Harvard Law Review/Volume 1/Issue 5/Correspondence

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In speaking of the work of the Columbia Law School I shall attempt to describe, in a general way, the subject-matter taught there, and to say a few words of the manner in which it is taught.

The instruction given in the school is divided into prescribed and optional work. The prescribed work embraces lectures on municipal law, which includes contracts, real property, torts, evidence, equity jurisprudence, and pleading and practice. The optional work includes lectures on constitutional law, criminal law, and medical jurisprudence. To obtain a degree of LL.B. no optional work need be done. It is sufficient if the course on municipal law is taken. However, by taking a certain amount of optional work, the degree of LL.B. cum laude may be obtained, and graduates of colleges are also eligible to a degree of A.M., provided they do a certain portion of the work of the school of political science, of which the lectures on Roman law, constitutional law, and constitutional history form a part.

Two years of study at the law school are necessary for a degree. The first year is set apart for the study of the law of contracts and of real property. For the purpose of introducing the student to the law of contracts, such parts of “Blackstone’s Commentaries” as relate to the consideration of law in general, the elementary laws of contract, and the definition and discussion of the nature of rights and wrongs, are first put before the student. All the rest of the first half-year is devoted to “Parsons on Contracts.” The general law of contracts, together with the law relating to the subject-matter of contracts, including sales, agency, partnership, bills and notes, insurance and shipping, is thus considered. The last half·year is devoted to the law of real property; and the second book of “Blackstone’s Commentaries,” together with Washburn’s “Treatise on Real Property,” are the text-books used for this purpose. This ends the work of the first or junior year.

The second year opens with the study of torts. Addison’s “Torts” is put before the student; after that comes Greenleaf’s and Stephen’s treatises on the law of evidence. Those men who purpose to practise in New York then take up the “New York Code of Civil Procedure,” while those who intend to practise in other States study “Stephen’s Pleading” and a short course on equity pleading. The year winds up with Bispham’s “Equity Jurisprudence” and a general review of the work of the two years.

The study of constitutional law, constitutional history, medical jurisprudence, and criminal law is conducted entirely by lectures. Each course is entirely optional, and need not be taken by candidates for the degree of LL.B.

The manner of teaching law at Columbia, as is apparent from the summary of the work just given, is conducted by lectures and the study of text-books. It has been said that the study of cases is disregarded. But this is not strictly true. It is true that the text-books are treatises, and not selected cases, as is the method at Harvard. But, nevertheless, in the course of the lectures leading cases are pointed out to the student, with which he is expected to acquaint himself, and in this way much that seems ambiguous from a text-book is cleared up.

But a most important means of instruction are the lectures. These occupy about one hour and three-quarters each day, and attendance on them is compulsory. They are not, strictly speaking, what are popularly known as lectures. Prof. Dwight’s method, which is followed by Prof. Lee and Prof. Chase, is what might be called a Socratic method; Prof. Dwight is a perfect dialectician, and his custom is to ask each student in succession questions on the text. He delights in nothing so much as an erroneous answer, not for the sake of snubbing the student, but because it gives him an opportunity to elucidate the law more clearly. By a series of artful questions he makes the student see the absurdity of his position, so that at last, after a considerable discussion, he is very ready to change his opinion.

At Columbia, too, as at Harvard, Moot Courts are held, and Law Clubs are encouraged. Many students, however, are in law offices, so that not so much attention can be given to the latter.

One of the most useful branches of the school are the “Quizes.” Of these there are two, the Junior Quiz and the Senior Quiz. From each class, as it graduates, a prize-tutor is chosen, who is appointed for three years. It is the business of these tutors to conduct the “quizes,” and the quiz consists in a review of the work of the school just gone over. The tutor takes the position of the professor, and conducts his quiz in the same manner as the professor conducts his lectures, except that, as his purpose is to review rather than to demonstrate, his treatment of the subject is much more general. The quiz is one of the most useful branches of the school, and the attendance at the quiz well demonstrates this fact.

Of course the course at Columbia, as it attempts to cover in two years what Harvard does in three, is not so thorough. But the number of students who successfully pass the examination for admission to the New York bar, and the high grade they take in comparison with the graduates of other schools, and other applicants for admission to the bar, show that the school in its two years does all that can be expected in that limited period.