Understanding the Origin and Evolution of the Legal Profession in India

The legal profession in India has a rich history that dates back to the British colonial era. It has evolved significantly over the years, with changes in legislation and regulations governing the practice of law. In this blog post, we will delve into the origin and development of the legal profession in India, highlighting key milestones and significant regulations.

The Origin of the Legal Profession in India

The legal profession in India did not exist during the Hindu and Mughal periods. Instead, the administration of justice was primarily in the hands of the ruling monarch, and there was no distinct legal profession. During this time, the king’s court was the highest authority in matters of justice, and individuals had to present their cases personally.

The British colonial period marked the beginning of the legal profession in India. The East India Company, which established itself in India during the 16th century, gradually expanded its control over various regions. To administer these areas, the British introduced company courts, which were initially presided over by individuals with no legal training. Notably, Indian lawyers were not allowed to practice in these courts.

Recognition and Regulation

The first significant recognition and regulation of the legal profession in India came with the Charter Act of 1774. This act permitted English lawyers to practice in the Supreme Court of Calcutta. Subsequently, in 1801 and 1823, English lawyers were allowed to practice in the Supreme Courts of Madras and Bombay, respectively, but Indian lawyers were still excluded from practicing in these courts.

In 1865, the Special Rights Act granted the Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta High Courts the authority to create rules for recognizing advocates and maintaining an advocates’ roll. It was only in 1879, with the Legal Practitioners Act, that Indian lawyers were granted recognition as “vakils.” However, vakils were still not allowed to practice before the High Courts.

The Evolution Continues

In 1923, an Advocates Committee was formed under the leadership of Sir Edward to examine the legal profession and recommend improvements. This committee recommended the establishment of Bar Councils in each High Court and allowing vakils to practice before the High Courts. Consequently, the Bar Council Act was enacted in 1926, creating Bar Councils in each High Court. However, these councils lacked the power to enroll advocates; that authority remained with the High Courts.

After India gained independence, an Advocates Committee chaired by Justice C.R. Das was formed in 1951 to address issues in the legal profession. It made several key recommendations:

  • The creation of the Bar Council of India at the central level.
  • The establishment of State Bar Councils in each state.
  • Empowering Bar Councils to enroll advocates and exercise disciplinary authority.
  • Allowing advocates to practice across India without discrimination.

The Advocates Act of 1961

These recommendations were adopted, leading to the passage of the Advocates Act in 1961. This landmark legislation consolidated existing laws related to the legal profession. Key provisions of the Act include:

  • The creation of the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils.
  • The preparation of a common roll of advocates for all of India.
  • Empowering advocates whose names are on the common roll to practice throughout India.
  • Abolishing the distinction between advocates and vakils.
  • Granting Senior Advocate status to exceptional legal professionals.
  • Providing autonomy to Bar Councils.

The Role of Bar Councils

Bar Councils play a crucial role in regulating the legal profession in India. They maintain rolls of advocates, oversee ethical standards, and protect advocates’ rights. Bar Councils also encourage legal reforms, manage funds, and provide legal aid.


The legal profession in India has a complex and evolving history. From its origin during British colonial rule to the enactment of the Advocates Act in 1961, the profession has seen significant developments. Bar Councils now play a central role in regulating and advancing the practice of law in India, ensuring that advocates uphold ethical standards and promote justice.

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