Concept

Christopher Columbus Langdell

Summary
Christopher Columbus Langdell (May 22, 1826 – July 6, 1906) was an American jurist and legal academic who was Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895. Dean Langdell's legacy lies in the educational and administrative reforms he made to Harvard Law School, a task he was entrusted with by President Charles Eliot. Before Langdell's tenure the study of law was a rather technical pursuit in which students were simply told what the law is. Langdell applied the principles of pragmatism to the teaching of law as a result of which students were compelled to use their own reasoning powers to understand how the law might apply in a given case. This dialectical process came to be called the case method and has been the primary method of pedagogy at American law schools ever since. The case method has since been adopted and improved upon by schools in other disciplines, such as business, public policy, and education. This innovation, coupled with Langdell's introduction of strictly meritocratic principles into the evaluation of candidates, has led him to be considered "arguably the most influential teacher in the history of professional education in the United States." Christopher Langdell was born in the town of New Boston, New Hampshire, of English and Scots-Irish ancestry. He studied at Phillips Exeter Academy in 1845–48, at Harvard College in 1848–50 and at Harvard Law School in 1851–54. As a student, he served as one of the Harvard Law School's first librarians. From 1854 to 1870 he practiced law in New York City. In January 1870 he received an invitation from Charles Eliot to take up the chair of Dane Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Langdell accepted the offer and soon after became Dean of the Law Faculty, succeeding Theophilus Parsons, to whose Treatise on the Law of Contracts (1853) he had contributed as a student. As Dean he introduced sweeping changes to the curriculum of the Law school extending the length of the academic programme from one to two years and replacing the old-style lecture system with a new system of tuition which required a significantly greater level of engagement and input from students.
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