Fron Lincoln to Present - a Brief History of Legal Education in the United States

From Lincoln to Present

A Brief History of Legal Education in the United States

By:   Debra Samora

The study of law has gone through several changes since the American colonial period and my research has suggested that there were in fact many changes. One change I found most interesting is that originally there was no system of legal education.  
In the early 18th century, local training developed largely through apprenticeship – a system of “on the job” training. Those wanting to become lawyers in the colonial period sought out an established lawyer, paid a fee, and got practical experience working at the lawyer’s office as well as more academic learning by reading legal treatises and receiving instruction from the lawyer.   The men interested in pursuing a legal education sought out apprenticeship combined with a formal examination in order to practice law.   It remained the common method of legal training through the late 18th century.  
The apprenticeship model continued in the early days of the founding of the United States,
supplemented by self-study. Lawyers-to-be could read various legal texts on their own.  
The legendary example of self-study as a means to enter the legal profession was that of Abraham Lincoln. Writers for Harvard Law School’s centennial history, in making a point about
early law schools in the United States, referred to the “example of Abraham Lincoln, who without any schooling whatever had made himself a successful lawyer...”
Some lawyers were so skilled at giving lectures to their apprentices that they gave tutorials and started their own schools.   The earliest private law school was the Litchfield School in CT was started in 1784 and closed in 1833.  
By the middle of the 19th century there were 15 in existence none of which offered degrees, they provided lectures on various subjects which at some point were absorbed by a university.  
During the second half of the 19th century, the law school started to gain momentum...