The Law School Critique in Historical Perspective

115 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2012 Last revised: 7 Jan 2013

Date Written: December 2012


Contemporary critiques of legal education abound. This arises from what can be described as a perfect storm: the confluence of softness in the legal employment market, the skyrocketing costs of law school, and the unwillingness of clients and law firms to continue subsidizing the further training of lawyers who failed to learn how to practice in law school. As legal jobs become more scarce and salaries stagnate, the value proposition of law school rightly is being questioned from all directions. Although numerous valid criticisms have been put forth, some seem to be untethered from a full appreciation for how the current model of legal education developed. Indeed, a historical perspective on legal education is sorely missing from this debate, as many of the criticisms merely echo charges that have been lodged against legal education for well over a century, but do not draw lessons from how those former critiques ultimately failed to deliver fundamental change. This Article reviews the historical development of legal education in America, including the critiques and reforms made along the way, to see what insight we can gain that will inform our own efforts to make law schools better at preparing lawyers for practice.

Keywords: legal education, legal history, law school critique, law school reform, Langdell, socratic method, pedagogy, assessment, faculty, American Bar Association, Litchfield Law School, Harvard Law School

JEL Classification: I20, I21, I29, K49

Suggested Citation

Spencer, A. Benjamin, The Law School Critique in Historical Perspective (December 2012). 69 Wash. & Lee L. Rev., 1949 (2012), Available at SSRN: or

A. Benjamin Spencer (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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