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While Yale University had a defining moment with its foundation in 1701, the establishment of its prestigious law school was more of a diffuse process, according to the institution’s Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History, John H. Langbein. A six-week series of lectures that are part of Yale’s 300th anniversary observation began Jan. 29 with a lecture by former Yale Law School professor and now Oxford University professor Robert Stevens, followed by two lectures this month by Langbein. The university will offer as many as 150 activities on its New Haven, Conn., campus during the year-long tercentennial, including the lectures on the history of its law school. During his lectures this month, Langbein discussed at length the unique history surrounding the school, both before and during the 19th century. Langbein said although the university itself was founded in 1701, its law school did not form until more than a century later, growing out of apprenticeship training based in the law offices of New Haven practitioner Seth Staples. “[The school] was in operation before it affiliated with Yale,” Langbein said in his speech on the founding of YLS. “And the affiliation with Yale occurred so inconspicuously that we still cannot date it with precision.” According to Langbein, Staples developed a proprietary law school as an ancillary enterprise to his law practice, having been inspired by the influential Litchfield Law School, which trained more than 1,000 lawyers from the 1780s to the 1830s. Although the Staples law school became associated with Yale in the 1820s, it did not award degrees from Yale until 1843, Langbein said. He spoke of how Yale’s commitment to its law school was so halting that twice before the turn of the century the school was almost dissolved. “If that strikes you as odd, bear in mind that other university-linked law schools did expire in the 19th century,” Langbein said of Princeton and Columbia and their early problems trying to establish law schools. “The universities exhibited this hesitancy toward the early law schools because the very idea of a university law school was novel in the 19th century,” Langbein said. “The leaders of Yale, Columbia and Princeton knew what a college was supposed to be, but they were not certain that law schools were within their mission.” It was not until the 1890s, when Hendrie Hall was built, that Yale Law School was moved to the New Haven campus. Langbein also talked of how young attorneys began learning about the law by reading “elementary primers” and plunging into “practice manuals and law reports,” in addition to making their own reference materials, called commonplace books. He said young lawyers also served as apprentices with the limited number of practicing attorneys in the 18th century, but a critic of such learning procedures, English jurist William Blackstone, called the apprentice system “ill conceived.” Later in the nineteenth century, early Yale professors were practicing attorneys who used rented space over a saloon off Church Street. According to Langbein, these part-time professors collected tuition revenue, paid overhead, and then divided any profits. Margolis “Manny” Emanuel, a 1956 YLS graduate with Stamford’s Wofesy, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky called the history of the law school a “fascinating story.” Emanuel, who also served as class secretary, said that, during the class’s upcoming 45th reunion, it would put on a symposium dealing with the communications age of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, including issues such as privacy. Professor Stevens, of Oxford, told members of the audience at the first lecture that he was glad to be back at Yale. “Having left Yale Law School some 25 years ago, it is particularly flattering to be invited to give the first of these six lectures, celebrating the 300th anniversary of Yale University,” Stevens said. “Or perhaps I should be less flattered, fearing that at my age I am being trotted out as living history.” The lecture series is scheduled to continue today when Robert Gordon, Fred A. Johnston professor of law and a professor of history for Yale Law School, presents “Professors and Policy Makers: Yale Law School in the New Deal and After.” Other lecturers include Yale University Larned professor emeritus of history Gaddis Smith, who will lecture on “Law, Politics, and the University in the 20th Century;” and visiting professor Laura Kalman, speaking on “From Legal Process to Law and Economics without Stopping at Critical Legal Studies” on April 23. All lectures are held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Room 127 at Yale Law School.

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