My scene is set roughly between the years 1600-1800. I'm writing about a lawyer who is employed full-time by a company, but I don't know what kind of company from that time would need a full-time attorney, or even if that was common practice back then. I would like the nature of the company to hint at the era, which is only implied in the story, but I don't want it to completely give it away.

My best attempt was a stocks/securities firm, which could be anything from 1200 onwards.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any particular country in mind? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 14 '20 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander not really. $\endgroup$ – Purple P Feb 14 '20 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ Is this too early for a lawyer to be retained by the mafia or another criminal cartel? $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Feb 14 '20 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ The colonial era was mostly driven by companies, like the east india company. I find it safe to assume that they were employing small armies of lawyers. $\endgroup$ – Burki Feb 14 '20 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ What Companies from that time you checked? $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Feb 14 '20 at 10:23


Repossessions happened, and someone needed to do the paperwork. In fact, (in the U.S. (and it's not clear your story is set there) repossession of the property of people who'd temporarily abandoned their jobs to fight in the war for independence was a big political and legal issue.


Licensing of printed products was established as early as 1652. Full-time lawyers would have been necessary to register new products with the proper authorities, license each new book or product the company brought to market, fulfill whatever paperwork tasks were required to keep the publisher compliant with all other regulation, investigate any problems or questions, defend the company against any accusations, and file actions against anyone violating the company's rights.

Manufacturers with Brands

Trademarks have been around since the 1300s, but they really took off in the 1800s. Nearly every large company with a brand (fruit importers, brewers, producers of medicine, candy companies, fine jewelers, manufacturers) dealt with trademarks. Such a company would need someone on staff to file the trademark registration(s), investigate and prosecute smaller businesses attempting to sell knock-off products using your company's mark (or one confusingly similar).

Builder or Industry

Contracts to deliver, contracts by suppliers, these would need to be reviewed, approved, and likely worked on by a legal staff with the builder or manufacturing concern. Although lower-tier staff could bargain on payments and returns, unresolved problems or questions with timing, quality, price, fees, taxes and so on would rise to a company legal counsel. For a larger builder, this could easily be a full-time job.


Big need for legal help, as what could (and could not) be insured changed over time. When did freight become the liability of the shipper? The client? What was insurable (this branch of law had just started developing in the 1600s)? What was not? What was the best-practice language for policies, premiums, payouts? And investigating / defending the company against fraud.

Importer or Exporter

Although a lot of the calculating of duties, manifests, and other shipping paperwork could be done by untrained staff; I think it likely that some importers and exporters kept a lawyer, at minimum to advise on changing legal situations

  • $\begingroup$ I decided to go with publisher for now. Thanks for the ideas! $\endgroup$ – Purple P Feb 17 '20 at 10:55

Any company dealing with financial instruments or contracts or tariffs like shipping companies, import-export, commodities brokers, commodities futures, law firms, obviously, ship builders would conceivably require lawyers full time.

All of these kinds of businesses have existed since before 1600, with the possible exception of futures markets. The certainly existed by the end of your time range for stuff like cotton, tobacco, spices, coffee and chocolate.


The largest company in those times was the East India Company, which existed between 1,600 and 1,874.

The company was so large, and so powerful that in some places it was the government proper. Just the daydream of some billionaires.

Anyway, the company employed lawyers everywhere to defend its business practices. It got sued here and there due to stuff it did. I found an article about a lawsuit against the company in 1829, for failing to fulfill some of its financial services. You may be interested in reading it whole, to gather more details and inspiration for the setting you are creating. Here is an excerpt:

The case against Trebeck was related to a more complicated case of Ismahel Laxamana v. East India Company in August 1829 where he was the plaintiff's lawyer. The story goes back to November 21st 1809 when the Sultan of Kedah (on the Peninsula, now part of Malaysia) through his admiral (Laksamana), deposited in the EIC Government Local Treasury in Penang, the sum of \$5,000 (Spanish Dollars), to be kept until the admiral’s arrival. Unfortunately, the admiral never made it to Penang and was murdered in 1822 during the Siamese invasion of Kedah which began the year before. Upon the Sultan’s death, his son, the heir apparent to the throne, applied to the EIC Government for the money to be repaid to him, but this was not granted because the EIC had already spent the money. He then sued the EIC government for the sum of \$10,000 in damages through his admiral who was the heir of the deceased admiral, and "according to the laws, religion, manners, and customs of the Kingdom of Quedah," was the successor of his deceased father, and entitled to receive the said sum.


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