America’s ‘First Law School’

A nice find over at Law.com: It’s America’s first law school, at least according to its sign in rural Litchfield, Connecticut.

The story is perfectly timely, as the class of 2019 strolls on campuses across the country: little do many know that they have this 232-year-old law school to thank. Called The Litchfield Law School, the school educated more than 1,100 men, “making it by far the most successful proprietary law school of its time,” reports Karen Sloan.

The article sketches a history:

Litchfield Law School founder Tapping Reeve didn’t set out to be a pioneer of legal education: He trained to be a teacher at Princeton University and taught for several years before apprenticing with a lawyer in Hartford. Reeve moved to Litchfield, then Connecticut’s fourth-largest town, with his young wife Sally Burr Reeve in 1773 and established a thriving legal practice. Sally’s brother, Aaron Burr, was the first apprentice at Reeve’s firm, and other aspiring lawyers followed suit as apprentices as word spread that Reeve had a gift for teaching. Responding to student demand, Reeve constructed a modest law school next to his house in 1784, through which 100 congressmen, 28 senators, three Supreme Court justices and 14 governors would eventually pass. One of those students, James Gould, came on as Reeve’s teaching partner in 1798 and continued to run the school after Reeve died in 1824.

circa 1800: American politician and vice-president to Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, (1756 - 1836). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

circa 1800: American politician and vice-president to Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, (1756 – 1836). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Aaron Burr was recently brought to mainstream pop culture’s conscious when he was portrayed in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Grammy-winning musical, Hamilton.

Things were a lot different back those days, as the school didn’t issue diplomas, but instead offered a letter of recommendation from the school’s founder, which enabled graduates to sit for a bar exam administered by local attorneys, Law.com reported.

At the time, the school made a convincing argument that a classroom education trumped what students could learn “at the heels of practicing attorneys as apprentices.”

Not sure lawyers would say the same thing today, with so much talk about first-year unpreparedness.

Have a good story? Write to us at BigLawBusiness@bna.com.

 

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