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The History of Law School

Law schools have been around for centuries, and developed into the higher education institutions that we know today. The first university, University of Bologna, was founded in Europe in the 11th century and concentrated on only teaching law only. It is said the first title of doctor was applied to those who completed their studies of law.

In the beginning, law schools were uncommon in the United States until the 19th century. Those who wanted to study law were of elite status, educated in England, and moved to America. During this time, most people became lawyers by reading classical legal texts, independent study, and apprenticeship and clerkships under the supervision of an experienced attorney. Some of the common theoretical and philosophical readings were by Cicero, Seneca, Aristotle, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, and Grotis along with excerpts from the bible.

Lawyers experienced resistance in colonial America because of their hierarchal role in English history. Animosity started to dissipate after the Revolutionary War, and governments began working more with legal professionals who had English training. As a result, legal education became very different from English legal teachings because they removed the stigma that only the elite can study law.

The first institution whose sole purpose was to teach law was Litchfield Law School, which opened in 1784. The success of this school lead to the establishment of other top universities, including Harvard, Yale (1843), and Columbia (1858). However, learning about law was still mostly apprentice and clerkship based up until the 1890s.

In 1878, the American Bar Association was formed, and began pushing for states to limit the amount of people admitted to practice law by requiring individuals to adequately complete several years in a post-graduate institution. The establishment of the Association of American Law Schools in 1906 then decided the law school shall consist of 3 years of study.

Modern legal education is no longer based on apprenticeship. Instead, it consists of teaching law as a science and practical skill by implementing clinical training, pleading drafting, and critical thinking. Law schools across the country have mandatory curriculums to ensure their graduates have a firm understanding of the legal system so they can participate effectively in the field. Over the centuries, the education of law has evolved, and continues to change as people debate what should be taught, what is important, and the length of law school studies.

Do you think legal education will change in the near future? If so, what should be added, taken out, or emphasized? Should law programs be shortened to 2 years or extended?

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