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The Proliferation of Case Method Teaching in American Law Schools: Mr. Langdell's Emblematic “Abomination,” 1890-1915

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Extract

Case method teaching was first introduced into American higher education in 1870 by Christopher C. Langdell (1826-1906) of Harvard Law School (HLS), where it became closely associated with—and emblematic of—a set of academic meritocratic reforms. Though regnant today, “the ultimate triumph of [Langdell's] system was not apparent” for many years. The vast majority of students, alumni, and law professors initially derided it as an “abomination,” and for two decades case method and the associated reforms were largely confined to Harvard. During the subsequent twenty-five years between 1890 and 1915, a national controversy ensued as to whether case method teaching—and the concomitant meritocratic reforms—would predominate in legal education and, ultimately, professional education in the United States.

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Copyright © 2006 by the History of Education Society 

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100 LaPiana, William P., “Just the facts: The Field Code and the Case Method,” New York Law School Law Review 36 (June 1991): 335. See 327–335. See, too, Kimball, “‘The Highest Legal Ability in the Nation': Langdell on Wall Street, 1855-1870,” Law and Social Inquiry (Winter 2004): 80–83. Douglas Lind has demonstrated the correlated growth of case reporting and casebook publication in “An Economic Analysis of Early Casebook Publishing,” 100–102.

101 Kimball, “… The Inception of Case Method Teaching in the Classrooms of the Early C.C. Langdell, 1870-1883,” 62–66.

102 Eugene Wambaugh to James B. Thayer, 17 February 1892, box 20, file 2, in Thayer Papers. See Eugene Wambaugh, The Study of Cases: A Course of Instruction in Reading and Stating Reported Cases… (Boston: Little, Brown, 1891).

103 The Centennial History of the Harvard Law School, 81–82; Goebel, A History of the School of Law, Columbia University, 140–141; Stevens, Law School, 56.

104 Thayer, James B., Select Cases on Evidence at the Common Law (Cambridge: C. W. Sever, 1892); Thayer, Cases on Constitutional Law, with Notes (Cambridge: Charles W. Sever, 1894-1895), 2 vols.

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106 Thayer, Cases on Evidence, iii. See also Thayer, Cases on Constitutional Law, iv.

107 These calculations are based on my own review of these casebooks. See Thayer Papers, box 16, fs. 9–10; Thayer, Cases on Constitutional Law, vi. Cf. John C. Gray, Select Cases and Other Authorities on the Law of Property (Cambridge: Charles W. Sever, 1888-1892), 6 vols.

108 James B. Thayer to Charles W. Sever, 13 Aug. 1892, box 16, file 9, in Thayer Papers. See also box 16, files 9-11; box 17, files 1-2.

109 Letters to James B. Thayer from Boston Book Co., 18 April 1901, James F. Colby, 31 March 1894, Charles F. A. Currier, 20 March 1895, Abner C. Goodell, Jr., 26 March 1895, Robert J. Sprayal, 22 March 1901, box 17, files 1-2, Thayer Papers.

110 Gray, James C., “James Bradley Thayer,” Harvard Law Review 15 (April 1902): 601. See Abner C. Goodell, Jr., to James B. Thayer, 26 March 1895, box 17, file 1, in Thayer Papers; George E. Gardner to James B. Thayer, 1 Sept. 1898, box 16, file 9, in Thayer Papers.

111 I am grateful to Douglas Lind for sending me a copy of his valuable essay, “An Economic Analysis of Early Casebook Publishing,” and for generously sharing with me his unpublished data on the publication of casebooks between 1908 and 1915. Reprints of casebooks have been eliminated from Lind's data.

112 Lind, “An Economic Analysis of Early Casebook Publishing,” 105–106.

113 Financial efficiency has been cited as a reason for the adoption of case method. Robert B. Stevens, “Law Schools and Legal Education, 1879-1979,” 217–219; Stevens, Law School, 63. But it is difficult to see how case method is more cost-effective than large lecture classes. In addition, the “modern law school was obviously expensive. In contrast to the nineteenth-century law department, the expenditures for the faculty and library alone were enormous.” Johnson, Schooled Lawyers, 131.

114 Reed, Training for the Public Profession of the Law, 392, 443. See the schools marked by an asterisk in Table 1.

115 Ames, James B., “James Bradley Thayer,” Harvard Law Review 15 (April 1902): 600. See Proceedings of the American Bar Association 23 (1900): 448–58, 569–75.

116 The Night Law School of the Young Men's Christian Association, Cincinnati, Announcement of its Twenty-Sixth Year 1918-1919, 6–10; Samad, “A History of Legal Education in Ohio” 134–135; Mary L. Clark, “The Founding of the Washington College of Law: The First Law School Established by Women for Women.” The American University Law Review 47 (February 1998): 662n273.

