From Lincoln to Present
A Brief History of Legal Education in the United States
By: Debra Samora
The study of law has gone through several changes since the American colonial period and my research has suggested that there were in fact many changes. One change I found most interesting is that originally there was no system of legal education.
In the early 18th century, local training developed largely through apprenticeship – a system of “on the job” training. Those wanting to become lawyers in the colonial period sought out an established lawyer, paid a fee, and got practical experience working at the lawyer’s office as well as more academic learning by reading legal ...view middle of the document...
During the second half of the 19th century, the law school started to gain momentum and slowly began to replace the apprenticeship model and became the standard way to educate legal professionals.
In 1850 the law school’s program was a one-year course of study, with lectures and text books on various topics, used for instruction. In 1858 a professor by the name of Theodore Dwight started working at a newly-established school at Columbia University called the School of Jurisprudence. There he developed a formal program of law, using lectures, examinations, recitations , quizzes, and moot trials and Columbia University became the best law school around un 1870.
In addition, Dwight was one of the founders and influential leaders of the bar organization of the city of New York. He also introduced the idea of “diploma privilege” for entrance to the bar. Prior to its introduction, no formal education was required to enter the profession. The “diploma privilege” which arranged for graduates to be admitted to the bar automatically after the examination. It was soon adopted by other law schools. Currently, however, the “diploma privilege is not used today, the last state to recognize it was Wisconsin who retained it until 1989.
In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the emergence of science and scientific studies was becoming more strongly felt in academic and intellectual thinking, and law was included as one of the areas that could lend itself to the “scientific method.”
In 1870 a practicing lawyer by the name of Christopher Columbus Langdell who studied at Harvard Law School under the lecture-textbook method and was a proponent of law as a science and its importance in understanding the approach to legal instruction. He introduced the the idea to Harvard and was shortly thereafter made dean of the Law School.
Once he was appointed to the position at Harvard, he began to make changes. He is most well-known for instituting a way of learning based on the premise that law was a science and, as such, its principles could be discovered by looking at the data. The abrupt changes in the form of legal education caused an outcry.
In addition, he also established the entrance requirement of a bachelor degree, or an entrance examination. He extended the length of study from 1 to 2 years, and would eventually change it to 3. He then gave the ordered the curriculum in order of core courses first followed by advanced classes. Instituted full time teachers of law, and imposed final examinations for students to proceed to second year courses.
He believed that no experience was necessary to teach law, merely professors who have been trained academically in the law. These were radical ideas...