An odd Victorian bears much responsibility for the current crisis in legal education. After practicing law for fifteen years, Christopher Columbus Langdell hypocritically convinced law schools that law professors as a rule should have no practice experience. He also convinced them that law professors should come from only a few elite schools (whatever that means) and that the law can and should be learned through parsing redacted appellate cases. To be sure, Langdell always had critics and many law schools have moved away from him over the years to various degrees. For example, in the years before the Great Recession, law schools began adding clinical and legal writing faculty who merged practice with theory. However, these faculty members often were and often continue to be regarded as inferior in status to the “core” or “doctrinal” Langdellian faculty, were and often continue to be paid less, and were and often continue to be non-tenure track, non-core faculty.
All this brings me back to the convergence noted above. It’s no accident that prospective lawyers, prospective business persons, and persons seeking a capstone to their liberal arts educations would all value a law degree freed from the Daze of Auld Langdell. By snubbing practice, Langdell dumbed down law school both intellectually and morally. To take a chess analogy, it’s much more intellectually and morally rigorous to win an honest, hard-fought game than to merely analyze lifeless rules or analyze redacted accounts of others’ games. Law is no different. Let’s teach the law in all its dimensions, elevate our standards as a result, and make the juris doctor one of the most rigorous, important, fascinating, useful, and sought-after degrees in academia.