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legal education, law school crisis, 3L, Llewellyn, Wechsler, Great Depression


This article recovers the plight of legal education during the Great Depression, showing how debates over practical training, theoretical research and the appropriate length of law school all emerged in the 1930s. Using Bramble Bush author Karl Llewellyn as a guide, it strives to make three points. One, Depression-era critics of law school called for increased attention to practical skills, like today, but also a more interdisciplinary curriculum – something current reformers discount. Two, the push for theoretical, policy-oriented courses in the 1930s set the stage for claims that law graduates deserved more than a Bachelor of Laws degree, bolstering the move away from a two year LL.B. and towards a mandatory three year Juris Doctor, or J.D.. The rise of the J.D. following World War II, this article concludes, heightened the role of inter-disciplinary work in the first three years, even as it substantially diminished the role of advanced, graduate-level research, a point worth recalling as law school reformers, the ABA and, even the President of the United States lobby for shorter, more-practice oriented programs. While such proposals may be prudent, they may also warrant a return to plural law degrees.