Brandeis: A Free Man's Life

By Alpheus Thomas Mason | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Cambridge and St. Louis in the 1870's

Louis, not yet nineteen, entered Harvard Law School, September 27, 1875. He was without college training and prepared directly for his new studies only by reading Kent Commentaries on American Law that summer. His financial resources comprised a few hundred dollars borrowed from Alfred.

Louis loved life at Harvard, where he remained until 1878. Those were indeed "the wonderful years." Long letters to his family and friends in Louisville spoke in glowing terms of the advantages of studying at this "splendid institution." The fullest letters went to Otto Wehle, a young Louisville attorney, who later married Louis's sister Amy. "You have undoubtedly heard from others of my work here," Louis wrote Otto, March 12, 1876; "how well I am pleased with everything that pertains to the law; yet my own inclinations prompt me to repeat the same to you, though at the risk of great reiteration. My thoughts are almost entirely occupied with the law, and you know -- Wovon das Hertz voll ist, u.s.w." Of "Inestimable value" were a "complete library of over fifteen thousand volumes" and the opportunity to "associate with young men who have the same interest and ambition, who are determined to make as great progress as possible in their studies and devote all their time to the same."

A question then much debated among lawyers and students was the relative advantage of study in law school as against "reading law" in a lawyer's office. In 1876 Louis had not made up his mind. "After one has grasped the principles which underlie the structure of the Common Law," he wrote Otto, "I doubt not that one can learn very much in an office. That first year at law is, however, surely ill-spent in an office."

He was still concerned over the question in 1889. "Undoubtedly," he then observed, "each offers advantages which the other does not possess. All lawyers concede that a short apprenticeship in the office of a practitioner is valuable; but a thorough knowledge of legal principle's is essential to higher professional success, and this knowledge, which under all circumstances is difficult of acquisition, can rarely be attained except as the result of uninterrupted, systematic study, under competent guidance. For such training, the lawyer's office seldom affords an opportunity."1

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