The Case Method in Legal Education
Each doctrine has a history. In the case of law, Langdell has argued that students would be better
educated if they were asked to draw their own conclusions about the meaning of judicial decisions.
Case studies provide students with an overview of the main issue; background of the institution,
industry and individuals involved; and the events that had led to the problem or decision. Faculty may
assign questions prior to class to facilitate the students to focus on certain important issues. Principles
of law are taught by making the students analyse abridgments of appellate cases in combination with
the Socratic method.
The case method in legal education was introduced by Christopher Columbus Langdell, who was dean
of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895. Langdell conceived of a way to systematize and simplify
legal education by focusing on previous cases that extended principles or doctrines. Each doctrine,
Langdell argued, have assumed its present shape gradually. His beliefs differed from those of his
colleagues who followed the lecture method that has been prevalent approach for teaching law school
students since the nineteenth century. So far, teachers have interpreted the meaning of various court
verdicts on their own without offering any signicant opportunity to the students to do so. The case
method, on the other hand, has forced students to read, analyse and interpret cases on their own.
Langdell opined that law students would be better educated if they were asked to reach their own
conclusions about the meaning of judicial decisions. His first casebook, A Selection of Cases on the
Law of Contracts, was a collection of settled cases that illustrated the state of contract law. Students
read the cases and came prepared to analyse them during Socratic question-and-answer sessions in class.
The case method uses a court decision to exemplify principles of law, and employs ‘hub-and-spoke’
discussion between faculty and students.
The Harvard Business School’s case study approach grew out of the Langdellian method. But instead
of using established case law, business professors chose real-life examples from the business world to
highlight and analyse business principles. The Harvard Business School-style case studies typically
Asian Journal of Legal Education
© 2018 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
1 Shri Vaishnav Vidyapeeth Vishwavidyalaya, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Upinder Dhar, Vice Chancellor, Shri Vaishnav Vidyapeeth Vishwavidyalaya, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India.
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