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[HLS] Legal History: American Legal Education

Getting Started

Research Strategy

Start with secondary sources:

Start your historical research in secondary sources such as books, journal articles and newspapers.

Find primary sources:

Use primary sources to dig deeper into your topic and find accounts and artifacts of events as they occured.

Special collection libraries and archival repositories here at Harvard and elsewhere are a great source of unique and rare books, historical manuscripts, documents, photographs, maps, artifacts, and numeric data.

Who else cares?

What other organizations might care about your topic, or about law schools and legal education?  Professional organizations, policy groups and accrediting bodies all produce reports, publications and directories that may give insight into the people and issues you are researching and document historical changes.

Go by the numbers:

For some topics you may want to explore statistics and demographics related to law schools and law school faculty and students.

Focus on a place:

There is a body of scholarship examining the history of specific law schools. Use these sources to focus your research on a particular place.

Don't waste time. Ask Us!

Librarians are here to help. Schedule a research appointment, ask a question or chat with us.

Secondary Sources

Explore Secondary Sources

Female student studying at LangdellStart your historical research in secondary sources such as books, journal articles and newspapers.

Reading books and articles early in a project provides an overview of the times, the issues, and the names of people and organizations associated with your topic.

The footnotes and bibliographies in secondary sources can also be a valuable shortcut to identifying the principle primary sources in your area of research.

Student studying in Langdell, olvwork432233


Finding Books

Search HOLLIS and Worldcat to find books on subjects related to legal education. 

Suggested Subjects

Law -- Study and Teaching --United States -- History

Law schools --United States -- History

Law students --United States -- History

Selected Books on the History of America Legal Education

Digital Books & Dissertations

Law Reviews Online

Harvard Law Review editors 1990-91​HeinOnline offers the most depth of coverage, with most journals going back to the first published issue.

LexisNexis and Westlaw offer the best search tools and currency, but their journal coverage generally does not begin until the 1980s.

Harvard Law Review 1990/91, olvwork365353

Journals on American Legal Education


Journals in Related Disciplines


Newspapers are excellent sources for historical research.

Working Papers

Explore working papers and sources for prepublication articles to find current scholarship.

Full Text or Index?

Full text databases allow you to dig into the details of an article and find specific terms and citations. They can also lead to false hits and too many results.

Indexes use subject terms and abstracts to focus search results on articles directly related to a subject. Use them to narrow and focus your search. 

Use both as needed to get the most complete results.

Tips for Searching Indexes

Each database will use its own language. If you aren't sure what subject terms to use, try running a general keyword search, or searching for a known article. Use the subject terms you find to construct your new searches.

You could also try some of these suggested search terms:

General subjects:

Law School - Law School Faculty - Law Students - Legal Education - Law - Study & Teaching

Specific Topics:

Accreditation (Education) - Case Teaching Method  - Clinical Legal Education  - Law School Admissions  -Minority Law Students

Name searches:

Law school name - Professor or Dean's name

Combine your search with "history" to narrow further.

Primary Sources

Primary Sources at Harvard

Finding Primary Source Material in Harvard's Archives and Libraries

Primary sources available at Harvard include both published source material, such as correspondence and diaries,  and archival materials.

Harvard's special collection libraries and archival repositories are a great source of unique and rare books, historical manuscripts, documents, photographs, maps, artifacts, and numeric data.

Start in HOLLIS

Start in HOLLIS

The HOLLIS Catalog contains the records of published sources and of many of the manuscript and document collections located in Harvard's libraries and archives.

Note: Not everything is included in HOLLIS, so in addition to searching HOLLIS, we recommend that you contact the individual repositories for additional holdings information.

HOLLIS Advanced Search Strategies:

Use both Author and Subject searches to find the papers of an individual.

Search by Author or using Author Keywords to find annual reports, proceedings, minutes, etc. produced by an organization.

Add the term "sources" to a subject word search.

Limit by Resource Type such as Archives/Manuscripts

HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

 How can you locate specific documents within an archival collection?

Most manuscript and archival collections have a finding aid that provides detailed information about the collection.