117 Bennett, Hugh F., “A History of the University of Newark, 1908-1946” (PhD diss., New York University, 1956), 34–42; Steven P. Frankino and C. Benjamin Crisman, “An Historical Look at the Creighton University School of Law,” Creighton Law Review 9 (1975): 228–9, 231; David A. Frank, “Harvardizing the University [of Texas],” Alcalde 10 (February 1923), 18071809; Leon Green, “Use of Case Books and Texas Law School”, Alcalde 10 (March 1923), 1882-1892; [Testimonials to Ira P. Hildebrand,] Texas Law Review 21 (Dec. 1942): 211–215; 23 (December 1944): 51–52; Maulsby Kimball to James B. Thayer (17 September 1898), Thayer Papers, box 17, f. 2; Robert Schaus and James Arnone, University at Buffalo Law School: 100 Years 1887-1987 (Buffalo: University at Buffalo Law Alumni Association, 1992), 48; Washburn College, Yearbook, Ichabodian, 1865-1915 (Topeka, KS: Washburn College, 1914), 73–74; Washburn College, Bulletin, Register for 1914-1915, 78; Ellen Sue McLane, “A Home at Last: A History of Washburn School of Law,” Washburn Alumnus, Law School Edition 3 (September 1969): 4–5, 8.

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119 The popularity of this co-option is demonstrated by the fact that all but one of 33 casebooks published by the West. Publishing Co. in their Hornbook Series from 1912 to 1943 are entitled “Illustrative Cases in…” I am grateful for Douglas Lind for sending me his index of the Hornbook Series.

120 Boden, “The Milwaukee Law School: 1892-1928,” 19.

121 Quotations are from National University, The Law School, Announcement, 1917-1918, 17. See National University, The Law School, Announcement: 1916-1917, 11–12, 17–19.

122 Quotation is from “Chicago-Kent College of Law,” Athenaeum Law Bulletin 11 (November 1899): 1. See Chicago-Kent College of Law, Annual Announcement…1915-1916, 7, 11; Morris, Jeffrey B., Brooklyn Law School: The First Hundred Years (Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Law School, 2001), 3132; Benton College of Law, Announcements, 1906-1907, 16–20; Omaha School of Law, Announcement for 1911-1912, 6–8; John B. Stetson University, Department of Law Annual Announcement and Bulletin, 1916-1917, 2–4; Henry Borneman, “The Origin and First Seven Years of the Temple University School of Law,” Temple Law Quarterly 27 (March 1954): 417–419; Temple College, Law School…1915-1916, 5–6; Boston Young Men's Christian Association, Evening Law School Catalog: 1909-1910, 17; Northeastern College School of Law, Catalog: 1918-1919, 15.

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128 Quotations are, respectively, from LaPiana, Logic and Experience, 138, 143, 142, 141. See 122–147; William P. Aiken, “Methods of Instruction at American Law Schools. IV. Yale University,” Columbia Law Times 6 (May 1893): 223–4. The English jurist John Austin (1790–1859) was the leading figure in the Anglo-American school of analytic jurisprudence that flourished in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

129 LaPiana, Logic and Experience, 132. Emphasis in original. Stevens does not systematize the disputes over the utility of case method. Law School, 51–56, 120–121.

130 Samuel, Gwenn B., The First Hundred Years are the Hardest: A Centennial History of the Detroit College of Law (Detroit: Detroit College of Law, 1992), 41. See Chicago Kent College of Law, Annual Announcement … 1905-1906, 8.

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132 Quotations are, respectively, from Kenneth Waltzer, “The Harvard Law School Under Langdell and Eliot: example and Leadership in the Professionalization of Legal Education 1870-1900,” (Unpublished seminar paper, Harvard University Archives, 1965), 16.

133 LaPiana, Logic and Experience, 133.

134 M., “Correspondence, to the Editors,” Columbia Law Times 1 (October 1887): 25.

135 Keener, William A., “Inductive Method in Legal Education,” American Law Review 28 (September 1894): 718.

136 Aiken, “Methods of Instruction at American Law Schools,” 223.

137 Quotations are, respectively, from Reid, “Some Pages from the History of New York University School of Law,” 18; Kirchwey, “Law, Education for the,” 662; Emlin McClain to James B. Thayer, 2 April 1895, box 17, file 1, Thayer Papers. See [Duke University], Catalogue of Trinity College, 1905-1906, 109–10; Edmund Whetmore, “Some of the Limitations and Requirements of Legal Education in the United States,” Proceedings of the American Bar Association 17 (1894): 407–9.

