Lawyers’ Empire
516 pages, 6 x 9
23 b&w photos
Release Date:01 Jul 2016
Release Date:28 Jul 2016

Lawyers’ Empire

Legal Professions and Cultural Authority, 1780-1950

SERIES: Law and Society
UBC Press

Approaching the legal profession through the lens of cultural history, Wes Pue explores the social roles lawyers imagined for themselves in England and its expanding empire from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Each chapter focuses on a critical moment when lawyers – whether leaders or rebels – sought to reshape their profession. In the process, they often fancied they were also shaping the culture and politics of both nation and empire as they struggled to develop or adapt professional structures, represent clients, or engage in advocacy.

As an exploration of the relationship between legal professionals and liberalism at home or in the Empire, this work draws attention to recurrent disagreements as to how lawyers have best assured their own economic well-being while simultaneously advancing the causes of liberty, cultural authority, stability, and continuity.

This work will be of interest to scholars interested in the history of empire and law’s role in governance at home and overseas. As such it will be of interest to lawyers and legal scholars. It is suitable for advanced seminars in history, law, sociology, and political science.


  • 2017, Winner - CLSA Book Prize, Canadian Law and Society Association
This collection is a timely treasure. Wes Pue’s search for the shifting meanings of legal professionalism propelled him across centuries and continents, from Victorian England to Canada’s prairie west to colonial and post-colonial Nigeria. Legal culture – what laypeople thought of lawyers and what lawyers thought of themselves – forms the analytical bridge linking these varied periods and places. As the legal profession enters a time of turbulence and transformative change, there could be no better time to be reminded of how earlier crises shaped today’s professional landscape. Philip Girard, Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School
Never one to equivocate, Wes Pue opens this book with a flourish. The past, he insists, is a ‘foreign place that can never be known.’ Unmasking lawyers as ‘energetic purveyors of historical myth,’ Pue then turns his considerable talents toward the ‘pursuit of better myth.’ Read this and marvel at his insight, his painstaking research, and his incomparable wit. These essays, boldly ranging across Britain and its Empire, brilliantly substantiate Wes Pue’s ‘larger than life’ reputation as one of Canada’s most fascinating legal historians. Constance Backhouse, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa
These innovative and richly detailed essays about history, law, and the legal profession present a significant contribution to common-law understandings of law’s travels across times and places and colonial regimes. Adopting simultaneously a local and transnational lens, Lawyers’ Empire reveals the role of the legal profession in the formation of national identities and cultural practices woven through with legal myths, competing narratives, and contradictory claims to authority. This is a ground-breaking volume, underscoring the colonial residues in all histories of the common law legal profession. Eve Darian-Smith, Professor in the Global Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara
Lawyers’ Empire is a phrase that perfectly captures the double meaning at the centre of this collection of Wesley Pue’s wide-ranging and provocative studies of lawyers and the legal profession. Pue’s lawyers look to place themselves and their profession at the apex of society – an empire defined by the rule of law. They simultaneously look to advance their national and imperial projects – an empire of liberal thought governed by lawyers. Drawing broad lessons from a variety of case studies, these essays are models of the historian’s craft. Jim Phillips, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, and Editor-in-Chief of the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History
No one should be allowed to study, teach, practise, or write about Canadian law without first reading Lawyers’ Empire, Wes Pue’s fine collection of historical essays. His account of the antecedents, culture, education, governance, and political economy of the Canadian and English legal professions is deeply informed and astonishingly informative, broad in sweep and rich in detail, provocative and witty. Harry Arthurs, President Emeritus, University Professor Emeritus of Law and Political Science, York University
This is a superb collection of essays from a scholar who eschews the obvious, yet attacks the crux of the issue without rubbing your nose in it. Nobody lays out for the reader such clarity of proffered understandings with such fascinating histories. There is a cinematic sense about Professor Pue’s approach. He begins with a close-up on the individual specific, then withdraws to global view, with a short flashback, before setting the story in full play. This releases us from ‘given’ theory such as the ‘sterile’ view of the history of legal education as a battle between the profession and the academy and enables a deeper, more nuanced understanding that also enlightens the problems of today. Avrom Sherr, Woolf Professor of Legal Education Emeritus, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London
For decades Wesley Pue has stood at the forefront of the world’s leading scholars on the politics of legal professions. This outstanding blending of his writings into a unified whole reveals at once the scope and imagination of his always fertile search for new and enlightening corners of lawyers’ activities at work and collectively. He moves seamlessly and with great intellectual dexterity across the centuries from the heart of the British Empire to its edges, from one colony or post-colony to another. He unearths long-forgotten archives and melds disparate materials into rich theoretical motifs. Lawyers’ Empire recasts our thinking about empire and the cultural politics of lawyers. Terence Halliday, Research Professor and Co-Director, Center on Law and Globalization, at the American Bar Foundation
The many admirers of Wes Pue’s distinctive approach to the history of the legal profession will not be disappointed by this latest collection of his work, the culmination of decades of pioneering research on lawyers, their corporate culture, and their socio-political engagements. In a series of perceptive microstudies traversing Imperial Britain and the British Empire, informed by wide-ranging theoretical and multi-disciplinary perspectives, Pue unravels the complexities and contradictions of professional rhetoric and the lived reality of legal lives. Wilfrid Prest, Professor Emeritus of History and of Law at the University of Adelaide

W. Wesley Pue is a professor of law at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. He is past president of the Canadian Law and Society Association, past provost at UBC’s Okanagan campus, and past vice-provost for UBC’s Vancouver campus. His work has been published in law journals around the world, and his book-length publications include Law School: The Story of Legal Education in British Columbia; Lawyers and Vampires: Cultural Histories of Legal Professions (co-edited with David Sugarman); Misplaced Traditions: Colonial and Post-colonial Approaches to Legal Professions in British Colonies (co-edited with Robert McQueen); and Pepper in Our Eyes: The APEC Affair.

Foreword / David Sugarman

Part 1: History in Professional Apologetics

1 The Use of History in the Development of Lawyers’ Mythologies

2 How “French” Was the English Bar? Barristers and Political Liberalism in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

3 Law and Colony: Making the Canadian Legal Profession

Part 2: Shaping Minds and Souls: Legal Education

4 Professional Legal Education at Queen’s College, Birmingham, in the 1850s

5 Common Law Legal Education in the Dominion of Canada’s Moral Project

6 British Empire Perspectives on the Case Method of Legal Education: Canada, 1885-1931

Part 3: Ethics, Regulation, and the Business of Law

7 Free Trade in Law: English Barristers, County Courts, and Provincial Practice in the 1850s

8 The End of Free Trade in Law: Discipline at the Inns in the 1860s

9 Regulating Lawyers’ Ethics in Early-Twentieth-Century Canada

Part 4: Challenging the Status Quo – Communists and Liberals

10 Gordon Martin, British Columbia Communist, 1948

11 Liberal Entrepreneurship Thwarted: Charles Rann Kennedy and the Foundations of England’s Modern Bar

Part 5: Dominion and Colonial Lawyering

12 Christ, Manhood, and Empire: The Case Method of Legal Education in Canada, 1885-1931

13 Lawyers’ Professionalism, Colonialism, State Formation, and National Life in Nigeria, 1900-60: “The Fighting Brigade of the People” / Co-authored with Chidi Oguamanam


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