of Lancaster

In the 14th century the Palatinate of Lancaster was granted the right to hold pleas of the Crown locally, effectively allowing a regional branch of the Court of Common Pleas. The following table lists records of the attorneys admitted to the court.

Affidavits of Due Execution of Articles PL 23/1 1749-1785
PL 23/4 1785-1814
Registers of Affidavits of Due Execution of Articles PL 23/3 1749-1781
PL 23/4 1781-1823
Rolls of Attorneys (alphabetical listing of attorneys and place of residence) PL 23/6 1730-1785
Oath Roll PL 23/7/1 1730-1793
Register of Certificate to Practise PL 23/5 1785-1871
Minutes of Attorneys’ Assize Dinners PL 23/7/2 1790-1805

From 1843 the Solicitors Act (6 and 7 Vic., c73 s45) allowed attorneys and solicitors working in the Courts of the Duchy or Palatinate of Lancaster to enrol at the Central Courts.

13. Palatinate of Durham

From the medieval period the Palatinate of Durham had exercised its own common-law jurisdiction, and local justices effectively represented local arms of the Court of King’s Bench and Common Pleas. The following table lists records of the attorneys admitted to the court in the palatinate.

Affidavits of Due Execution of Articles of Clerkship DURH 9/1 1750-1769
DURH 9/2 1768-1794
DURH 9/3 1794-1834
Admission Rolls DURH 3/218 1660-1723
DURH 3/217 1730-1843
Register of Certificates to Practise IND 1/10152 1785-1842

From 1843 the Solicitors Act (6 and 7 Vic., c73 s45) allowed attorneys and solicitors working in the Courts of the Palatinate of Durham to enrol at the Central Courts.

14. Palatinate of Chester

The table shows records of attorneys practicing in the courts of the Palatinate of Chester up to 1830. After 1830 attorneys practising in the Courts of Sessions and the Great Sessions in Chester and Wales were allowed to enrol in the Central Courts.

Affidavits of Due Execution of Articles of Clerkship CHES 36/1 1728-1830
Registers of Affidavits of Due Execution CHES 36/2 1749-1792
Admission Roll of Attorneys CHES 36/3/1 1697-1728
CHES 36/3/7 1777-1806 (Chester court of Exchequer)
Oath Rolls CHES 36/3/2 1729-1754
CHES 36/3/3 1787-1793
CHES 36/3/4 1794-1800
CHES 36/3/5 1783-1821
CHES 36/3/6 1821-1830
CHES 36/3/8 1750-1787 (Chester court of Exchequer
CHES 36/3/9 1787-1806 (Chester court of Exchequer)
CHES 36/3/10 (not dated)

15. High Court of Admiralty

Search for papers relating to the admission of proctors (attorneys/solicitors) in the High Court of Admiralty among the Admiralty Miscellanea in HCA 30.

The Admiralty Muniment Books in HCA 50 include warrants relating to the appointment of proctors.

16. Prerogative Court of Canterbury

Search in the earlier volumes of the correspondence and papers of officials of the court, 1659-1857, in PROB 29, for records of the appointments of proctors (attorneys/solicitors).

At The National Archives building in Kew is a biographical index of proctors. It is located with the printed version of the catalogue, next to the PROB 39 folder.

17. Other sources

17.1 Solicitors Registers of Admission donated by the Law Society 1790-1884

Rolls of Admissions for solicitors and attorneys 1790-1884 are in RW 3. They fill in the gaps in solicitors admission rolls in other record series referred to above.

17.2 Records of stamp duty 1710-1811

Articles of clerkship were subject to a stamp duty. The payment of the duty is commonly recorded with the payment of the duty on indentures in the Apprenticeship Books (IR 1). The books and their indexes (on microfiche) run from 1710 to 1811 and include masters’ names and addresses, clerks’ names, the date of the articles and, up to 1752, the names of parents or guardians.

17.3 Specimen/sample records

On the recommendation of the Report of the Committee on Modern Legal Records published in 1966 some documents were preserved as specimens only. They include:

Admission Papers: Articles of Clerkship J 89/4/1-65 (formerly in KB 104 and J 8) (1838-1904)
Affidavits of Due Execution of Clerkship J 89/5/1-12 (formerly in J 9) (1875-1903)
 Attorney’s Certificate Books of Residence J 89/7/1-47 (formerly in KB 112) (1785-1843)

18. Records of barristers

Find Barristers Rolls (1868–1986) in KB 4. There are earlier oath rolls in KB 24.

You might be able to find out more about a barrister by contacting the relevant Inns of Court:

19. Records in other archives and organisations

19.1 Records of the Registrar of Attorneys and Solicitors

Find out to which court the attorney was admitted to practise – they are likely to hold the records. The Law Society has records of the Registrar of Attorneys and Solicitors, set up in 1843, which might help you find the relevant court.

19.2 Records and resources of the Institute of Legal Studies

Search for records relating to a number of organisations concerned with legal education at the Institute of Legal Studies and consult the institute’s directories of lawyers at Senate House Libraries.