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WILLS, DESCENT, AND
SELECTED FROM DECISIONS OF
ENGLISH AND AMERICAN COURTS
GEORGE P. COSTIGAN, JR.
PROFESSOR OF LAW IN NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
AMERICAN CASEBOOK SERIES
JAMES BROWN SCOTT
THE AMERICAN CASEBOOK
For years past the science of law has been taught by lectures, the use of text-books and more recently by the detailed study, in the class-room, of selected cases.
Each method has its advocates, but it is generally agreed that the lecture system should be discarded because in it the lecturer does the work and the student is either a willing receptacle or offers a passive resistance. It is not too much to say that the lecture system is doomed.
Instruction by the means of text-books as a supplement or substitute for the formal lecture has made its formal entry into the educational world and obtains widely; but the system is faulty and must pass away as the exclusive means of studying and teaching law. It is an improvement on the formal lecture in that the student works, but if it cannot be said that he works to no purpose, it is a fact that he works from the wrong end. The rule is learned without the reason, or both rule and reason are stated in the abstract as the resultant rather than as the process. If we forget the rule we cannot solve the problem; if we have learned to solve the problem it is a simple matter to formulate a rule of our own. The text-book method may strengthen the memory; it may not train the mind, nor does it necessarily strengthen it. A text, if it be short, is at best a summary, and a summary presupposes previous knowledge.
If, however, law be considered as a science rather than a collection of arbitrary rules and regulations, it follows that it should be studied as a science. Thus to state the problem is to solve it; the laboratory method has displaced the lecture, and the text yields to the actual experiment. The law reports are in more senses than one books of experiments, and, by studying the actual case, the student co-operates with the judge and works out the conclusion however complicated the facts or the principles involved. A study of cases arranged historically develops the knowledge of the law, and each case is seen to be not an isolated fact but a necessary link in the chain of development. The study of the case is clearly the most practical method, for the student already does in his undergraduate days what he must do all his life; it is curiously the most theoretical and the most practical. For a discussion of the case in all its parts develops analysis, the comparison of many cases establishes a general principle, and
the arrangement and classification of principles dealing with a subject make the law on that subject.
In this way TRAINING AND KNOWLEDGE, the means and the end of legal study, go hand and hand.
The obvious advantages of the study of law by means of selected cases make its universal adoption a mere question of time.
The only serious objections made to the case method are that it takes too much time to give a student the requisite knowledge of the subject in this way and that the system loses sight of the difference between the preparation of the student and the lifelong training of the lawyer. Many collections of cases seem open to these objections, for they are so bulky that it is impossible to cover a particular subject with them in the time ordinarily allotted to it in the class. In this way the student discusses only a part of a subject. His knowledge is thorough as far as it goes, but it is incomplete and fragmentary. The knowledge of the subject as a whole is deliberately sacrificed to training in a part of the subject.
It would seem axiomatic that the size of the casebook should correspond in general to the amount of time at the disposal of instructor and student. As the time element is, in most cases, a nonexpansive quantity, it necessarily follows that, if only a half to two-thirds of the cases in the present collections can be discussed in class, the present casebooks are a third to a half too long. From a purely practical and economic standpoint it is a mistake to ask students to pay for 1,200 pages when they can only use 600, and it must be remembered that in many schools, and with many students in all schools, the matter of the cost of casebooks is important. Therefore, for purely practical reasons, it is believed that there is a demand for casebooks physically adapted and intended for use as a whole in the class-room.
But aside from this, as has been said, the existing plan sacrifices knowledge to training. It is not denied that training is important, nor that for a law student, considering the small amount of actual knowledge the school can hope to give himn in comparison with the vast and daily growing body of the law, it is more important than mere knowledge. It is, however, confidently asserted that knowledge is, after all, not unimportant, and that, in the inevitable compromise between training and knowledge, the present casebooks not only devote too little attention relatively to the inculcation of knowledge, but that they sacrifice unnecessarily knowledge to training. It is believed that a greater effort should be made to cover the general principles of a given subject in the time allotted, even at the expense of a considerable sacrifice of detail. But in this proposed readjustment of the means to the end, the fundamental fact cannot be overlooked that law is a developing science and that its present can only be understood through the medium of its past. It is recognized as imperative that a sufficient number of cases be given under each topic
treated to afford a basis for comparison and discrimination; to show the development of the law of the particular topic under discussion ; and to afford the mental training for which the case system necessarily stands. To take a familiar illustration: If it is proposed to include in a casebook on Criminal Law one case on abortion, one on libel, two on perjury, one on larceny from an office, and if in order to do this it is necessary to limit the number of cases on specific intent to such a degree as to leave too few on this topic to develop it fully and to furnish the student with training, then the subjects of abortion, libel, perjury, and larceny from an office should be wholly omitted. The student must needs acquire an adequate knowledge of these subjects, but the training already had in the underlying principles of criminal law will render the acquisition of this knowledge comparatively easy. The exercise of a wise discretion would treat fundamentals thoroughly: principle should not yield to detail.
Impressed by the excellence of the case system as a means of legal education, but convinced that no satisfactory adjustment of the conAlict between training and knowledge under existing time restrictions has yet been found, the General Editor takes pleasure in announcing a series of scholarly casebooks, prepared with special reference to the needs and limitations of the class-room, on the fundamental subjects of legal education, which, through a judicious rearrangement of emphasis, shall provide adequate training combined with a thorough knowledge of the general principles of the subject. The collection will develop the law historically and scientifically; English cases will give the origin and development of the law in England; American cases will trace its expansion and modification in America; notes and annotations will suggest phases omitted in the printed case. Cumulative references will be avoided, for the footnote may not hope to rival the digest.
The law will thus be presented as an organic growth, and the necessary connection between the past and the present will be obvious.
The importance and difficulty of the subject as well as the time that can properly be devoted to it will be carefully considered so that each book may be completed within the time allotted to the particular subject.
It is equally obvious that some subjects are treated at too great length, and that a less important subject demands briefer treatment. A small book for a small subject.
In this way it will be alike possible for teacher and class to complete each book instead of skimming it or neglecting whole sections ; and more subjects may be elected by the student if presented in shorter form based upon the relative importance of the subject and the time allotted to its mastery.
Training and knowledge go hand in hand, and Training and Knowledge are the keynotes of the series.