Law in English Universities

Initially, universities such as Oxford and Cambridge saw little reason to include training in the law as it was practiced in the Inns. They instead taught subjects such as legal history, jurisprudence, and Roman and ecclesiastical law (Kearney, 1970). Because it was upper-class “gentlemen” who primarily attended English universities, legal training at the Inns of Court became the cheapest and the easiest route of social mobility for those who aspired to become gentlemen. Many sons of prosperous yeomen and merchants thus chose legal apprenticeship in an attempt to adopt a lifestyle associated with a gentleman.

The appointment in 1758 of Sir William Blackstone to the Vinerian Chair of Jurisprudence at Cambridge marked the first effort to make English law a university subject. Blackstone thought it would help both would-be lawyers and educated people generally to have a “system of legal education” (as he called it), which would be far broader than the practical legal training offered in the Inns of Court. Blackstone may thus be considered the founder of the modern English system of university education in law (Berman et al., 2004).

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