Logic and Experience: The Origin of Modern American Legal Education

By William P. Lapiana | Go to book overview

6

A New Legal Science

Langdell was not alone in thinking about legal science. Langdell's construct was only one current in a broad stream of change. Even as the new dean was settling into his work in Dane Hall, a small group of young men in the Boston area had been investigating legal science for some years, discussing their findings in a group that would later be known as the Metaphysical Club and publishing some of their work in the American Law Review. Of this group, the most important were Nicholas St. John Green and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. They based their conception of law on the facts of the decided cases, yet they found Langdell's work unsatisfactory. Holmes's thought, of course, is often contrasted with Langdell's to the latter's detriment. Even so, the three men were closer intellectual companions than generally has been realized. The similarities highlight the importance of the belief in the case as the source of law for understanding nineteenth-century American jurisprudence. The founding generation of case method teachers at Harvard all shared that belief.


Fact Based Legal Science

The goal of the advocates of a new legal science was familiar: they sought to order the principles of the common law. They also recognized that the traditional ordering schemes based on the old science of procedure were no longer viable. "We cannot help saying that useful as books often are which gather under a remedy or class of remedies such as injunction or action, the rights which it protects", Holmes wrote in 1871, "the day for such an arrangement is passed." Such arrangements were useful "earlier in the history of jurisprudence," when procedure was more highly developed than were rules, "but now we want principles as they are related to each other, not according to the accidental difference in the way of enforcing them." 1 The science of ordered principles fared no better.

The goal of legal scientists like Joseph Story had been to create a proper understanding of the system of law through the intelligent application of inductive methods. Because the system that was to be revealed existed independently as part of the nature of things and the forms of action

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