William Ellzey’s Certification of Charles Lee to Practise in the County Courts
[21 April 1781]
At the request of His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Governor of Virginia I have examined Charles Lee Esqr. touching his Capacity abilities and fitness to practice as an Attorney in the County Courts and do find him fitly qualified to practice in such Courts. Certified under my hand this 21st. day of April 1781.
MS (Vi); in Ellzey’s hand, endorsed in a later hand: “1781 April 21. Certificate of W. Ellzey. Chas. Lee to practice law.”
Charles Lee may possibly have been the Charles Lee (1758–1815) who became attorney general under Washington, though there is apparently no record of his having studied law in Virginia at this time (DAB description begins Dictionary of American Biography description ends ). The proceedings of Council contain no record of the granting of a license to Lee. TJ’s request of Ellzey to examine Lee was in accord with established practice. Laws regulating the practice of attorneys of 1748, 1761, and their continuations of 1765 and 1769 provided that anyone desiring to practice law should first obtain from the county court or other inferior court where he intended to practice a certificate of his “probity, honesty, and good demeanour” and that persons learned in the law should be appointed by the general court to examine and license candidates presenting such certificates (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends vi, 140–3; vii, 124, 397–401; viii, 184–5; 385–6). Apparently this method was not altered by law, but in practice after 1776 candidates applied to the Governor and Council who appointed examiners and, upon favorable report by the examiners, granted the license (Va. Council Jour., ii, 183, 187, 244, 306, 319, 324, 371). Under Bill No. 97 of the Revisal of the Laws the method of obtaining a license was merely stated to be governed “by the law then in force” (see above, Vol. 2:588); this was enacted into law in 1786 (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends xii, 410–11). TJ himself occasionally acted as examiner; see his certification of William Short as an attorney, 30 Sep. 1781. An interesting example of a case in which TJ and the Council granted a license when the examiners had some reservations about the applicant’s practical knowledge of the law is that of John Michie, who was licensed on 10 Mch. 1781 (Va. Council Jour. description begins Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia, ed. H. R. McIlwaine description ends , ii, 306). The examiners were Edmund Randolph and Henry Tazewell; their opinions are given in full in CVSP description begins Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond description ends , i, 565 (MS in Vi).