The modest aim of this piece is to supply some historical background to the other contributions to this Symposium. The modern American law school curriculum is the product of a few but critical choices of design, some of them over a century old. In this Article, I seek to (1) outline how the basic structure and content of the modern American law school curriculum came into being and what were the main competitors that curriculum displaced; (2) describe some of the ways in which the curriculum's basic structure and content have changed since its inception; and (3) point to some of the main sources and motors of change.
ORIGINS OF THE BASIC STRUCTURE AND CONTENT OF THE MODERN AMERICAN LAW SCHOOL CURRICULUM
The American law school-in the basic shape we recognize it today-originated with the model of legal education that President Charles W. Eliot and Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell established at Harvard in 1870. At first, Harvard's model seemed as if it might fail: the school had lost enrollments and had to make its way against rival models and hostile critics. By 1900, however, Harvard's success was assured. Its example-sometimes transmitted by Harvard's own former faculty as pro-consular deans, such as William Keener at Columbia and Joseph Beale at Chicago-spread to other leading law schools between 1895 and 1925; and between 1925 and 1950 virtually every full-time university-based law school in the country had adopted the Harvard model's basic elements. This story of convergence on a uniform model is all the more remarkable when one considers that all of these law schools were preparing their students for a wide variety of roles and careers in the United States' highly stratified and segmented legal profession. A. The Bedrock: The Harvard Template and Its Rivals In the period of its adoption, Harvard's model was distinctive in both structure and content.
Robert W. Gordon,
The Geologic Strata of the Law School Curriculum,
60 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol60/iss2/2