After 1870, several changes took place that established stratification within the legal profession and brought university law schools to an important position. A nationally prominent group of lawyers developed, and the bar (or the lawyers’ union, although never called by that name) fought vigorously to protect the boundaries of the calling (Friedman, 2005). Simultaneously, university professors of law began to make claims for the scientific status of law. The bar association movement started, and the establishment of new bar associations led to efforts to restrict admission to the bar. In 1878, the American Bar Association (ABA) was formed. After 1878, boards of examiners normally controlled by the local bar associations replaced the state supreme courts as the examining authority. Statewide boards were established and financed themselves out of applicants’ fees. The boards were almost invariably controlled by the state bar associations (Stevens, 1971).
Dean Langdell of Harvard Law School
Starting in 1870, Harvard began teaching law with the case study method. Instead of using the older system of textbook reading and lectures, the instructor carried on a discussion of assigned cases designed to bring out their general principles. The proponent of the case method, Harvard Law Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell, believed that law was a general science and that its principles could be experimentally induced from the examination of case materials. He rejected the use of textbooks and instead used casebooks as teaching materials; these were collections of reports of actual cases, carefully selected and arranged to illustrate the meaning and development of principles of law. The teacher became a Socratic guide, leading the student to an understanding of concepts and principles hidden as essences among the cases.
LangdeU also made it more difficult for students to gain admission. If an applicant did not have a college degree, he (almost all law students at Harvard and other universities were men) had to pass an entrance examination. A student was required to show knowledge of Latin by translating from Virgil or Cicero; on occasion, a skill in French could substitute for Latin. Langdell likewise made it harder for a student to graduate law school. He increased the length of legal education to 2 years in 1871 and then to 3 years in 1876.
He also replaced the lax oral examinations for a law degree with a series of written exams with increasingly formal standards. By 1896, Harvard also required a college degree as a prerequisite for admission to law school (Friedman, 2005).
Langdell’s changes helped increase the prestige of law and legal training and affirmed that legal science stood apart as an independent entity distinct from politics, legislation, and ordinary people. Langdell provided grounds for certain important claims of the legal profession. Law, he maintained, was a science that demanded rigorous formal training. There was justification, then, for the lawyers’ monopoly of practice.