For history of US legal education buffs, Yale Law School Library’s Document Collection Center has launched a wonderful resource, Litchfield Law School Sources.
This resource brings together text, images, interpretive material and bibliography about Litchfield Law School and the law notebooks kept by its students. During the school’s years of operation, 1774 to 1833, nearly 1,000 young men traveled to Litchfield to study with Tapping Reeve, the founder, and James Gould, his assistant and sole proprietor after Reeve’s death. More than 270 notebooks have survived, representing the efforts of 90 students as they recorded law lectures delivered by their teachers and copied charts and essays on particular points of law. At a time when the usual method of legal training in this country was an apprenticeship with a solo practioner, these notebooks are evidence of the beginning of professional legal education, based on a comprehensive curriculum which relied heavily on the content and structure of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.
Why did so many of the best and the brightest sons from elite families attend Litchfield? For the answer comb through the provided resources. See, for example, Composite Curriculum at Litchfield Law School based on lectures of Tapping Reeve, 1790-1798.
Hat tip to Dan Ernst’s Legal History Blog post. — Joe