My dissertation, “The Lawyers’ Code: The Transformation of American Legal Practice,” traces the rise of the modern American system of civil litigation from the 1850s to the end of the 19th century. During that time most states adopted a code of practice drafted by the New York lawyer David Dudley Field. The Field Code abolished much of the old common law method of bringing suits and granted lawyers greater power over the management of litigation. My presentation will focus on key aspects of this statute that made it a “lawyer’s code” and then illustrate the ways digital textual analysis can help us understand American lawmaking and legislative “borrowing” among the states.
My work explores the legal and bureaucratic articulations of lives after individuals pass away without a last testament or any known next of kin. Last summer I conducted fieldwork at the King’s County Public Administrator’s Office, which administers the estates of all Brooklyn, New York residents who die intestate. I followed along and participated as KCPA employees went out on investigations, scouring the apartments of the recently deceased for hidden wills, medical records, bank statements, and valuables. In the office I observed investigators collaborate with case managers to piece together decedents’ personal details, verify assets, and attempt to locate heirs. At the same time, as a former-auditor-turned-anthropologist, I was asked to help KCPA management comply with a harsh audit of their office that had just been released by the New York City Comptroller. My presentation will cover all these aspects of my fieldwork and more, as I attempt to reflect on the ways that institutional processes shape social life as it is lived and as it is understood in retrospect.