As students prepare to resume their legal studies and begin their scholarship for another semester under the tutelage of their BLS professors, I want to recommend a new book that discusses the contributions to the legal profession of a group of selected scholars and professors over three centuries.
The book is: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law by Stephen B. Presser, West Academic Publishing, St. Paul, MN, 2017.
The author says that he hopes this volume will serve as an “introduction to the law for prospective lawyers and beginning students in J.D. and LL.M. programs.”
The book is composed of short biographical essays covering a representative number of legal scholars who have also been law professors. The work explores the nature of the American legal system, and how American law professors have had a profound effect on American law and life.
While the author covers law professors from William Blackstone to Barack Obama, here are a few of the giants of those that are included:
- William Blackstone – It has been written that the groundwork for U.S. jurisprudence can be found in the multi-volume work of Sir William Blackstone, a noted English judge, scholar and politician of the 18th century. The work, entitled Commentaries on the Laws of England...in four books, provided a systematic analysis of English common law. These commentaries were based on Blackstone’s lectures at Oxford University.
- Christopher Columbus Langdell was Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895 and is often called the “father of American legal education” because it was he who established the case method of instruction where students read and studied appellate court decisions while teaching at Harvard, incorporating it with the Socratic method where students were asked questions about the cases and they were to draw conclusions in order to engage in a dialogue between faculty and students.
- Joseph Story served on the United States Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, taught at Harvard Law School while serving on the Court, and wrote a comprehensive treatise on the U.S. Constitution entitled Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
- Karl Llewellyn was a distinguished legal scholar, who was called one of the most important legal thinkers of the early twentieth century and whose works have been cited many times. He was a proponent of legal realism who felt that legal opinions should be examined to see how judges were influenced by outside factors. He wrote a book which served as an introduction to the study of law for first year students entitled: The Bramble Bush; Some Lectures on Law and Its Study .
- John Henry Wigmore was an important legal scholar and professor, who while attending Harvard Law School, helped found the Harvard Law Review. He taught for many years at Northwestern University Law School and his most important contribution to legal scholarship was his Treatise on the Anglo-American System of Evidence in Trials at Common Law.
- Barack Obama, law professor at the University of Chicago, United States Senator from Illinois and President of the United States.