Up until 1943 the primary law book in the law universities was the bible.
2007 Dean of the Harvard Law School:
“When you haven’t changed your curriculum in 150 years, at some point you look around,” said Elena Kagan, the dean of Harvard Law.
The impetus for the changes is the sense that what has been taught and how it has been taught may be “embarrassingly disconnected from what anybody does,” Ms. Kagan said.
The New York Times, Training Law Students for Real-Life Careers, October 31, 2007.
Dean of Vanderbilt University Law School: “Often people defend the traditional curriculum by saying that we are teaching them to think like a lawyer. . . I say we are teaching them to think like an 1870s lawyer.” ABA Journal: The Lawyer’s Magazine, Re-engineering the J.D., July 2007, p. 45.
2000 Professor Crane: “Typically, the law professor will teach the entire course by leading a discussion about the material after students have prepared briefs of cases and short problems that convey information about the material—and the learning of it—in a piecemeal fashion. At the end of the semester, the professor has an expectation that the student will have mastered all of the material well enough to be able to understand the entire subject in a comprehensive way, even though that is not the way the material was taught. Nevertheless, that is the way the class material is most often tested and how student proficiency is assessed…. This creates a dichotomy that leads to charges of incoherence, arbitrariness and subjectivity.” Linda R. Crane, Grading Law School Exams: Making a Case for Objective Exams to Cure What Ails “Objectified” Exams, 34 New Eng. L. Rev. 785 (2000).
Practioner: “[E]ven if new law professors were prone to adopt a different method, many may resist for fear that the deviation may come back to haunt them in their quest for tenure.” David D. Garner, The Continuing Vitality of the Case Method in the Twenty-First Century, 2000 BYU Educ. & L. J. 307, 339 (2000) citing [Professor] Russell L. Weaver, Langdell’s Legacy: Living With the Case Method, 36 Vill. L. Rev. 517, 544 (1991) (“At most law schools, one would have difficulty obtaining a teaching position if during the interview process he openly stated a preference for the lecture method. Junior faculty who consider other teaching methods may stick with the case method for fear of retaliation in the tenure process. Although faculty are free from such restraints once tenure is received, few alter their methods at this point. They have used the case method for many years and, because they received tenure, they have succeeded with that method.”)
1996 Professor Areeda: “Classroom questions and hypotheticals can be unduly complicated in two ways: too intricate for quick oral comprehension and/or implicating too many issues. It is almost too obvious to say that classroom teaching cannot be effective unless students both (1) comprehend the problem or factual situation being discussed and (2) follow the responses and counter-responses. Most questions in class will be oral rather than written. Yet, I have heard instructors offer lengthy hypotheticals with many parties and a complex succession of facts. Such hypos work only at the end of the hour when they are, in effect, dictated to the students who write them down for later study. They are otherwise foolish, because students cannot absorb all the details or remember them in the course of the discussion… [and] even a simply stated and readily absorbed hypo may be too complex in a different sense: it may implicate too many issues. . . . [Furthermore,] one student’s formulation may be expressed in a way that the rest of the class will not readily understand. Or it may take him forever to make his point. Or the student’s point might not then be worth class time because it’s premature, quite special, or one whose exploration will not illuminate the issue before the class. In these situations, the ‘good guy’ professor makes a serious mistake. He fears that it would be rude to interrupt the unclear, prolix, or irrelevant student and so loses class momentum, wastes class time, and allows the rest of the class to be bored.” Phillip E. Aredda, The Socratic Method, 109 Harv. L. Rev. 911, 919-21 (1996) (formatting modified) (Professor Areeda is a renowned master of the Case Method from Harvard).
1992 Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law: “[L]aw schools have long failed to teach students the practical skills they need to acquire because most of them become practitioners rather than academics[; and] Judges have continued to publicly admonish law schools for their failure to impart necessary information to students. . . . The homogeneity of the teaching profession has fed on itself, as homogeneity often does. As law teachers become ever less experienced in practice—i.e. as they become every more one sided—their concern for the practice decreased and their disdain for and desire to be wholly separate from practice increased… There is nothing like ignorance to promote elitist views, contempt and separation.” Lawrence R. Velvel, The Deeply Unsatisfactory Nature of Legal Education Today, Massachusetts School of Law at Andover 1992 pp.132, 140.
