Law Hall of Fame logoThomas Lechford, the first lawyer to practise in New England, also had the dubious distinction of being the first lawyer ever disbarred in America.

Trained in England as a solicitor (Clement's Inn), he was thought to have been too close to fellow lawyer, William Prynne, to stay in England, circa 1638.

But his stay in the new continent was brief: June 27, 1638 to August 3, 1641.

Lechford disembarked in New England right into the strict Puritanism which permeated every aspect of the colony. Unbeknownst to him, but as he was quick to discover, the Puritan Courts of Massachusetts discouraged attornies from representing clients in their courts.

He was the only practising lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts when, in 1639, he was hired by William and Elizabeth Cole to commence an action against Mrs. Cole's brother, a certain Francis Doughty of Taunton, whom she accused of defrauding her of her share in their father's estate.

Once the jury was selected, Lechford approached them privately which was then reported to the General Court.

This is a misdemeanour known as embracery.

On September 3, 1639, sitting in Boston, the General Court of Massachusetts dealt with Lechford:

"M. Thomas Lechford, for going to the (jury), pleading with them out of court, is debarred from pleading any man's cause thereafter, unless his own, and admonished not to presume to meddle beyond what he shall be called to by the Courts."

Lechford, upon his return to England in 1641, complained not only of the stifling religious overtones in the new colony but also that his disbarment had left him poor and starving and forced to return to England.

He had seen and debated Nathaniel Ward's law code of 1641 and warned:

"I fear it is not a little degree of pride and dangerous improvidence to slight all former laws of the Church or State, cases of experience and precedents, to go hammer out new, according to several exigencies; upon pretense that the Word of God is sufficient to rule us: It is true, it is sufficient, if well understood. But take heed my brethren, despise not learning, nor the worthy lawyers of either gown, lest you repent too late."

Neither of his date of bith or of death are certain.