Minnesota Law Review Volume 107 Symposium
Christopher Columbus Langdell implemented the case method while he was the Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895. Although many additions to the law school curriculum have been made since then—e.g., legal writing courses, legal practice courses, and clinics—the core of legal instruction remains has remained stagnant for more than a century and a quarter.
More than 200 U.S. law schools graduate tens of thousands of new lawyers every year, adding to the over one million lawyers practicing in the U.S. today. Each of these lawyers has undergone a relatively standardized training process to join the profession. But how well are these graduates actually being trained for the day-to-day practice of lawyering? What does a well-trained lawyer look like? And who is kept out by the barriers intrinsic to the status quo? Critics of the traditional law school models cite many of its shortcomings: they place too much emphasis on grades or doctrine, they emphasize legal practice too little, and the rigid formalism of law school does not allow for innovation.
Though most law schools and licensing boards have proven impervious to change, perhaps one of the few benefits of the recent global pandemic has been that it forced institutions to at least reexamine whether their standing practices have been working. Law schools and licensing bodies today have already started to respond to some of these critical questions through incremental changes such as robust clinical programs, practical skills/simulation courses, writing instruction, courses that tackle important social issues, and programs with flexible models—such as those designed to accommodate working people. But these reforms are far from standard, and the core of the curriculum remains identical to that of the 1800s. If there was ever a time for a major shift in the way we train lawyers for 21st-century legal practice, this is it.
The Minnesota Law Review's Volume 107 Symposium will highlight major themes in legal pedagogy, curriculum, and licensure, and engage law school students, faculty, and staff throughout the country in evaluating the shortcomings of the standard legal education and developing alternative methods.