Raising the Bar, Razing Langdell
14 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2015 Last revised: 18 May 2016
Date Written: November 16, 2015
As an introduction to the Wake Forest Law Review’s symposium edition on “Revisiting Langdell: Legal Education Reform and the Lawyer’s Craft,” this article highlights longstanding, substantial damage Christopher Columbus Langdell has inflicted on law schools and legal education. Much of this damage stems from three of Langdell’s wrong and counterintuitive notions: (1) law is a science of principles and doctrines known with certainty and primarily traced through case law; (2) studying redacted appellate cases is “much the shortest and best, if not the only way” of learning such law, and (3) despite Langdell’s own roughly fifteen years of practice experience, practice experience taints one’s ability to teach law. This article highlights problems with, and harms resulting from, each of these wrong notions. Among other things, this article explores: (A) contradictions, oversights, and wrong assumptions in Langdell’s views; (B) how the very meanings of “theory” and “practice” reject Langdell; (C) how the necessary role of experience in meaning itself rejects Langdell; (D) parallels between Langdell and unworkable Cartesian dualism; and (E) how the necessary role of framing in the law rejects Langdell. This article also briefly surveys some remedies suggested by reason, experience, common sense, and modern cognitive psychology. These include rejecting the redacted appellate case method as a primary mode of instruction, recognizing the necessary fusion of theory and practice, recognizing the need for practice experience in law professors, recognizing the embodied nature of meaning and the resulting role of practice and simulation in good legal education, embracing the humanities (including classical rhetoric) in legal education, abandoning meaningless distinctions such as distinctions between “doctrinal” and “non-doctrinal” courses, and abandoning “caste” systems demeaning those with law practice experience and elevating those who lack such necessary experience.
Keywords: Langdell, Legal Education Reform, Case Method, Humanities, Narrative, Rhetoric, Framing, Embodied Meaning, Cartesian Dualism, Peirce, Theory, Practice, Experience
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