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Law Courses Catalog

History of the Common Law

NOTE: This course description is new for the 2017-2018 academic year. You may read the prior course description immediately below the new one. 

2017-2018

This 2- or 3-credit course (see below on credits) is an introduction to the historical origins of Anglo-American law, in which students study selected historical sources and extracts from legal-historical scholarship. Topics include: (1) the jury system-medieval origins and European alternatives, separation of grand and petty juries, changes in the functions and composition of the jury from medieval to modern times, the law of evidence and other forms of jury control; appellate review of jury verdicts; the growing disuse of juries and of trials in modern times; (2) civil justice-the forms of action and the pleading system; the regular and itinerant courts; the judiciary; law reporting and other forms of legal literature; Chancery, the trust, equitable procedure and remedies; historical perspectives on the scope of the right to civil jury trial under the Seventh Amendment; the deterioration of Chancery procedure and the fusion of law and equity; the codification movement; the drafting of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (3) criminal justice-medieval criminal procedure; presentment and indictment; the recasting of criminal procedure in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the officialization of prosecution and policing; the rise and fall of Star Chamber; defense counsel and the rise of the adversary system in the eighteenth century; the privilege against self-incrimination; the law of evidence; criminal sanctions and sentencing; (4) legal education-the inns of court; apprenticeship; the emergence of university legal education in the United States; and (5) the legal profession-attorneys and barristers and the regulation of admission to the profession.

Casebook: Langbein, Lettow Lerner & Smith, History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions (Aspen 2009)

At the election of the student, the course will be evaluated either by an exam or by a 30 - 40 page paper that will qualify for the Capstone requirement. If you choose to write the paper, it must be on a legal history topic or at least have a non-trivial historical component to it. By this I mean that you can write a paper about modern law, so long as there is a section in the paper that talks a bit about the history of the doctrine at issue in your paper. The history of the doctrine need not be ancient. Your paper could, for example, be about modern Internet law in which your historical section talks about developments in the 1990s.

The decision to sit for an exam or write a Capstone paper must be made by the student by the second week of class. Details of the process will be outlined in the syllabus.

Credits: The class meets once a week for 2 hours. Students who sit for the exam will receive 2 credits. Students who write a Capstone paper can choose to add a separate 1-credit independent study, for a total of 3 credits. You are not required to add the extra 1-credit, and thus one can elect to write the Capstone for only 2 course credits.

Meets the Capstone writing requirement (if a student elects it).

NOTE: The below course description applied in academic years prior to 2017-2018.

This 2- or 3-credit seminar (see below on credits) is an introduction to the historical origins of Anglo-American law, in which students study selected historical sources and extracts from legal-historical scholarship. NOTE: The class will be taught differently in SPRING 2016 than in the past, due to student feedback after the first time the class was taught. Topics include: (1) the jury system-medieval origins and European alternatives, separation of grand and petty juries, changes in the functions and composition of the jury from medieval to modern times, the law of evidence and other forms of jury control; appellate review of jury verdicts; the growing disuse of juries and of trials in modern times; (2) civil justice-the forms of action and the pleading system; the regular and itinerant courts; the judiciary; law reporting and other forms of legal literature; Chancery, the trust, equitable procedure and remedies; historical perspectives on the scope of the right to civil jury trial under the Seventh Amendment; the deterioration of Chancery procedure and the fusion of law and equity; the codification movement; the drafting of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (3) criminal justice-medieval criminal procedure; presentment and indictment; the recasting of criminal procedure in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the officialization of prosecution and policing; the rise and fall of Star Chamber; defense counsel and the rise of the adversary system in the eighteenth century; the privilege against self-incrimination; the law of evidence; criminal sanctions and sentencing; (4) legal education-the inns of court; apprenticeship; the emergence of university legal education in the United States; and (5) the legal profession-attorneys and barristers; the regulation of admission to the profession; the development of law firms and the trend to megafirms.

Casebook: Langbein, Lettow Lerner & Smith, History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions (Aspen 2009)

The seminar will be evaluated either by an exam or by a 30 - 40 page paper that will qualify for the Capstone requirement. The paper must be on a legal history topic or at least have a non-trivial historical component to it. The decision to sit for an exam or write a paper must be made by the student by the second week of class.

Credits: The class meets once a week for 2 hours. Students who sit for the exam will receive 2 credits. Students who write a Capstone paper can choose to add a separate 1-credit independent study, for a total of 3 credits.

Meets the Capstone writing requirement (if a student elects it) and the Seminar requirement