With a faculty committee poring over an exhaustive report on the curriculum, the Law School this fall has begun to play the part of a major university problem. Beset on the outside by rapidly shifting concepts of legal thinking and tied from within by the system of teaching to which it has adhered for a generation, the school which was once the brightest star in the Harvard firmament has suffered a threat to its supremacy. That the faculty has waked up to the dangers is an encouraging sign, but in planning any changes in legal education the committee should keep a weather eye out for their influence on the rest of the University, as the undergraduates of today are vitally affected by what happens in the law school of tomorrow.
In the past the Law School has embodied the policy of splendid isolation. Even in the realm of higher learning no attempt has been made to bridge the gap between legal thinking and other branches of learning, such as history and philosophy, on which the law depends. President Conant's plan for "university professors", men who have all knowledge for their province, should widen the horizons of departments which have tended to inbreed and have lost the perspective that a broad intellectual outlook gives. For the Law School is not only a trade school for lawyers, but also a temple of legal scholarship, and the relation between the law and other fields of human endeavor should not be lost sight of by the men at the top.
Likewise the Law School has kept a hands-off policy towards the undergraduate body. At present the neophyte gets no inkling of what subjects are of value in preparation for life at the bar, and students are allowed to wander in the college wilderness without the guidance that would help them immeasurably when once they enter the professional division. Although rigorous pre-legal requirements should not be laid down, lest they limit too strictly the freedom of choice in college, the school should not shirk the responsibility of pointing out the undergraduate courses that form a valuable introduction to law.
Official recognition should be given to constitutional history, which forms the canvas on which the legal picture is painted, and to Latin, mathematics, science and logic, which make for mental discipline. If such courses were advertised as advisable for law school, less time would be wasted in "social sciences", which lawyers meet all the rest of their lives in practice, and the student would have a firmer foundation on which to build. Furthermore, a system of admission based on legal aptitude tests as well as on college records might well be adopted. Thus the selection of better trained men could be secured and the present practice of dropping a large number after giving them an expensive whirl in Cambridge could be done away with.
In planning to reorganize the curriculum, the faculty should consider the subjects that can be covered in undergraduate work, rather than increase the years in law school from three to four. For while an extra year would give time for worthwhile special study, the rank and file of men should not be compelled to pile Pelion on Ossa in an already burdensome education.
Harvard's basic system of teaching, as developed under Dean Pound, rests on solid ground, for it puts the emphasis not just on practical craftsmanship,--learning to write briefs and wills and the like,--but on building up a sound thinking habit in the law; the difference between smartness and wisdom. It is in adapting its outlook to changing economic and social conditions and in taking a more realistic attitude toward the problems of undergraduates and students that the present faculty committee can return to Harvard the hallmark of supremacy in the world of legal education.