When The John Marshall School of Law Became The John Marshall School of Law

In 1997, Louise F. Mooney, then Communications Director of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, penned an elegant history of the John Marshall School of Law, one of the predecessors of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. On the basis of recent research, Professor David F. Forte adds to the events surrounding the founding of the John Marshall School of Law.

Professor Forte … your witness,

David and Gertrude Meck were a determined couple. Beyond their raising six children, they had career ambitions. David C. Meck was a respected teacher at East Technical High School. But his goal was to pursue the law. Gertrude, on the other hand, wanted to go into medicine. They decided: Gertrude would go first. So in 1905, she attended medical school specializing in homeopathy, and then joined the staff at Huron Road Hospital in Cleveland.

Meanwhile David C. Meck continued to teach as head of the mathematics department at East Tech High School. He must have loved teaching. In fact, it was through teaching that he first met Gertrude, who was a daughter of a carpenter and wagon maker, in Blooming Grove, Ohio where Meck had found work as a public school teacher. After Gertrude had finished her medical studies, David Meck at last fulfilled his desire. He enrolled in The Cleveland Law School. He graduated and passed the bar in 1913. Soon, he returned to his love of teaching, but this time he joined the faculty of his alma mater, The Cleveland Law School.[1]

In 1997, Louise E. Mooney penned an elegant article on the history of The John Marshall School of Law. All alumni, faculty, and students would be enriched by reading it.[2] Mooney illuminates the particular gifts and the mutual support of one another of the Meck couple, and she tells us both of David C. Meck’s iron resolve and the lingering mystery surrounding the birth of The John Marshall School of Law.

After graduating from The Cleveland Law School, and then joining its faculty, David C. Meck, at age 50, decided not only to leave his position at The Cleveland Law School, but to found his own law school. Now it is not uncommon for a faculty member and a dean to have disagreements, sometimes of a serious nature. Usually, such disagreements are resolved in any number of ways, such as reconciliation, or a tacit “agree to disagree.” On very serious disputes, a faculty member may himself resign in protest, or perhaps try to have the dean resign or be replaced. But to found another law school, one with the intention of displacing one’s own alma mater in prestige and renown? That is truly unusual.

Meck joined with two others, Alfred Benesch and Frank T. Cullitan, both of whom were or would be famous within Cleveland, to launch the new law school.

Benesch, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was, like Meck, indefatigable in pursuit of causes that he believed just. In 1915, he became Cleveland’s Safety Director under the highly regarded Mayor Newton Baker. Benesch closed down Cleveland’s red light district when his predecessors had failed to do so. He was a founding partner of the prestigious Cleveland law firm of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, and he successfully led a campaign to have the president of his alma mater, A. Lawrence Lowell, remove the quotas for Jewish applicants to Harvard.

Frank T. Cullitan, a magna cum laude graduate of The Cleveland Law School, ultimately became Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, serving for 23 years, and carried a reputation for effectiveness and incorruptibility. Meck, Benesch, and Cullitan were the perfect American trio for the time: a Protestant, a Jew, and a Catholic, and they would choose to name the school after the American judicial hero, Chief Justice John Marshall. But more on that later.

But why did Meck undertake such a daunting project—and how was he able to do it successfully? Mooney ponders the question. “Eighty years later, a researcher hunting for reasons why a faculty member leaves one school to start another on the eve of a world war encounters only silence.”[3] There are no newspaper stories, only advertising notices, and statements in the law schools’ respective bulletins.

Mooney, however, begins to discern the cause. “Yet embedded in the text of the new law schools’ bulletins are suggestions of philosophical differences between the Cleveland Law School dean, Judge Willis Vickery, and his former pupil. A statement in the 1917 bulletin, ‘the John Marshall School of Law is not one of the so-called “Night Law Schools’’’ with more than a touch of condescension, at the profession’s growing dissatisfaction with the caliber of evening programs.”[4]

She notes that a researcher in 1966 obtained family testimony that “confirmed that … Meck and Judge Vickery had indeed disagreed on educational policy.”[5] What was that disagreement, and why did it lead to such a dramatic breach?

To find that answer, we must first tell the tale of two other laws schools, also competitors: Harvard and Columbia.

Harvard Law School traces its founding to 1817 when it was a “department of law” within Harvard College. In fact, many law schools (including Cleveland and John Marshall) began their histories as college departments. For the first ten years, the law department at Harvard had only two faculty members and few students. By 1827, only one faculty member remained. The course of study consisted of lectures on various legal topics, but for most persons wanting to become lawyers, the only real route was through reading law as a legal apprentice in a law office. To be blunt, for those wishing to become lawyers, Harvard was, at that time, irrelevant. What was relevant to an aspiring lawyer was the Litchfield Law School in Connecticut, founded by Tapping Reeve in 1784. Reeve, and others whom he hired, provided brief lectures on various legal topics such as contracts, estates, family law, bailments, evidence, pleading, and real property. Litchfield gave students a broad survey of the law that students had previously absorbed only on a catch-as-catch-can basis in legal offices.

