The Association of the Bar of the City of New York was founded in 1870 by what one lawyer referred to as the “decent part of the profession.” It was a group of 75 gentlemen from this state bar that ultimately met in 1878 to form the American Bar Association (ABA). Its goal was reform: fighting corruption, drafting better laws, and raising the prestige of the profession. From this group, the Association of American Law Schools was organized for the improvement of legal education.
By 1905, the ABA began to require (of its members, not of the profession as a whole) a minimum of three years of law study prior to practicing law. In fact, the ABA had become an elitist organization, representing the upper crust of the profession, with elitist values. Early on, it promoted codes of ethics for its members in an effort to define and uphold appropriate, professional conduct. Today, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct have been adopted and/or incorporated by a majority of the states.
In 1952, the Association established three years of college as a prerequisite for admission to law school. By the 21st century, a majority of law schools either required or preferred the completion of course study for a four-year bachelor’s degree prior to the study of law. After completion of an additional three years of law study, a law student is awarded the degree of juris doctorate (J.D.) and becomes a candidate for admission to the bar.