Instructor(s): Lisa Austin, Angela Fernandez

For graduate students, the course number is LAW5014HS.

Note: The Blackboard program will be used for this course. Students must self-enrol in Blackboard as soon as confirmed in the course in order to obtain course information.

Common law reasoning, most often learned through the case-method, is at the very heart of how law schools teach students how to “think like a lawyer.” And yet the essential nature of common law reasoning, its virtues, and its defects, have been strongly contested throughout its history. Sometimes personified as “Our Lady the Common Law,” sometimes treated as a rigid and ossified product of formalist doctrinal thinking of the late nineteenth century, other times viewed as a canvas for a flexible conception of justice that operates on a case-by-case basis. This course will investigate a variety of perspectives on the common law, working through a series of influential writings in legal history and legal theory, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to Karl Llewellyn and H.L.A. Hart. Topics will include a review of the history of the common law and courts of equity, the Langdellian case law method of teaching, and the disappearance of the late nineteenth-century historical school of jurisprudence in the acid wash of legal realism. Themes will include the tension in the common law of case-by-case adjudication and the building of science or system in a precedent-based system, debates about the relationship between rules, principles, and policy, what happened to legal theory and legal history in the post-realist period of academic legal thought.

A 48-hour, one-question, 2500-3000 word, take-home examination (50%); class participation (50% of the final grade: two comment papers (1250-1750 words) each worth 20% of the final grade; and attendance and input to class discussion, 10%). A limited number of students may arrange to write a SUYRP paper in the course. If a student is doing the SUYRP, that paper replaces the Take Home Exam for 50% of the grade, and the student will still be evaluated on 50% for two comment papers (40%) and participation (10%).

At a Glance

Second Term
Perspective course


24 JD


T: 10:30 - 12:20