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The Evolution of Legal Education

Cindy Pham Posted in Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers®, News

The Denver Bar Association’s October edition of The Docket features a brief history of the American legal education system and mentions Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers‘ current efforts “to advance legal education and raise standards of competence and professionalism.”

The Docket discusses how legal education was originally based on a system of clerkships and apprenticeships until the end of the 19th century when it was replaced by a system of formalized legal education and training, thought to provide a more standardized and rigorous foundation for law students. This formalized system eventually evolved into what is now commonly known and used as the case system, which relies on the Socratic method to teach case law.

However, with the reliance on the formalized case system of legal education, some critics worried that law students were losing practical skills that apprenticeships provided. Recognizing the need to balance the benefits of both legal education systems, many schools now work to add clinics, externships, and other hands-on work experience to their programs. The article references the work of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers to promote this goal.


  • Maxeinerj

    Ryan Jardine’s article A Brief History of Legal Education in America: From Apprenticeships and
    Back Again?  is a reminder that legal education is More
    than Just Law School.

    The United States in eliminating practical training after law school is
    practically alone among modern nations. Other common law countries have their “articling,”
    while civil countries have even more formal post law school practical training

    As plans for the law school of tomorrow are developed, it is important
    to remember that the Bar must have a major role. The law schools, if for no
    other reason than finances, cannot take on the laboring oar. Those who think
    that medical education can be a model should examine finances. Tuition makes up
    less than 4% of medical school funding, but 80% or more of law school funding.

    For further information:

    Maxeiner, James R., More than
    Just Law School: Global Perspectives on the Place of the Practical in Legal
    Education (February 23, 2008). Available at SSRN:
    http://ssrn.com/abstract=1230459 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1230459

    Maxeiner, James R., Integrating
    Practical Training and Professional Legal Education: Three Questions for Three
    Systems (May 25, 2007). IUS Gentium, Vol. 13, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1232577   (Text to be available shortly on SSRN, in
    book form at http://amzn.com/9048181402)

    Maxeiner, James R., Educating
    Lawyers Now and Then: Two Carnegie Critiques of the Common Law and the Case
    Method (June 1, 2007). International Journal of Legal Information, Vol. 35, No.
    1, pp. 1-46, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1151529

    The last paper addresses medical
    school comparison and the passing of apprenticeship.  It is published in book form together with
    the first Carnegie Report at  http://amzn.com/1600420338. The first
    Carnegie Report is fascinating.

    James Maxeiner
    Associate Professor
    University of Baltimore School of Law