• U.S.

Law: Reform in Chicago

2 minute read

“Legal education today is an impractical educational program masquerading as a practical one . . . [Law teachers] do not know the economic, social or political basis of legal decisions [or] their economic, social or political effects.”

So President Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago told the annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association recently (TIME, Feb. 8). He had not been back in Chicago three weeks when last week it was announced that Chicago’s Law School was henceforth going to practice what the University’s president had preached, in an “attempt to fulfill more thoroughly the obligation that law schools owe to the legal profession and to the country. . . . The lawyer and the judge must be much more than well-trained legal technicians.”

The reforms in the Chicago Law School’s curriculum as outlined by Dean Harry Augustus Bigelow will rearrange the traditional pattern of U. S. legal education. Chicago Law next autumn will offer a four-year course which takes the emphasis away from the casebook method introduced some 65 years ago by Harvard’s late great Christopher Columbus Langdell. The approved U. S. law course lasts three years. Chicago’s students will still study cases, but besides such standbys as torts, contracts, property and procedure, the new Chicago plan calls for courses integrating with the law materials of economics, psychology, political theory, accounting, statistics, ethics and philosophy. Comprehensive examinations covering each year’s work will be substituted for traditional course examinations. Independent study and small group consideration of legal problems will be stressed. In the fourth year, before getting the J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence) degree, a student will spend half his time on problems of economic organization, the rest in his field of specialization.

Said Dean Bigelow of the projected reform: “Our graduates shall be good lawyers . . . with an understanding of the nature of [the] problems and conflicts [of society], what approaches there are to their solution, and some evaluation of the factors evolved in the application of the approaches. . . . The sit-down strike, the State and National legislation that has been produced and proposed in the last few years obviously involve problems to which a merely legalistic approach is not adequate.” Added President Hutchins, onetime (1928-29) Yale Law Dean: “We hope to remove legal education from its remoteness from reality.”

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