The New Deal: The National Level

By John Braeman; Robert H. Bremner et al. | Go to book overview
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Jerold S. Auerbach


Lawyers and Social Change in the
Depression Decade

DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION DECADE, THE AMERICAN LEGAL profession, structurally and ideologically committed to stability, underwent wrenching change. Its texture was woven from various strands -- some dating from the turn of the century, others quite new: the impact of corporate capitalism on professional values and structure; the emergence of university legal education as the primary channel of access to the professional elite; social stratification that produced blocked mobility and generational conflict; and the employment crisis created by the depression in conjunction with the opportunity structure established by the Roosevelt administration. Although lawyers are functionally committed to a process of social ordering designed to mitigate abrupt or unpredictable change, the nexus between law and public life requires their profession to serve as a sensitive barometer of social change. Amid the turbulence of the thirties, the legal profession, buffeted by external pressures and rent by internal conflict, uneasily confronted both its past and its future.

During dedicatory exercises at the Law Quadrangle of the University of Michigan in 1934, Justice Harlan F. Stone delivered an address decrying the diminished public influence of the bar. Stone, nearing the end of his first decade on the Supreme Court, could view his profession with uncommon perspective. His experiences with the prestigious \Sullivan and Cromwell firm, as dean of Columbia Law School, and as attorney general in the Coolidge administration had exposed him to the major sources of professional opportunity: private practice, legal education, and public

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