SMNR: Classics of American Legal Thought

Course Information

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Meeting Times

Day Time Location
WED 3:45 - 5:35 pm TNH 3.129

Evaluation Method

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Every sophisticated lawyer is supposed to be familiar with a handful of “classic” works. These are works that have shaped the way modern lawyers think, when they “think like lawyers.” Examples include: Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “Path of the Law,” Felix Cohen’s “Transcendental Nonsense and the Functional Approach,” Ronald Coase’s “Problem of Social Cost,” Guido Calebresi & Douglas Melamed’s “Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Inalienability: One View of the Cathedral,” and Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color.” Classics like these pioneered what have become everyday tools of legal analysis and introduced what are now often taken-for-granted ways of understanding legal reasoning and law’s role in government and society. Yet, law students only know them as famous citations or catch-phrases or, at most, as tiny excerpts in casebooks. To read and explore them whole is to understand the origins and development of present-day legal thought, and to see our common methods of reasoning when they were dramatic intellectual innovations. These classics are not books but essays. Each week, we will read and discuss one, two or, sometimes, three of them. Students will write brief reaction papers on five of the thirteen weekly readings. They will be free to choose which five and will hand in these papers prior to the relevant class meeting. Students will have a choice between either writing an additional three such reaction papers, or, instead, writing a short final paper, based on three or more weeks’ readings, on a topic to be chosen in advance, in consultation with me.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

No materials required


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Important Class Changes

Date Updated
11/05/2015 Meeting times changed