SERJEANTS-AT-LAW or SERVIENTES AD LE GEM constituted the highest order of counsel at the English and Irish bar. The title is said by Coke to have been introduced into England by William the Conqueror with other titles of serjeanty (q.v.). However this may be, Bracton, writing c. 1250-58, says that the king had his serjeants-at-law in every county, and that until 19 Stephen he had no other chief officer in the city of Nor wich but his serjeant, who presided in the courts there. After the Conquest the sheriffs are officers of the Crown, and we know from other sources that they were usually serjeants-at-law. They were therefore styled servientes Regis ad legem who as stewards of courts baron served the lords of the manor in a similar capacity, or who as counsel—conteurs or narratores—appeared for suitors in the courts. These men were styled common serjeants, a title which survives in the common serjeant of the City of London, and (a second class) king's serjeants. As it happened, both were selected from the utter-barristers. The serjeants (except king's serjeants) were created by writ of summons under the great seal, and wore a gown and scarlet hood. They had social precedence after knights bachelors and before companions of the Bath and other orders. In this they differed from king's counsel,
who had simply professional as distinguished from social rank. The serjeants at the Irish bar had precedence next after law officers of the Crown. Till past the middle of the 19th century a limited number of the serjeants were called "king's (queen's) serjeants." They were appointed by patent and summoned to parliament. Until 1814 the two senior king's serjeants had prece dence of the attorney-general and solicitor-general. It was the custom for serjeants, on their appointment, to give gold rings inscribed with mottoes to their colleagues. Down to 1845 the order enjoyed a very valuable monopoly of practice.
Certainly, for at least 600 years the judges of the king's bench and common pleas were always serjeants, but by the Judicature Act 1873 this qualification was abolished. The sergeants had their own Inns, one in Fleet street and one in Chancery lane. In 1758 the members of the former joined the latter. In 1877 the society was dissolved, the Inn sold to one of the members, and the pro ceeds divided among the existing serjeants. The order is now extinct.
See J. Manning, Serviens ad Legem (1840) ; A. Pulling, The Order of the Coif (1897).