If HLS were to move, it would not be the first time. Indeed, the school has moved twice since its inauguration in 1817, according to Visiting Professor Daniel Coquillette ’71, who is writing a history of HLS. First located in a building in Harvard Square, the school moved about 15 years later. At the time, the school was in crisis, he said, with only one student and one teacher. Nathan Dane then donated money for a namesake Harvard Yard building, endowed a professorship, and recruited Joseph Story to take over the school. The change in site was driven by a change in curriculum, with a national reach for students and the addition of courses in international law, jurisprudence, legal history, and comparative law.
The next move was made for the same reason, said Coquillette. Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean from 1870 to 1895, arrived with a radical new vision of what a law school should be. “Langdell invented practically everything that my students either love or hate about legal education,” including the case method and the Socratic style of teaching, said Coquillette. Because Dane Hall was set up for lectures and smaller classes, Langdell designed Austin Hall (completed in 1883) to fit his style of teaching.
“My fundamental point on these shifts is that each one of them represented the law school changing its vision of itself and also major changes in legal pedagogy,” said Coquillette. “These moves have never been driven simply by lack of space. It has always been driven by a big change in how the school perceives its mission.”
The school has not since had such a dramatic change, he said. But now, with the Strategic Plan, the school is once again rethinking its practices and its role in legal education. If the school were to move a third time, it should be for the same reason as the first two moves, he said.
For Coquillette, the corridors have memories and ghosts. “The great men who taught me in this school would be the very first people to say that if to preserve the school’s reputation for excellence it were necessary to move, they’d be the first people to move,” he said. “If Christopher Columbus Langdell were sitting here today, he would say: That’s what I did.”
The ghosts, Coquillette said, would move too.