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Copyright (c) 2007 Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt Law Review

SYMPOSIUM: A Case for Another Case Method

March, 2007

Vanderbilt Law Review

60 Vand. L. Rev. 597


Todd D. Rakoff and Martha Minow*


American legal education is pretty good. Generally speaking, it is rigorous, and generally speaking, students learn a lot. After three years in law school, students usually leave not only with knowledge of specific legal materials, but also with the sharp analytic skills and ability to work in existing legal institutions that people expect from lawyers. But our society is full of new problems demanding new solutions. Less so than in the past-less than in the 1930s and less than in the 1960s - are lawyers inventing those solutions. Much of the action is moving to graduates trained in other disciplines and professions, such as economics, political science, and business. In our view, the stodginess of American legal education is partly to blame.

The plain fact is that American legal education, and especially its formative first year, remains remarkably similar to the curriculum invented at the Harvard Law School by Christopher Columbus Langdell over a century and a quarter ago. 1 Invented, that is, not just before the Internet, but before the telephone; not just before man reached the moon, but before he reached the North Pole; not just before Foucault, but before Freud; not just before Brown v. Board of Education, but before Plessy v. Ferguson. There have been modifications, of course; but American legal education has been an astonishingly stable cultural practice.

We leave to others in this Symposium the task of giving an adequate historical and sociological account of the persistence of the Landellian case method. ...
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