Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Order of the Coif Definition:

The ancient order of barristers in England.

Difficult to pinpoint the advent of the ancient Order of the Coif in England. By the time of Geoffrey Chaucer (1400), Pulling writes that "the Order of the Coif was already a very ancient institution".

Just as lawyers used to pace the Roman Forum seeking clients, members of the Order of the Coif, English lawyers, or Serjeants of the Law, would gather just outside the St. Paul's Cathedral in London and meet with clients. They wore distinctive white silk or linen hats which covered the ears like a bonnet; coifs; close-fitting and tied under the chin.

lawyer wearing coifThe coif had to be worn at all times when lawyers exercised their profession even to the point that, as a great exception, they were allowed to keep them on even in the presence of His Majesty the King. The tombstones of many serjeants of the law have an effigy of a coif.

Members were called Brothers of the Coif and they each took a solemn oath to give legal counsel to the King and his people.

It was the English equivalent of the French Ordre des avocats (destroyed during the French revolution).

For many years in England, judges, too, were members of the Order and new appointments to the bench would be taken from the membership of the Order.

In the United States, the term has been taken and a same-name academic order constructed and given to graduating law students who excel in scholastic performance.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, A Serjeant of The Law
  • Pulling, A., The Order of the Coif (London: William Clowes and Sons Ltd., 1884)

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