Reeve, then, can be credited with initiating the first pedagogical revolution in American legal education. Following that, in 1827, with Harvard down to one faculty member in the law, Nathanial Dane endowed a professorship and insisted that it be given to Justice Joseph Story. Story accepted the offer and began teaching in 1829. At Harvard, Story intentionally engineered a second pedagogical revolution. He lectured on all manner of subjects, and then published his lectures as commentaries and treatises. He aimed to establish a coherent national American law, over and above the parochialism of state laws. His lectures spanned from 1829 until his death in 1845. Good fortune also came his way. Soon after he began, he found that he had no real competition as the Litchfield School closed in 1833.

By the time of his death, Story was earning $10,000 a year (equivalent to $366,000 today) from his commentaries, treatises, and collected lectures on the Constitution, Bailments, Conflict of Laws, Equity, Agency, Partnerships, Promissory Notes, and others. Still, Harvard had trouble attracting students, especially after Story had passed away. It lowered its admission standards, and then abolished them entirely in 1848. By the late 1860s, the law school eliminated examinations. The school had “a curriculum without any rational sequence of subjects, and an inadequate and decaying library.”[6]

There was a vacuum in American legal education, and Theodore W. Dwight at Columbia University filled it.

Dwight came from learned stock. His grandfather had been president of Yale University. Dwight himself studied physics at Hamilton College, taught the classics at Utica Academy, studied law at Yale for a year, passed the bar, and then returned to Hamilton College where he established its law school. He taught there from 1842 to 1858, becoming its dean in 1853. In 1858, Dwight accepted an invitation from Columbia University to establish a department of law there. Dwight accepted, but only on the condition that Columbia would develop its own law school. Columbia responded favorably, and the Columbia College of Law was established.

Dwight authored a new method of legal instruction, which soon bore his name—the “Dwight Method”– and soon dominated law schools. Instead of lectures on legal subjects, students were assigned readings from treatises. They were to memorize legal rules and principles. In class, Dwight would pose problems, and students were expected to solve them on the basis of the memorized legal principles. The method also emphasized moot court training.

The popularity of the Dwight Method was clear from the start. Enrollment at Columbia College of Law grew from 35 students in 1858 to 491 students in 1889. The Dwight method was tailor-made for students who wanted to absorb practical methods for learning the law, and it was also tailor-made for new local law schools, such as The Cleveland Law School, established in 1897, which could rely on practitioners as their faculty. Practitioners knew legal problems, and knew how to pose them. They did not need to possess a long scholarly pedigree. The legal treatises and text books assigned to the students would provide the substance, the faculty the practical application.

The Cleveland Law School was one of the newly established schools that touted the Dwight Method for prospective applicants. Willis Vickery, the founder of the school, was a vigorous defender of the Dwight Method. The school’s 1904-05 Bulletin declared

The system of instruction in vogue in the school is that known as the “Dwight Method,” and it consists mainly of the study of approved text books and in recitations. The system may be described as follows:

A lesson from the text book is assigned in advance which the student is expected to master as thoroughly as he can before the recitation hour. The lesson is then gone over in the form of questions, giving the student the opportunity to reproduce the principles involved, in his own language, with practical applications of the doctrine learned by supposed cases given by the instructor.

The lecturer then goes over the ground covered by the text explaining what is obscure or difficult, pointing out the application in practice of the principles treated of, and illustrating by their example their application to actual cases.[7]

Meanwhile, up in Cambridge, Harvard University sought to wake the law school from its doldrums by appointing Christopher Columbus Langdell, New York lawyer, as its new dean in 1870.

Langdell installed a new and competing method of legal instruction, the Case Method (it was known at first as the “Langdell Method”), and it was the polar opposite of the Dwight Method. The Dwight Method was deductive: start from the principles as articulated in treatises, and then apply them to fact patterns, with cases brought in as illustrations of the proper legal conclusions. The Case Method is inductive. Read cases, not treatises. From the cases draw out the legal principles. Refine one’s knowledge of the principles through the study of other cases, and of precedents. Langdell asserted that the Case Method was “scientific,” like the study of any of the natural sciences. It fit in more appropriately in a university setting, not in a vocational school setting.

