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THE LITCHFIELD LAW SCHOOL:

America's First Venture in Formal Legal Education

America's first law school with a national presence was founded in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1784 by Tapping Reeve, a former chief justice of Connecticut who had a special knack for teaching. At that time, Litchfield was close to the geographic center of the nation and therefore conveniently located for many of its students. The Litchfield Law School prospered for thirty-six years under Justice Reeve's leadership, and continued another thirteen years, until 1833, under the leadership of Justice Reeve's student, co-teacher, and successor, Judge James Gould. The list of more than one thousand students who attended Litchfield during this period includes many of the major legal figures of that generation, including Aaron Burr (who incidentally was Reeve s brother-in-law), Samuel Chase, George Mason, John Calhoun, and Augustus Hand (great-grandfather of the famous twentieth-century jurist, Learned Hand).

A major attraction of the Litchfield Law School was its promise to train its students for law practice in the relatively short period of fourteen months, including two vacations of four weeks each. Tuition was $100 for the first year and $60 for the remaining period. That certainly had to sound more attractive and financially appealing than apprenticing for five years' An additional attraction included a nearby girl's boarding school, from where it was said to the young Augustus Hand "the young ladies all marry law students."

The method of instruction consisted of daily lectures by Justice Reeve that were dutifully transcribed by each of the students. The lectures attempted to embrace every principle and rule of law, following a taxonomy devised by Reeve that categorized the legal universe into forty-eight distinct titles. The lectures were given in the morning and lasted for about one and a half hours each. Afterwards, students would use the library to read cited authorities from the lecture and neatly rewrite their notes in a form that later could be used as a permanent reference source in their law practice. Additionally, weekly moot courts were held, requiring two students to argue a case relevant to the weeks discussion. To bring the week to a close, exams were held every Saturday morning by a local lawyer who would introduce examples from his practice to illustrate the week's topic in his questions. A major strength of the Litchfield program of study was its teaching of law as a "system of rational connected rational principles" rather than a "code of arbitrary, but authoritative, rules and dogmas." The legal education program at Litchfield served as a model for other early ventures in American legal education, including the Harvard Law School, which drew on the skills of another proprietary legal educator, John Hooker Ashmun, when it began developing its law school in earnest in 1829.

Completion of the program at Litchfield did not entitle the graduate to bar admission in a number of states, however, and often only counted as part of the period of required apprenticeship. It wasn't until the American Bar Association exerted its influence in the late nineteenth century that years spent studying law at a law school were given equal treatment to time spent in an apprenticeship by those states that required apprenticing as a condition for entry to the bar.

 

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall.com Online Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

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