Brandeis’ History of Harvard Law School Article Republished


Considering that Brandeis’ “Right to Privacy” is one of the most famous law review articles, it was surprising for me to discover that he only wrote a handful of other articles. (The majority of his published writing was made up of speeches, Supreme Court opinions and magazine articles.) The Summer 2008 issue of Green Bag republishes one of Brandeis’ few other law review articles: a history of the Harvard Law School that was originally published in the first issue of the original Green Bag. Brandeis wrote the article in 1889, about 70 years after the founding of the school and 10 after he had graduated from there. It’s an engaging read about the school’s early days. Brandeis devotes the last half of the article to the arrival of Langdell and his introduction of the case method of teaching law, which at the time of the article’s writing, had not been adopted by many other law schools.

It is probably the discussion of Langdell and his reforms that prompted the Green Bag to republish the article as it is prefaced by an article by Elena Kagan, the Dean of Harvard Law School. Kagan uses her introduction to the Brandeis article to announce a major revamping of the Harvard curriculum. While praising Langdell’s reforms, Kagan claims that they are insufficient to meet the needs of 21st century lawyers. What is needed now are tools that develop what she calls the law students’ “legal imagination.” In other words, it is no longer enough to merely teach legal reasoning, but now students need skill that will enable them to become leaders and problem solvers.

I won’t try to summarize all of the innovations here. The big changes are an addition of three courses to the first year curriculum (they’re making way for the courses by shaving hour credits off of existing courses) and what Kagan calls a “clinical renaissance”. Harvard has created eight new clinical faculty positions and have doubled the number of students enrolled in clinics. As the University of Louisville will be rolling out its first clinic soon, this aspect particularly caught my eye.

Langdell’s innovations in legal education became the standard by which legal education was taught in all law schools. Will the same happen with Harvard’s new innovations? It will be interesting to see.

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