One early student described Langdell’s method. “The student so digests [the cases] that he can give in the classroom the facts, the decision, and the grounds of the decision. When the case has been stated to the class, discussion is freely encouraged under the questioning of the instructor…. Decisions are compared, and investigation along the lines of cases is directed. When a series of cases to the same subject has been examined, the law governing these cases is formulated.”[8] Langdell, in fact, authored the very first casebook.[9]

There was also this ideological difference between Dwight and Langdell. Dwight praised Roman Law and the digests, which he thought were far better organized in articulating legal principles than the common law.[10] Langdell’s Case Method was through and through a method of common law reasoning.

Until 1890, the Dwight Method retained dominance. No other law school except Harvard had adopted Langdell’s Case Method. But thereafter, the Case Method grew in popularity among newly developed law schools associated with elite institutions, or with the newly established state universities. Throughout the last part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the two methods vied with one another for dominance in legal education.

In a great and painful irony, in 1891, the trustees of the Columbia College of Law voted to jettison the Dwight Method in favor of the Case Method, forcing their iconic dean to resign. A number of other supporters of Dwight also resigned, and they established New York Law School, in lower Manhattan, based explicitly on the Dwight Method. Nonetheless, by 1914, 40 percent of American law schools had adopted the Case Method, and others partly so. Thirty-six percent stuck with the Dwight Method, or the older lecture system.[11]

By 1916, the Case Method had become “the badge of ‘modernism’ in the teaching world.”[12] And this was the source of Meck’s rebellion. He wanted to teach by the Case Method and Vickery, apparently, would have none of it. Benesch, who had been educated by the Case Method at Harvard, undoubtedly championed it too. In addition, Meck was, we can easily gather, outraged when Vickery cut all day classes from The Cleveland Law School’s curriculum to become an exclusively part-time night law school, changing from a three-year law school to a four-year course of study.[13] That was the source of the disdainful statement in John Marshall’s Bulletin, “the John Marshall School of Law is not one of the so-called Night Law Schools.’”[14] Rather, “The John Marshall [sic] is a regular day school with opportunities for evening study.”[15]

Likely, Meck, Benesch, and Cullitan had chosen John Marshall to be the eponym of their new law school for a number of reasons. First, as the most revered justice in American history, Marshall’s prestige was ever growing. The first “John Marshall Day,” February 4, 1901, on the centenary of his accession to the Chief Justiceship, was observed by exercises held in the hall of the House of Representatives, and attended by the President, the members of the Cabinet, the Justices of the Supreme and District courts, the Senate and House of Representatives, and the members of the Bar of the District of Columbia.[16] In every major city in the United States, the courts were closed, commemorative banquets were held (including those by the students of The Cleveland Law School,[17] and by the Cleveland Bar Association[18]), and famous persons had their encomiums to the Chief Justice published.[19] In 1912, a statute of Marshall was installed on the north side of the just completed neo-classical Cuyahoga County Courthouse. In 1916, the year Meck and his colleagues chose the name for the new law school, the first two volumes of Albert Beveridge’s great biography of John Marshall were published to high acclaim.[20]

A second possible reason was that Marshall was seen by all as the advocate of nationalism over states’ rights. For a new law school, seeking to associate itself with a national pedagogy over the localism of schools like The Cleveland Law School, Marshall was a natural symbol.

Lastly, John Marshall’s fame came not from legal treatises (he wrote none), but from his reasoning in the cases. To know John Marshall is to know his cases. He was the perfect example of the benefits, indeed, the perceived necessity, of the Case Method.

The John Marshall School of Law prominently put a portrait of John Marshall as a frontispiece in its bulletins from 1921.

From the beginning, The John Marshall School of Law intended to steal the march from its part-time law school competitor. As its bulletin declared in 1925,

In the year 1916 a number of prominent attorneys of Cleveland desirous of raising the general standard of legal attainment, and feeling the need in the community of a school of law that should be rigidly thorough and at the same time entirely practical in its teaching, formed an association and founded The John Marshall School of Law.[21]

It should be remembered that the publication of casebooks was still in its infancy.[22] Thus, though it would utilize the Case Method, the John Marshall curriculum incorporated textbooks where necessary.[23] But it still sought to distinguish itself by the new modern pedagogy. An open house advertisement declared, “The school has been growing steadily ever since its inception. David C. Meck, dean, extends an invitation to visit the school and become acquainted with its methods of teaching.”[24] As late as 1945, shortly before the two law schools merged, John Marshall continued its public embrace of the Case Method.[25]

But Willis Vickery and The Cleveland Law School remained wedded to the Dwight Method, and could be as disdainful in return to its competitor.

The case system of teaching law seems best adapted to the needs of the law school whose students in the main have no occupation other than that of students.

