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Working paper

The French Bar and the Emerging Legal Profession in Russia

The complex and seemingly inconsistent use of the social vocabulary has been on the research agenda of those who study the Russian Empire for quite some time. Historians have long believed that the indiscriminate use of such terms as “estate” (“soslovie”) and “corporation” reflected Russian backwardness and eventually impeded further social and economic development, especially when it came to professional groups. The paper examines this assumption by focusing on the terminology deployed for the designation of Russian lawyers, in comparison to their French counterparts. Therefore, it dwells at length on the references to the French Bar in the bureaucratic discussion and in current press at the time of drafting the basic principles of the future Bar organization in Russia between 1857 and 1864. The comparison of the two sets of references provided plenty of evidence that the French notion of the estate (l'ordre des avocats) had a dramatic impact on the interpretation of Russian soslovie of legal practitioners. The French model seemed to spur social imagination and eventually helped Russian political and intellectual elites envisage a new type of social organization encompassing free, well-educated and politically engaged men.