The Law Student's Bill of Rights (1882)

7 Pages Posted: 11 May 2005  

John C. P. Goldberg

Harvard Law School


Reproduced herein with learned commentary is a report from the first Student-Faculty Relations Committee ever to convene in a law school. That Committee was formed in the winter of 1882 by Dean Langdell of the Harvard Law School. Outraged at the incomprehensible instruction of a new faculty member (one Professor Holmes), dozens of Harvard 1Ls petitioned for a tuition refund or, in the alternative, admission to Yale. The students' threats were dropped when Langdell promised to "arrange something else" for Holmes - a judgeship, as it turns out - and after the Committee produced the subsequently ratified Bill of Rights.

Dean Langdell's endorsement of the Bill of Rights demonstrates that he was interested not only in constructing arid legal taxonomies, but also in the education of law students. Here the modern reader must resist presentism. Strange as it may now seem, both of these objectives were at the time treated as worthy goals. Langdell's purpose is amply reflected in various inter-office memoranda that were later published as the Formalist Papers, particularly No. 10 (concerning the potential of self-interested faculties to dominate law school decision-making at student expense).

Needless to say, the purpose of the modern law school is to oversell its reputation. Still, despite the passage of time and this shift in orientation, the Law Student's Bill of Rights speaks directly to our contemporary predicament.

Keywords: Langdell, Holmes, Harvard, Bill of Rights, Student-Faculty Relations, Amendments, Clause, Establishment, Speech, Ratification, Legal Education

Suggested Citation

Goldberg, John C. P., The Law Student's Bill of Rights (1882). Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 22, 2005. Available at SSRN:

John C. P. Goldberg (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

Areeda 232
1545 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2086 (Phone)

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