A large majority of our students on the other hand are employed during the day in other lines of industry, and therefore our instructors follow the text-book system, combining it with lectures, and citing cases to be read by those who desire a degree.

The system in vogue is known as the “Dwight Method” and it consists of lessons from a textbook assigned in advance, recitation from the students, and explanations from the instructor.[26]

Throughout the 1920s, the two laws schools remained in serious competition with one another, while other attempts, such as The Lake Erie School of Law, fell by the wayside. Both Cleveland and Marshall were magnets of opportunity for women and minorities. But John Marshall made a special effort to be available to Jewish students, who faced quotas among nationally recognized institutions. The John Marshall School of Law regularly advertised in the Jewish press, and their graduates were feted in the various newspapers of Cleveland’s Jewish community. The Cleveland Law School never advertised in Cleveland’s Jewish newspapers.

In the 1920s, The John Marshall School of Law’s enrollment grew dramatically, and it had a noticeably lower rate of attrition than the Cleveland Law School. Both bragged about their students’ bar passage rates. Inevitably, however, the two law schools became more similar. The demands of part-time students for admission to John Marshall made that school offer more evening classes. Moreover, John Marshall, not having an endowment to hire full time professors, turned to the practicing bar for its faculty as well, thought they hired some of the most prestigious members of bar. And the year after Cleveland’s Dean Vickery died, that law school dropped all references to the Dwight Method in its bulletin.[27]

Enrollment fell at both law schools during World War II, and the two law schools amicably merged in 1946 under Dean Willis G. Stapleton. The Cleveland-Marshall School of Law took elements of each of its parents. It adopted the Case Method, but it was nearly exclusively a night law school. Its faculty were from the practicing bar, and it sought to prepare its students to pass the bar examination. But “Marshall” remained its brand. Decades after The John Marshall School of Law was founded, and even after the merged laws schools became the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law of Cleveland State University, students and graduates referred to their law school as “Marshall” and to themselves as “Marshall graduates.”

In recent years, as the faculty of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law have distinguished themselves nationally and internationally, and as Cleveland-Marshall’s graduates have moved into even more accomplished legal and political careers, we can rightfully imagine that David C. Meck, Alfred Benesch, and Frank T. Cullitan could not have been more pleased.

[1] Of the Meck’s six children, two chose medicine and two chose the law for their life’s work.

[2] Louise F. Mooney, The John Marshall School of Law, 1916-1946, 5 Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Alumni Ass’n News Law Notes 21 (1997) available at https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/lawpublications_lawnotes/64.

[3] Id. at 22.

[4] Id.

[5] Id., at 23.

[6] Daniel R. Coquillette & Bruce A. Kimball, On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, The First Century, 14 (2015).

[7] Bulletin, The Cleveland Law School, 1904-05.

[8] Bruce A. Kimball, The Proliferation of Case Method Teaching in American Law Schools: Mr. Langdell’s Emblematic “Abomination,” 1890 to 1915, 46 Hist. of Ed. Q. 192, 194 (2006).

[9] See C. C. Langdell, Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (1871).

[10] See Theodore W. Dwight, Columbia College Law School, New York, 1 Green Bag 147 (1889).

[11] Coquillette, supra note 8, at 193.

[12] Id. at 195.

[13] See Bulletin, The Cleveland Law School, 1916.

[14] Bulletin, The John Marshall School of Law, 1917.

[15] John Marshall School of Law Offers Unusual Courses, The Jewish Review and Observer, August 31, 1923, at 6.

[16] John Marshall Day, New York Times, May 27, 1900, at 17.

[17] The Plain Dealer, February 10, 1901, at 33.

[18] Great Jurist’s Work Recalled, The Plain Dealer, February 5, 1901, at 4.

[19] See, e.g., Henry Cabot Lodge, John Marshall, Statesman, 172 N. Amer. Rev. 191 (Feb. 1901).

[20] Albert Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall I, II (1916).

[21] Bulletin, The John Marshall School of Law, 1925.

[22] See Douglas Lind, Bibliography of American Law Casebooks, 2d ed. (2021).

[23] “The system of instruction followed combines the study of the rules and principles of the law as set forth by text writers, and the analysis and statement of leading cases with special reference to Ohio law. The instruction is designed not only to fix in the memory the great fundamental principles of lam, but to stimulate mental energy and to develop mental power.” Id. at 25-26.

[24] John Marshall School, The Jewish Independent, August 31, 1923, at 7.

[25] “The Case Method of Instruction in vogue in most day schools has been adapted so as to serve the best interests of serious-minded students.” Bulletin, John Marshall School of Law, 1945.

[26] Bulletin, The Cleveland Law School, 1921.

[27] Bulletin, The Cleveland Law School, 1933-34.