138 Redlich, The Common Law and the Case Method, 24.

139 Arnes, James Barr, “Discussion,” Proceedings of the American Bar Association 31 (1907): 1025.

140 Goebel, A History of the School of Law, Columbia University, 155.

141 Coates, Albert, “The Story of the Law School at the University of North Carolina,” North Carolina Law Review 47 (October 1968): 46.

142 Ritchie, John, The First Hundred Years: A Short History of the School of Law of the University of Virginia for the Period 1826-1926 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978), 56. See Coates, “The Story of the Law School at the University of North Carolina,” 34.

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144 Ritchie, … A Short History of the School of Law of the University of Virginia, 54–56; Brown, Elizabeth Gaspar, Legal Education at Michigan: 1859-1959 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1959), 200, 209; Coates, “The Story of the Law School at the University of North Carolina,” 36–42; Wilson, Louis R., The University of North Carolina, 1900-1930: The Making of a Modern University (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), 551–552.

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146 Reed, Training for the Public Profession of the Law, 254–270; Auerbach, Jerold S., Unequal Justice: Lawyers and Social Change in North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 74101.

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148 Samuel F. Mordecai quoted in Bryan W. Bolich, “Duke Law School: The First Hundred Years,” [unpublished typescript, 1968] reprinted as “History of Duke Law School” in Duke Law School Alumni Directory, 1868-1972 (Raleigh: Duke Law School and Duke Law Alumni Association, 1972), xvii. See Valparaiso University, Announcement … Department of Law … 1909-1910, 11; David J. Mays, The Pursuit of Excellence: A History of the University of Richmond Law School (Richmond: University of Richmond, 1970), 31; Redlich, The Common Law and the Case Method, 40. With the inception of case method at HLS, “the presence in the recitation rooms of a considerable proportion of persons whose minds were rude and unformed became at once a serious impediment.” Charles W. Eliot, Annual Report of the President…of Harvard College, 1874-75 (Cambridge: John Wilson, 1876), 25.

149 Auerbach, Unequal Justice, 102–129; Johnson, Schooled Lawyers, 120–153; Stevens, Law School, 74–84.

150 Blewett Lee to James B. Thayer, 30 Jan. 1894, box 17, file 2, in Thayer Papers.

151 Robbins, David L., “Opportunity's Haven: The Ambiguous Heritage of Suffolk University Law School,” Suffolk University Law School Journal: 75th Anniversary Edition (Orientation Issue 1981): 8–9, 12; “History of Cleveland-Marshall Law School,” Cleveland-Marshall Law Review 2 (Spring 1953): 8; Samad, “A History of Legal Education in Ohio,” 182–7; Gwenn Bashara Samuel, The First Hundred Years are the Hardest: A Centennial History of the Detroit College of Law (Detroit: Detroit College of Law, 1992), 11, 41; Crockette W. Hewlett and Leora H. McEachern, Attorneys of New Hanover County 1724-1978 (Wilmington, North Carolina: n.p., 1979), 183; Bill Reaves, “Inside Old Wilmington,” Wilmington Morning Star (16 Jan. 1975): 11-C. John Marshall School in Cleveland was founded in 1916.

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154 Bruce, Jon W. and D. Don Welch, “Vanderbilt Law School in the Nineteenth Century: Its Creation and Formative Years,” Vanderbilt Law Review 56 (March 2003): 509, 515–518. See Mark Bartholomew, “Legal Separation: The Relationship Between the Law School and the Central University in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Legal Education 56 (September 2003): 368–403.

155 Charles, A. Graves to James Thayer, B., 9 May, 1895, box 17, file 1; R. McPhail Smith to Charles W. Sever, 27 January 1896, box 17, file 2; C. A. [Graves] to James B. Thayer, 3 Sept. 1900, box 16, file 10, in Thayer Papers.

156 Quotation is from Charles V. Laughlin, “Edwin Merrick Dodd,” Legal Education in Virginia, 1779-1979: A Biographical Approach, ed. W. Hamilton Bryson (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1982), 203. See Washington and Lee University, Annual Catalog, 1916-1917, 154–5; Ollinger Crenshaw, “The School of Law, 1849-1949: A Century Revisited,” Washington and Lee Law Review 6 (March 1949): 33–34. Since early records about Maryland are missing, the judgment is inferred from Eugene F. Cordell, University of Maryland, 1807-1907, vol. 1 (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1907), 360–361; George H. Callcott, A History of the University of Maryland (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1966), 211–213, 331.