1991 Professor Taslitz: “A ghost haunts traditional law school casebooks: the ghost of Christopher Columbus Langdell. . . Langdell’s method has been criticized for offering no clear guidance on legal reasoning, hiding black letter law, unnecessarily bruising student egos, and ignoring the artistry of lawyering and the distinct value that other disciplines offer to legal analysis. . . . We must exorcise Langdell’s ghost.” Andrew E. Taslitz, Exorcising Langdell’s Ghost: Structuring a Criminal Procedure Casebook for How Lawyers Really Think, 43 Hastings L.J. 143, 166 (1991) (emphasis added).
Professor Weaver: “If students had the opportunity to examine all of the decisions on a given subject from a given state, the discretionary aspect of judicial decision making would be apparent. They would realize that law is not as cut and dried as the casebooks and restatements make it appear to be… [It would be] easier to observe the law’s fluidity, to examine how policy considerations affect the outcome of cases, to see how judges treat legal rules, and to notice how important advocacy is to the outcome of cases.” Russell L. Weaver, Langdell’s Legacy: Living With the Case Method, 36 Vill. L. Rev. 517, 573 (1991).
1989 Professor Kissam: “The principle of speed [in law school final exams] rewards students for answers that merely identify a maximum number of issues and specify precisely many different rules. This principle tends to de-emphasize, discourage, and penalize student writing that involves coherence, depth, contextual richness, and imagination.” Furthermore: “The daily work in most law school courses . . . fails to provide models, instruction, or practice for the issue spotting and rule applications required for Blue Book exams[,] . . . students . . . are left largely on their own to acquire the skills of issue spotting and rule application in particular fields.” Philip C. Kissam, Law School Exams, 42 Vand. L. Rev. 433, 453, 470 (1989) (also explains the use of grading keys).(Kissam’s article cited above or his book The Discipline of Law Schools: The Making of Modern Lawyers is a must read for all law students).
Famous and Brilliant Trial Lawyer Gerry Spence:
“[T]he truth is that no law student in America receives competent training in the art of advocacy… Generations of students [have been produced] who at graduation were utterly unqualified to do anything except what their professors did—study the law.” Spence also tells the following illuminating and hilarious story:
Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak…to a national convention of law-school deans. I had them trapped in a single room in Jackson Hole, and I wasn’t going to let them go without first torturing them with the pesky truth I thought they already knew and were mostly helpless to overcome. I was cruel. I said, “I’ve seen these bright kids come, gawking, into a courtroom, their brains full to overflowing like foam off the head of a badly drawn beer. They know the law and can cite the cases and they have learned to look intelligent because they have emulated you, and some have even read the dialogues of Plato. But standing there in the courtroom, they are as impotent as a herd of fat steers.” The deans stared back.
“It’s pitiful,” I said. “Makes you want to cry. It isn’t that these young men and women are stupid. It isn’t that they don’t desperately want to be competent in their life’s work, or long to be worthy and successful trial lawyers. But the truth is that they are released after all those years of toil and agony at your hands and they are still worthless. I have scores of bright, well-educated young men and women from your universities apply for employment to my office every year. The letters of application would break your heart. They want to be trial lawyers. They have labored endlessly to digest what you have fed them, in order, of course, that they may later regurgitate it in their exams—like one of my old cows calls up her cud. They have been probed and tested; they have been run through the cutting chutes of the educational system and they are the survivors, but they are still worthless. They are the victims of the system you perpetuated.” One of the deans got up to leave the room.
“Where are you going?” I asked. “I’m not finished with you.”
“I’m finished with you,” he said.
“Your law students never had that choice.”
“I do,” he answered, and slammed the door behind him. I saw a look of slight concern come over several of the remaining faces. But most looked as passive as a band of freshly shown ewes.
“Shall I continue?” I asked. “Or is this too damned painful for you to bear?” A man in the front row with an easy smile and sleepy eyes said, “Continue, Mr. Spence. Maybe we need to hear this.”