Use HOLLIS for Archival Discovery to locate finding aids which describe the contents of faculty papers and other manuscript collections at Harvard.

How Are HOLLIS & HOLLIS for Archival Discovery Different?

  • HOLLIS gives you brief catalog records for books, journals and other library materials, including summary records of manuscript collections.
  • HOLLIS for Archival Discovery gives you detailed finding aids that describe entire manuscript collections. 

Compare the HOLLIS record and the finding aid for the Law Library's collection of Joseph Story's papers:

Planning your archival visit

If you are planning a visit to an archive or special collection, make sure to contact them directly before visiting. Many items are stored off site or need special arrangements for use, so give as much lead time as possible.

Visiting Historical & Special Collections at HLSL

To schedule a research visit in the Root Room, create a HOLLIS Special Request account which will allow you to place requests to view HSC's material from within HOLLIS.

Next, fill out an appointment request form at least 1 business day in advance and tell us when you would like to visit. 

Note that two days advance notice are required for visual materials and modern manuscripts (e.g. faculty papers) as they are stored offsite. 

HLSL Collected Papers (Digitized)

The following collections of papers related to the history of the Harvard Law School have been digitized.

To find other collections, search HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.

Other Archives and Manuscript Collections

Archives & Special Collections at Harvard

Finding Archives & Special Collections Outside of Harvard


Empirical Research Assistance

If you are planning to do a survey or other empirical research, see Harvard Law School's Empirical Legal Services pages for guidance on study design, data collection, analyzing and presenting data and other general statistical advice.

General Statistical & Data Sources

Associations & Organizations

Association of American Law Schools (AALS)

Several AALS titles, including annual meeting proceedings are available online via HeinOnline.

We also have many print resources. A HOLLIS search using Association of American Law Schools as an author or as a subject leads to many resources, divided by subheadings. Use Expanded Search to combine American Law Schools as an Author Phrase with keywords, format, or date limitations to target relevant materials .

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is an independent policy and research center concerned with improving teaching and learning. It has produced an number of publications on law teaching methods.

Try using the expanded search in HOLLIS Classic to combine Carnegie Foundation as an author with keywords like law.

Some representative publications are listed below:

American Bar Association (ABA)

As the accrediting organization for American law schools, the ABA publishes extensively on legal education. HeinOnline has many of the ABA's publications related to law schools and legal education.

We also have many print ABA resources.

Use Expanded search in HOLLIS Classic to combine American Bar Association as an author with keywords such as law schools, curricula or education to target relevant material.

Some representative publications are listed below.

History of HLS

Explore Harvard History

Dane Hall Law School, Cambridge Mass. c. 1850

Dane Law School, Cambridge Mess.c.1850, olvwork364043

This page gives some selected sources on the history of the Harvard Law School. For in depth sources, see the holdings of the Law School's Historical & Special Collections.

Visual Resources

Harvard Law School Publications

The Harvard Law School Catalogs provide information about faculty, curriculum and policies for 170 years. Catalogs published before World War II also contain student lists. Course catalogs for recent years are only available online.

Biographical Sources

Recent Harvard Law Histories

Try these selected sources, or search HOLLIS or HOLLIS Classic for the subject heading Harvard Law School -- History

Historical Works

Student Publications

Harvard Law School Records

Plans of the Treasure Room, HLSL 1948

Plan of the Treasure Room (now the Casperson Room), Langdell Hall, 1948, olvwork432238

Many collections that illustrate life at the Harvard Law School, such as Law School records, student organization materials and student class notes are located in either the Harvard Law School Historical & Special Collections department or in the main Harvard University Archives.

HOLLIS Search Strategies

Use Advanced Search to combine Harvard Law School as an author with keywords such as class notes, records or the name of a person, office or organization.

Other Law Schools

Selected Titles

Additional Sources

Browse HOLLIS call number KF292 for law school histories


Langdell portraitImages from Harvard Law School Historical & Special Collections. Explore more of Harvard's visual collections in HOLLIS Images.

This guide was originally created by Janet C. Katz, Senior Research Librarian. Guide updated by Mindy Kent, Manager of Research Services

Portrait of C.C. Langdellolvwork129054


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