The Jeffersonian Vision of Legal Education

Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 51, No. 2, 2001

William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-63

28 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2011

Date Written: 2001


This article examines Thomas Jefferson's vision of the role of lawyers and education in the preservation of America's republican form of government.

Jefferson believed that the new nation desperately needed virtuous leaders who would place the public interest above their own private interest.

Proper education could help develop this needed virtue, Jefferson concluded, particularly among lawyers who by the nature of their work were well positioned to provide direction and leadership to the new nation.

Accordingly, Jefferson urged not merely that aspiring lawyers be taught the details of legal doctrine and nuances of proper pleading, but that they also be afforded a broad understanding of political theory, modern and ancient history, and moral philosophy.

Jefferson implemented his vision of legal education at the College of William and Mary in the early 1780s, thereby launching the tradition of training lawyers in the university setting which was adopted by other colleges during the next few decades. Although many scholars have argued that this initial experiment in university-based legal education was of limited success, in fact Jefferson's experiment in legal education at William and Mary helped train an extraordinary group of lawyers who fulfilled Jefferson's vision for republican leadership.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, George Wythe, St. George Tucker, history of legal education, Jefferson and education, republicanism and education

Suggested Citation

Douglas, Davison M., The Jeffersonian Vision of Legal Education (2001). Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 51, No. 2, 2001, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-63, Available at SSRN:

Davison M. Douglas (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

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