I was cleaning my files today when I came across a copy of an old report by the Association of American Law School’s Curriculum Committee, issued back in 1933. The report, contained within the AALS’s Handbook and Proceedings of the Annual Meeting for that year, summarized the curricula of 66 surveyed AALS member schools, and shines some light on differences between the law school curriculum, then and now.
One table within the report relates the first-year curriculum at the surveyed schools. Much of the curriculum was the same back then, as it is now: all 66 schools offered first-year courses in Torts and Contracts. Property was offered as a first-year course by all but two schools; Criminal Law, by all but three; Procedure, by all but four.
The next most-common class may come as a bit of a surprise: Agency, which was offered by 47 of the 66 schools. After Agency and Legal Bibliography (35 institutions), there was a marked drop-off, such that the other courses found within the first-year curriculum at at least one institution–Persons (16 schools), Equity (15 schools), Legal Ethics (10 schools), Legal History (seven schools), Sales (five schools), Constitutional Law (three schools), Jurisprudence (two schools), and Corporations, Legislation, Logic, and Partnership (one offering school)–were far less frequently offered across institutions.
I haven’t looked carefully at the modern law-school curriculum (I leave that for Walter Olson and others), but it’s obvious that Agency no longer forms as central a part of the first-year curriculum as it once did, and that its place has been taken by Constitutional Law. Infer what you will from this shift.
Within the upper-division classes, the survey revealed that five schools offered courses in Air Law, and one in Radio Law–think of them as the Internet Law classes of the era. Several staples of the modern curriculum were either less frequently offered, or missing altogether; Administrative Law and Bankruptcy, for example, were both offered by less than half of all surveyed institutions (32 out of 66 schools, apiece, with another three schools offering classes on Administration of Insolvent Estates); and only 14 institutions gave instruction in Trade Regulation (which presumably encompassed Antitrust). Meanwhile, 30 schools offered classes in Quasi Contracts, 18 in Admiralty, 14 in Jurisprudence, and eight in Roman Law. Perhaps most interesting, only 47 of the 66 schools offered classes in Legal Ethics, which I presume every law school offers today. Again, infer what you will.