Legal History at Columbia Law School - Part 2

Passing the baton

Both Prof. Smith and Prof. Black were students of Prof. Goebel, who taught DLI - a required course for 1Ls - for more than 30 years. The class changed over time. When the faculty modified the first-year curriculum in 1944 to integrate into DLI the historical underpinnings of civil procedure and property law, Prof. Goebel revised and produced a seventh edition of his casebook on the subject.

By the time of Prof. Black's arrival in the mid-1980s, DLI was no longer a required course. Her approach to teaching differed from Prof. Goebel's in that the work was aimed at second- and third-year students, as well as graduate students.

"A student will benefit more from the study of legal history once she has a good sense of one legal culture — namely her own," Prof. Black explains.

Another distinction was in the breadth of history covered. "My course tended to come up a little further into American history," Prof. Black says. "I had my own ideas about the lessons that should be imparted to law students through legal history."

Before she could implement many of those ideas, Prof. Black was named dean which, in her words, "changed my relationship to the institution. [During my tenure], it wasn't possible or appropriate for me to push my own specialty. Ironically, legal history got neglected."

While Prof. Black focused on managing the school, "That left one person teaching legal history, and that was me," says Prof. Moglen, a specialist in Anglo-American legal history. "The scope of what we could do then was very small. The ability to provide a range of offerings by legal experts in a wide variety of specializations is much greater now."