157 Hendricks, J. Edwin, Wake Forest University School of Law: One Hundred Years of Legal Education 1894-1994 (Wake Forest University, 1994), 14, 21; Edwin Luther Green, A History of the University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC: State Co., 1916), 237; Daniel Walker Hollis, University of South Carolina (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951), v. 2: 117, 208–209, 239, 276–7; Orville A. Park, “History of the Mercer Law School” (Typescript in Mercer University Law School archives, Macon, Georgia, June 1930), 2–6; Gwen Y. Wood, A Unique and Fortuitous Combination: An Administrative History of the University of Georgia School of Law (Athens: University of Georgia Law School Association, 1998), 49; Robert P. Brooks, The University of Georgia: Under Sixteen Administrations 1785-1955 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1956), 162–163; University of Florida College of Law, University Record 1914-1915, 22–28; “Florida Man to be Law Dean,” Washburn Review (18 August 1915): 1.

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159 Due to the loss of original records, this judgment is inferred from other factors reported in Paul M. Hebert, “Historical Sketch of the Louisiana State University Law School,” Louisiana Reports 245 (May 1964): 141.

160 Quotations are from David J. Langum and Howard P. Walthall, From Maverick to Mainstream: Cumberland School of Law, 1847-1997 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 33, 106–107. Osburn, William, Biographical Sketch … of Rev. John Braden, D.D.: Late President of Central Tennessee College (Nashville: n.p., 1900), 10; W. E. B. DuBois, and Augustus Granville Dill, The College-Bred Negro American (Atlanta: Atlanta University Press, 1910), 14; Reed, Training for the Public Profession of the Law, 425; Vanderbilt University, Law Department … Announcement, 1915-1916, 19. See Bruce and Welch, “Vanderbilt Law School,” 543; “Dedication: The University of Tennessee College of Law Building, Knoxville, April 14, 1950,” (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1950), 2–5.

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162 Sell, W. Edward, The Law Down: A Century Remembered—A 100 Year History of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (Pittsburgh, 1995), 5–38; Jeffrey A. Unaitis, “Historical Perspective: The Syracuse University College of Law …,” Syracuse Law Review 36 (March 1985): 895–898; Clements, “Albany Law School 1851-1951,” 154; Allen and Waite, Albany Law School 1851-2001, 61.

163 Dyson, Walter, Howard University: The Capstone of Negro Education, A History: 1867-1940 (Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 1941), 225; Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First Hundred Years 1867-1967 (New York: New York University Press, 1969), 121, 226.

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167 Cannon, Walter B., “The Case Method of Teaching Systematic Medicine,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 142 (Jan. 1900): 31–6. “William Osler [of Johns Hopkins Medical School] then dean of clinical instruction in the United States” politely thanked Cannon for sending him this article and, without explicitly contradicting Cannon, nevertheless equated the study of “cases” with clinical instruction, thus dismissing the very innovation that Cannon was trying to establish. Saul Benison, et al., Walter B. Cannon: The Life and Times of a Young Scientist (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 66. The distinction between case method and clinical instruction in law was later emphasized by Frank, “Why Not a Clinical Lawyer-School?” 907–923; Jerome Frank, “A Plea for Lawyer-Schools,” Yale Law Journal 56 (Sept. 1947): 1303–1344.

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170 Cannon, “The Case Method of Teaching Systematic Medicine,” 31–6; idem., “The Case System in Medicine,” 563–4; idem., “The Use of Clinic Records in Teaching Medicine,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Medicine 5 (1900-2): 203–13.

171 Emphasis in original. Richard C. Cabot, Differential Diagnosis: Presented through an Analysis of 383 Cases (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1911), 19. See idem., Case Teaching in Medicine, 1st ed. (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1906); idem., Case Histories in Mediane, 2d ed. (Boston: W. M. Leonard, 1912); Walter B. Cannon, “Dr. R. C. Cabot's ‘Case Teaching in Medicine'” Harvard Graduates’ Magazine 14 (June 1906): 609–610.

172 Although I have found no record of medical casebooks being published after 1920, the influence of medical case method persevered through the beginning of the twentieth-first century in the form of the weekly feature of “case records” appearing in New England Journal of Medicine, which superseded Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. Robert E. Scully, “Preface—Weekly Clinico-pathological Exercises Founded by Richard C. Cabot,” New England Journal of Medicine 342 (13 January 2000): 115.

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177 See, for example, Cox, George Clarke, “The Case Method in the Study and Teaching of Ethics,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods 10 (Summer 1913): 337–347; Overstreet, Henry A., “Professor Cox's ‘Case Method’ in Ethics,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods 10 (Fall 1913): 464–6; Powell, Thomas Reed, “The Study of Moral Judgments by the Case Method,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods 10 (Fall 1913): 484–94; Cox, George Clarke, “The Case Method in Ethics and Its Critics,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods 11 (Winter 1914): 16–23.

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