Increasing costs, decreasing enrollments and doubts about its practical value has placed legal education in the U.S. under a controversial light. Until the mid-19th century legal training was essentially technical in nature. During that time many lawyers – like Abraham Lincoln – could afford to study the law by themselves without even attending any law school. By passing the bar exam, they were admitted into the legal profession.
After the Civil War legal education started to change. In 1870 a lawyer named Christopher Langdell was named dean of the Harvard Law School. During his 25 years at the helm of that school he changed the curricular structure, drastically reforming legal education. He introduced the “case method” approach, aimed at improving the critical thinking of students for purposes of class discussion. This meant that legal studies began to look more academic with a premium placed on scholarship rather than on practical skills. Law schools started to look more like other university studies – particularly like the humanities – than they did a vocational school. The teaching of the law, that used to take place in rented rooms away from the main campus of the university, was now welcomed in better buildings on campus whose construction was regularly funded by their alumni.