Legal education in America began with the apprenticeship system. If a young man wanted to become a lawyer, he persuaded an older practitioner to take him into his office where he ran errands, served papers, “polished up the handle on the big front door,” and in his spare time read law. That is a far cry from the modern approved law school which requires as a condition to admission at least three years of college work and the completion of three full years of intensive legal study. Throughout the years there has been steady pressure to improve the quality of legal education and to insist upon higher standards for admission to the bar. The story is graphically told in Dean Ilarno’s excellent book on Legal Education in the United States. Part of the pressure has come from the practicing members of the bar, but as might be expected most of it has come from within the teaching profession itself.
The case-book method of study, conceived by Professor Christopher Columbus Langdell of Harvard, in the 1870s, is undoubtedly the greatest single contribution to modern legal education. Other law schools were quick to recognize its virtues and adopt it, and it soon became the acceptable method of teaching law. It brought the students into close contact with the primary sources of the law and proved to be an excellent device for developing in them the analytical skills of the lawyer. However, in recent years, the law schools have come to realize that the case method of study is not a panacea. Although still regarded as a valuable teaching device, it is a great time waster in a crowded curriculum, it fails to take account of essential statutory, non-legal, and extra-legal materials, and it neglects other skills also required of the lawyer.
Legal educators everywhere are searching for better ways to utilize the three or four short years available to them to educate their students for the practice. They are struggling with many unsolved problems, but I should like to confine my discussion to four troublesome ones. First, there is the problem of teaching legal ethics. It is generally agreed that this cannot be done effectively merely by requiring the students to read the Canons and study cases of disciplinary action. What is needed is to inculcate a proper sense of professional responsibility, to create an awareness of the public interests involved as contrasted with the private affairs of the client, and to develop qualities of leadership in a democratic society which leans heavily on members of the legal profession for guidance. Secondly, there is the problem of crowding into the three or four years available all that the student needs to know to equip him for practice. Recent decades have produced a staggering volume of new law, some of it in entirely new fields, some of it the development of specialties in old fields. To mention only a few of the expanding areas, there is tax law, administrative law, labor law, and the growing field of governmental regulation. Thirdly, there is the problem of training students in the many practical skills required of a lawyer. Admittedly, the ability to analyze a ease is not the only technique a lawyer needs to know. Some of the neglected skills, according to the critics of the law schools, are drafting, counseling, negotiating, pleading, advocacy, and brief writing. Much is being done in the law schools along these lines, of which the critics are apparently unaware, but much more needs to be done. The problem is how to do it without sacrificing other and perhaps more important values in the curriculum. Fourthly, the law schools have recently been accused, and I think justly accused, of neglecting fundamental training in human relations, which are often more important than rules of law in modern practice.
Milton D. Green,
The Place of the Legal Fraternity in Legal Education,
35 Neb. L. Rev. 31
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