FridayHLS in the World:

Who’s Afraid of Christopher Columbus Langdell (or What is Formalism and Why Must We Hate It)?

Oct 27|2:00 - 3:30pm
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There is no proposition to which virtually all members of the Harvard Law Faculty would assent, except perhaps one: The exception is the idea that, in law, the rejection of formalism is the beginning of all wisdom. Exactly this thought is conveyed in the popular academic slogan, “We are all realists now.” This situation is more than a little ironic because the founder and great expositor of formalism is said to be none other than renowned Harvard Law School Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell LL.B. 1854. Today, 125 years after the fact, is it worth interrogating Langdell and formalism? What does it mean to be a formalist? Why is it so bad? How could it be that Langdell, whose case method was a brilliant and enduring innovation in legal education, was in the thrall of an entirely wrongheaded picture of law? The session is led by HLS Professors John Goldberg and Henry Smith and features a panel of experts on Langdell, formalism, and realism.