THE typical American university will not exist until we have an institution composed of several colleges, munificently endowed, and devoted each to a leading specialty. That is the leading educational institution in the nation, and the nearest approach to a university, which sinks the importance of the academical or training department by magnifying the departments or schools devoted to special topics. Harvard College, in a pre-eminent degree under the new regime, is striving to be more what the times demand, and is all too slowly becoming a true university, by elevating and increasing its schools, and rapidly making the continuation of its academical or preparatory department, as such, undesirable and unnecessary to its true usefulness and growth. Under the circumstances it is not singular that the friends of education in general, and the University in particular, watch with a jealous care, and take a no less unusual than healthful interest in, any innovations or reforms which are incorporated into the schools. This concern in the reputation and growth of the University is nowhere more noticeable than in the very general interest evinced in the success of the colleges of Medicine and Law. To this increased solicitude is due that ingenuous criticism which is always so welcome and useful to reformers.
In no department has there been a more radical reform than in the Law School. Instituted in 1817 with one instructor and three students, it finished its half-century with a full Faculty and one hundred and fifty students. A brief summary of half a century of earnest, able, and well-directed efforts to give as complete a course of instruction in the law as the times and facilities allowed, cannot but do injustice to the famous jurists and lecturers who have from the commencement filled the chairs of this school, - a list so extended and so celebrated that it would be invidious to particularize. In the year 1870 a new departure took place. The established reputation of the school, its increased revenues, and the very general increase of requirement for admission to the Bar in the United States, warranted and demanded an advance in the standard. To accomplish this so desirable a result has been the object of the radical and much criticised reforms in the school during the last four years. The following attempt to state the new theory, and compare it with the old system, and from them suggest a third, is made without any presumption to judge of which is the best, and is only offered in the hope that the upholders of the new system will explain its workings and ends, because the school does not have that confidence of the Bench and Bar in this Commonwealth which it needs and is bound to obtain if possible, nor has it that confidence of the students which is necessary and desirable to its highest usefulness.
The old system announced that "the design of the school was to afford a complete course of legal education for gentlemen intended for the Bar in any of the United States, except in matters of mere local law and practice." The curriculum was so arranged as to cover as far as possible all the important branches of the law. The method of instruction was by lectures, recitations, and moot courts. The students were brought into contact with some of the ablest jurists of the land, who instructed them in the use of books, the library, and how to work up a case. It is but just to add that this system was thoroughly practical.
The new system, or more properly the natural growth and progress which modern facilities of comparison of legal authorities, principles, and reasoning render possible, is as yet in its infancy. It is now announced that "the design of the school is to afford such training in the fundamental principles of English and American law as will constitute the best preparation for the practice of the profession in any place where that system of laws prevails." It is unfair to judge of this system, in its present incomplete form and application to the school, as if it had been tested by time and experience. It will not be denied that the school is at present in a transition period; as such, it deserves every allowance. It would be difficult to state to what extent or in what variations the new system will change the old methods; in fact, the reformers admit they have no definite plan as to extent, but they think, as all who have examined into the matter will agree, that they have struck a rich vein which it will pay to work. The key-note to the new system seems to be, that law is a science; that, considered as a science, it consists of certain principles or doctrines; that by mastering these doctrines and the application, we shall know what the law should be to be logical, where it is illogical, and how it is illogical. It conceives that these doctrines can be most advantageously studied by taking a series of cases carefully selected from the reports and making them the subject of study and instruction; and hence the new system is to select, classify, and arrange all the cases which have contributed in any important degree to the growth, development, or establishment of any of the essential doctrines, - to study the law systematically from its original sources.
The criticism made here will not take issues with the new theory of instruction by cases. But lack of time and experience to test and impart it in such a masterly form, method, and application as we may hope to see the future produce, we believe should prevent its extensive or very general introduction at present.
The criticism we would advance is, that the present curriculum is unsatisfactory in that it does not treat of the law as a whole, and neglects to give that general instruction which is very desirable and necessary for a student at this period, and was met by Chancellor Kent in his famous Commentaries, prepared for and delivered to classes of law students for the purpose of presenting to them a complete judicial outline.
Moreover, too much time is devoted to a single branch, and no instruction given in several branches of no less importance. As an example, in the important subject of equity a whole year of careful and most able instruction is given in discovery alone,- a single division of equity, and one that is wholly unused, while a general outline of the subject is omitted. The central fault in the system is not that the theory is incorrect, but that its application, as a practical matter, to the school and the study of the law is not as yet a success, and a modification seems desirable.
Both systems plan to give the student such a mastery of the principles of the law that he may be able to apply them with constant facility and certainty to the ever-tangled skein of human affairs. Both would dissuade the student from making himself a digest of legal propositions with a limited knowledge of the reasons why they exist. But they differ widely in the method by which they would produce this same result. The old system taught by deduction, giving principles and then substantiating them by cases and reasoning. The new system teaches by induction, giving cases and from these extracting principles. The inductive method has a certain scholarly, vigorous charm about it, and requires a mental application and habit which is the very best to discipline and strengthen the mind. It has aptly been termed the Socratic system; each student does his own thinking, analysis, and synthesis, - analysis, in reducing each case to its fundamental principles; synthesis, in collecting and arranging the principles so deduced into one harmonious whole, i. e. practical rules of law.
There are three reasons why this method should only be used to a limited extent in a law school: first, because of the unnecessary limit of human life to threescore and ten; secondly, because of the inconvenient and undesirable lack of experience incident to youth; thirdly, because an institution owes it to the public to supply the market as well as to elevate the market.
In conclusion and in summary, the College of Law at Harvard has an enviable history, and has before it a still more extended sphere of usefulness in the future. It is one of the most studious schools in the land, has an unequalled library, and its Law Clubs and moot courts are the most useful and best sustained of any Law School in America. Its great need is a curriculum better adapted to the times and the student. The present system presupposes that the student has a well-trained mind, has four years at least to devote to the theory of the law, and then several years more in an office, to devote to the practical part. This many believe to be a mistake, as the average law-student cannot possibly devote so much time and means to the acquisition of his profession previous to entering upon the practice of it. The duty of a law school, in the present age and in this country, which has no requirements for admission, no entrance examination, the majority of whose students are not college graduates, which requires for a degree a course of only two years' instruction, and whose graduates expect, and many are forced, to go immediately into the practice of the law, is not to attempt to make jurists or philosophers out of the students, but to give them a liberal, well-rounded course in the law as a whole; giving a full, extended course of instruction in the several most essential subjects, each topic to be treated as a whole and inductively as far as time will allow, and in addition to this, a course of analytical lectures on some of the most essential secondary subjects, with reference to a good text-book. Such a curriculum, and electives alternate years on Roman Law and International Law, and a summary of the Law, treated as a unit, in connection with some such book as Kent's Commentaries, offering to the student in a palatable way that which a jurist has acquired by his years of experience and labor, this course to be delivered by some man of experience and acknowledged ability as a lecturer and jurist, would, in connection with some such plan as has been roughly sketched above, be more useful, practical, and appropriate, under the circumstances and conditions under which the school and profession are placed, than the course now adopted. We trust that the learning and ability of the Instructors warrant us in predicting, that their labors will make the Harvard Law School what it ought to be.