Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

The History Major and Law School

History is a natural major for anyone interested in the legal profession. To use the law intelligently and creatively, a good lawyer must know not only what the law is, but where it came from and why it exists. Lawyers who understand the historical context of developments in the legal system thus have a real advantage. History also provides first-rate training for a career in law because it prepares individuals to be effective advocates by developing the research and communication skills fundamental to the current adversarial system of law practiced in the United States. By studying history, students gain experience in logical argumentation, in conducting research, in writing, and in analyzing large and diverse bodies of information. These skills are essential prerequisites for a successful career in law school and the practice of law.

An historical perspective provides an excellent foundation for understanding the complexities of law as it is currently practiced. For example, a lawyer investigating or prosecuting gender discrimination in the United States will have spent time studying the changing legal status of women over the last hundred years, focusing on such issues as women’s property rights, the suffrage movement, and the effect of the civil rights movement and feminism on the position of women in society. Similarly, the lawyer who makes an argument in a repatriation case pitting Native Americans against museums which plan to exhibit their ancient artifacts is better prepared if he or she has an understanding of the historical issues which framed the subject.

It is no coincidence that the law student will encounter a good deal of legal history in her or his first year of classes. "A major in history is an outstanding preparation for a career in law," remarks a dean of admissions at Fordham’s Law School, and a substantial percentage of Fordham Law School students have an undergraduate major in history. What is more, the history major has a reputation among law school faculty for producing highly qualified students, since a history major teaches a student how to read, how to think, and how to use analytical skills to construct convincing arguments.

In addition to this general preparation, Fordham’s Department of History includes several faculty who teach electives in which law is a major or primary component. These courses range in subject matter from feuding and ordeal in medieval Europe to law and gender in colonial America, law and society in nineteenth-century America, and twentieth-century business law. These courses will introduce students to some of the basic principles of legal behavior and some of the forms that law has taken as it changed over time, an introduction that will prepare students for the early rigors of law school.

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