Thursday, July 23, 2009

Langbein, Lerner and Smith, History of the Common Law

For anyone considering a Fall 2009 adoption of John Langbein, Renee Lettow Lerner, and Bruce P. Smith, History of The Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions, I'm assured by the folks at Aspen that although the book won't be published until the week of August 17, copies can be in university bookstores in time for the start of classes. Page proofs for professors considering adoption are available now.

According to the publisher,
This introductory text explores the historical origins of the main legal institutions that came to characterize the Anglo-American legal tradition, and to distinguish it from European legal systems. The book contains both text and extracts from historical sources and literature. [Its illustrations include] medieval illuminated manuscripts, paintings, books and manuscripts, caricatures, and photographs.

Two great themes dominate the book: (1) the origins, development, and pervasive influence of the jury system and judge/jury relations across eight centuries of Anglo-American civil and criminal justice; and (2) the law/equity division, from the emergence of the Court of Chancery in the fourteenth century down through equity's conquest of common law in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The chapters on criminal justice explore the history of pretrial investigation, policing, trial, and sentencing, as well as the movement in modern times to nonjury resolution through plea bargaining. Considerable attention is devoted to distinctively American developments, such as the elective bench, and the influence of race relations on the law of criminal procedure.

Other major subjects of this book include the development of the legal profession, from the serjeants, barristers, and attorneys of medieval times down to the transnational megafirms of twenty-first century practice; the literature of the law, especially law reports and treatises, from the Year Books and Bracton down to the American state reports and today's electronic services; and legal education, from the founding of the Inns of Court to the emergence and growth of university law schools in the United States.
I'll have more to say about the book and the tradition it represents when it's out. Because I've noticed (and, truth to tell, felt) some sticker shock at the $159 price, I'll add now that I'm told that it is the first casebook by a major publisher of law school teaching materials to be published in full color, because so many of its more than 250 illustrations are in color. Also, the (1,184-page) book is likely to have a long life on a law student/lawyer's shelf as a reference work. Finally, Amazon appears to be discounting it.

Update: In my remarks on price, I may have been guilty of extrapolating from the last time I bought a casebook, which I believe was 1983. I've been assured that the price is quite comparable to other recently published casebooks of similar dimensions.