“It’s free,” I said.
“So is a kick in the teeth,” somebody else said, and got up and left.
“Go ahead, Mr. Spence,” the man in the front row said again, and so I continued.
“Most of these young men and women have no other role models to follow, and so they tend to think like you, to make their faces look like yours, and even to walk like you. But most of you are not qualified to walk into a courtroom. I talked to a renowned trial lawyer in Denver the other day who told me he never hired young lawyers to help him anymore. ‘I hire nurses,’ he said. ‘Nurses?’ I asked. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘They’ve been taught to ask intelligent questions of the patient and to listen to someone who is hurt or frightened. They have been taught to care about the patient and write reports that others can rely on. They can get to the bottom of a case for me. Young lawyers just get in the way. They want to legalize everything, dehumanize every client, categorize every case, and box up people into causes of action and understand them in accordance with stare decisis. And after a year they demand partnership for their good work.’ He was right. The next day, I hired a local nurse myself, and she has been a great help to us ever since.” The man in the front smiled again, slightly. He shouldn’t have. It only encouraged me.
“I was asked by my son the other day what law school I would recommend to him. I said, ‘Well, we’ll try to find the school which is likely to teach you the least, because in that way you will have the least to unlearn before you can become useful as a lawyer.’…
I was flogging the innocent. What could the deans do? They, too, were caught in a system that had long ago been dominated by another group of elitists, the legal professors, the fussy savants of the law. The professors were not training young attorneys to represent people. They were teaching their students only what they themselves knew—the art of studying law.
Gerry Spence, With Justice for None (1989) p.55-59 (Spence’s book is a fun read for anybody interested in the law).
1984 Professor Nielsen:
It is a fact that a student can graduate from this, the fourth largest law school in the United States, without ever having written a pleading, a contract, a will, a promissory note or a deed. It’s worse than that.
It is a fact that most students graduate from this law school without ever having seen a real honest-to-God pleading, or contract, will, promissory note or deed. A student can graduate without ever having set foot in a courtroom and without ever having spoken to, or on behalf of, a person in need of advice or counsel. A student can graduate without once being exposed to the operation of the rules of court.
It is a fact that such students and those similarly trained at most other schools do pass the bar exam and are certified as competent to render advice and to represent others in court. Whatever else may be said about this license issued by the state bar, let it be said that for these students and their clients it is a cruel hoax.
Law professors are not appalled by these facts mainly because they are products of the same type of education.
James R. Nielsen, My Turn: The Flaw in Our Law Schools, Newsweek, June 11, 1984, at 15.
1973 The Honorable Former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger: “With few exceptions, law schools…fail to provide adequate and systematic programs by which students may focus on the elementary skills of advocacy.” Warren E. Burger, The Special Skills of Advocacy: Are Specialized Training and Certification of Advocates Essential to Our System of Justice?, 42 Fordham L. Rev. 227, 232 (1973).
1949 Former Justice of the Second Circuit and Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission: “[I]n most university law schools the major part of three years is spent in teaching a relatively simple technique—that of analyzing upper court opinions, ‘distinguishing cases,’ constructing, modifying or criticizing legal doctrines. Three years is much too long for that job. Intelligent men can learn that dialectic technique in about six months. Teach them the dialectic devices as applied to one or two legal topics, and they will have no trouble applying them to other topics. But in law schools, much of the three years is squandered, by bored students, in applying that technique over an over again—and never with reference to a live client or a real law suit—to a variety of subject matters.” Jerome Frank, Courts on Trial: Myth and Reality in American Justice, Princeton University Press (1949) p. 237.
1944 The American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Curriculum Committee Report on Legal Education found that the case method was “failing to do the job of producing reliable professional competence on the byproduct side in half or more of our end-product, our graduates.” Robert Stevens, Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s, The University of North Carolina Press (1983) p.214 quoting AALS Proceedings, 1944 at 168 (This report was written largely by one-time casebook defender and former law professor of Yale, Columbia, and Chicago, Karl Llewellyn).