Fiat Flux: Evolving Purposes and Ideals of the Great American Public Law School

01 Apr 2012 12:01pm Christopher Edley, Jr.* 


Let us suppose that we can choose and bring about what a great law school will be decades from now. A direction is not difficult to propose, and an audience might be persuaded by verbal performance. But the cliché that past is prologue provides a better basis for choosing our direction. If we consider the earlier course of both great law schools and their accomplished graduates, I believe a rewarding path forward lies just beyond the surrounding thicket of the everyday. 

To discover that path, it seems fitting in this Volume to start with the thoughts of my predecessor, the founding dean of Berkeley’s School of Jurisprudence. One hundred years ago, at the dedication of Boalt Memorial Hall, Dean William Carey Jones began his formal remarks somewhat provocatively: 

The law schools of this country have never faced their problems. Like most institutions coming down from generation to generation, they have been slow to inquire into the original justification of their plans and programs, or to seek to learn whether what was once justified still retained its reason for being.

Reviewing the preceding one hundred years, Dean Jones stated, “[T]here is only one innovation of significant and essential importance that has been introduced.” This innovation was in the method instruction and was due mainly to the initiative of one person, Professor C.C. Langdell. The application that he made of the inductive method to the study of law has been well nigh revolutionary in its effects.

Our Dean knew Langdell’s method not only added much needed scientific rigor to legal study, but also demonstrated to students the essential lesson that to practice law is by its very nature to reform it: “[L]aw is a living principle, even as medicine is an advancing science. Law is in process of constant becoming. It is ever being re-created, not only through legislation, but through a sort of self-reproduction.”

To this I would add that a school of law—especially a public one—if it is to be and remain great, must be comparably dynamic. Indeed, it should be more so if it is to be not merely an echo of what the law is, but a clarion herald and perhaps agent of progress. 

Part I of this Essay illustrates the evolutionary path the American Law School took during the twentieth century, from its early apprenticeship-based model to today’s modern university institution, enriched by diverse, Ph.D.-trained faculty. Part II provides three recommendations that collectively point toward a vision for the next few decades at the Great American Law School. First, we must embrace a curriculum designed to prepare students for legal careers outside the traditional practice of law. Second, we should strive to graduate effective societal problem-solvers—both lawyers and non-lawyers—by encouraging cross-disciplinary bonds across the research university campus. Finally, we must take seriously the Great Law School’s international role, and its duty to shape a global legal culture that will promote prosperity, security, and human dignity. 

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Copyright © 2012 California Law Review, Inc. California Law Review, Inc. (CLR) is a California nonprofit corporation. CLR and the authors are solely responsible for the content of their publications. 

*The Honorable William H. Orrick, Jr. Distinguished Chair and Dean, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law; Co-Director, The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy. I greatly appreciate the careful comments from several colleagues, especially former Dean Sanford Kadish and Professor Lauren Edelman. This Essay offers ideas I have not yet presented for consideration by the Berkeley Law faculty.  

1.Wm. Carey Jones, The Problem of the Law School, 1 CALIF. L.REV. 1, 1 (1912). 

2.Id. at 1, 4.  


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