Logic and Experience: The Origin of Modern American Legal Education

By William P. Lapiana | Go to book overview

Preface

The genesis of this study of the origins of modern American legal education is to a great degree personal experience. As a trained historian, a lawyer, and a teacher of law, I have been taught by the case method, have used it to teach, and have also been puzzled by the emotions it evokes in both its defenders and detractors. As a law student I was exposed to the typical picture of Christopher Columbus Langdell as the important but basically uninspired creator of this peculiar method of education. I was also taught that Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was the anti-Langdell. Certainly during the time I was a law student, Grant Gilmore's judgment of the relative worth of the two men was widely held: "Langdell's thought was crude and simplistic. Holmes's thought was subtle, sophisticated, and, in the last analysis, highly ambiguous." 1 As a law teacher I am party to many (indeed, too many) discussions of the worth or lack of worth of the case method. Today, it is fair to say, legal education generally accepts that the case method lacks something and that Langdell took too narrow a view of legal education. Holmes's tag -- that his contemporary was "the greatest living legal theologian" who could not understand that the life of the law is not logic but experience -- is forever attached to Langdell's reputation, especially among his academic descendants.

The study of American intellectual history first led me to believe that the narrowness might be on the part of Langdell's critics. Thus this volume is an attempt to place Langdell in context, within the intellectual and to some degree the social world in which he carried forward his reforms of legal education. The conclusion is that Langdell was no fool; indeed, he was an accomplished practitioner whose ideas about law and how to study it not only were well grounded in contemporary jurisprudence but also strongly reflected the experience of practice under the great changes wrought by code pleading.

I also suggest that the appeal of "Langdellianism" -- of the case method and the careful creation of a structure of rules of law -- was based on its practical effects. To be sure, the skills of case parsing that it taught were truly useful; moreover, the rigorous academic legal education it fostered helped assure the social position of the bar in a rapidly changing world. The construct Langdell and his contemporaries worked to create was a

-vii-

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Logic and Experience: The Origin of Modern American Legal Education
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - Harvard's Transformation 7
  • 3 - Antebellum Legal Education 29
  • 4 - Case Method and Legal Science 55
  • 5 - Harvard and the Legal World 79
  • 6 - A New Legal Science 110
  • 7 - Opposition 132
  • 8 - Reconciliation 148
  • Epilogue 168
  • Notes 171
  • Bibliography 221
  • Index 243
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