852 RARE: Hanging out a Shingle in Boston, 1878

As a newly minted lawyer in the late nineteenth century, what did you need–and how much did it cost–to set yourself up as a solo practitioner in Boston? The Library has recently acquired a lawyer’s manuscript expense book that provides an answer. W. Frederick Kimball (1851 – 1915) practiced law in Boston from 1878 until the beginning of World War I. After graduating from Harvard College in 1875 and studying briefly with attorney Alfred Hemenway, he enrolled in the recently opened Boston University Law School where he received his LL.B in 1877. Kimball was admitted to the Suffolk County bar on February 18, 1878 and began his practice a week later. His accounting ledger records the financial details of the first six years of his practice; in his first year, Kimball generated nearly $624 in fees, and by his fifth year was earning more than $2,500 in fees.

The first two pages of the ledger list Kimball’s expenses incurred in renting and furnishing an office in the Adams Building, 23 Court Street, Boston:

In addition to office supplies, Kimball purchased a used desk (for which he spent $1 for repairs), a subscription to the nearby Social Law Library, the services of a sign painter for the lettering on his door, and five books: Bump’s Law and Practice in Bankruptcy (1877); Buswell’s Practice and Pleading in Personal Actions in the Courts of Massachusetts (1875); Crocker’s Notes on Common Forms: A Book of Massachusetts Laws (1872); Smith’s Practice in Proceedings in the Probate Court (1876), and Curtis’s American Conveyancer (1871).

Exclusive of his $150 annual rent, Kimball spent $64.95 setting up his office and running it for the first month. According to the website “Measuring Worth: Purchasing Power of Money in the United States, 1774-2008,” Kimball’s expenditure of $64.95 is worth $1446.11 in 2008 dollars.

Post submitted by Dave Warrington
Special Collections Librarian

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