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VINE VOICEon December 26, 1999
In this book Levi gives an overview of the process of legal analysis and demonstrates how legal "rules" are made. The book consists of primarily 3 parts. In the first part Levi demonstrates the process of legal reasoning in case law situations by tracing the history and development of the "inherently dangerous" rule. The second part is an examination of statutory interpretation, specifically the Mann Act. Finally, is a section on constitutional interpretation. This book is not for pre-law students it will offer the most once the reader has already been introduced to the basics of the law and legal reasoning.
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on August 7, 1999
Levi's classic has been foisted on first year students at Stanford and elsewhere to nearly universal dispair. This slim volume is hard plowing for new students of the law. Now in my 15th year as a practitioner, and teaching criminal law, I find the lessons in it to be extraordinarily rewarding. But this is my third reading... Best section covers the natural history of a fascinating statute: The Mann Act. Buy this book and give it the time it deserves.
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on April 20, 2001
I'm entering law school this fall, so I thought I'd read through this book to give me a head start. Levi takes a look at the evolution of court decisions based on the common law, statutory law, and constitutional law. I found the first few pages of the book very helpful in understanding that legal reasoning is not strictly an exercise in either inductive or deductive logic, but is sort of a hybrid of both which at the same time reflects the general views of society and adapts to new societal values as society's mores change. I think this is the real value of this book, showing how the reasoning evolves as new cases arise. A new case might lead to the creation of a new legal rule to deal with it, and then this rule is used for years to deal with similar cases that arise. Then, as the number of cases increases, slight distinctions are made between them, resulting simultaneously in both an expansion and a fractioning of the legal rule, sort of like a tree branch. Then, when social values change or when the cases become so numerous and differentiated that they overwhelm the original legal rule, the legal rule is discarded altogether as a new interpretation takes its place. This book takes a look at several examples of this in U.S. legal history to illustrate this process of legal evolution. It's an excellent introduction to legal reasoning. However, I gave it only four stars because the reading tends to be rather dry at times, and I often found my mind wandering as I read it. Other than that, though, this is a good book.
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For those going into the legal profession, and for those curious about the logic of legal procedures, this book offers and excellent introduction. Its length will suit those readers who want a quick but accurate overview of this topic. It might also satisfy the needs of a reader in a field of endeavor somewhat removed from the legal profession, namely, that of artificial intelligence. Artificial and computational intelligence has been applied to the legal profession with the goal of creating automated legal reasoning machines. My interest in the book was somewhat different when I first read it years ago, but now has been reactivated from the standpoint of artificial intelligence.
The author describes his book as an attempt to give a general description of the process of legal reasoning in case law and in statutorial and constitutional interpretation. He emphasizes right at the beginning that the law should not be viewed as a known system of rules that are applied by a judge, that legal rules are never clear, and that a requirement for such clarity would make society impossible. Ambiguity in the rules he says, allows collective participation to resolve the ambiguity. Such a characterization of legal rules by Levi prohibits an axiomatic or formal approach to legal reasoning, and this will make the problem of creating automated legal reasoners much more difficult.
Interestingly, Levi quotes Aristotle in asserting that the pattern of legal reasoning consists of reasoning by example, and that it follows a three-step process: With the doctrine of precedent assumed throughout, a proposition describing a particular case is made into law and then this rule is applied to a situation that is similar to these. Thus: 1. The cases are shown to be similar. 2. The rule of law in the first case is announced 3. This rule is then applied to the second case. It is the finding of similarity in both cases that would entail, in the context of a legal reasoning machine, the use of data mining techniques coupled with a formalization of the Aristotelian "reasoning by example" that is discussed by Levi.
An interesting part of Levi's discussion on the determination of similarity (or difference) is that this determination is dependent on the judge. When a statute does not exist, and case law is being considered, the judge is free to dismiss teh facts that the prior judge may have considered important. The doctrine of "ratio decidendi" in legal philosophy, and has been the subject of intense investigation. A formal or computational model of ratio decidendi must come to terms with this tension between precedent and judicial discretion.
In addition, Levi argues, the rules are discovered in the process of determining the similarities (or differences). This dynamism in legal reasoning is not too different from what happens in scientific research, for in the latter new laws (rules) are discovered in the process of interpreting new data that has been acquired by new experiments. The data may then have to be re-interpreted in the light of the new laws (rules) that are formulated. Future data that is similar to this data will then be interepreted under these new rules. Future data that is very different from this may entail a new set of rules be invented (discovered) to deal with this difference.
The issue then, Levi explains, is to when one must view different cases as the same. An intersection of the set of facts of two cases entails a general rule be applied. This "reasoning" is imperfect, Levi argues, since the conclusions were arrived at by a process that was not transparent. Levi summarizes this as a process in which the classification changes as the classification is made, i.e., the rules change as they are applied. This might seem troubling to some, but Levi explains that such a situation is desirable since without it, new ideas could not enter into the legal process. Thus a static view of the legal process where consequences are derived from a closed system of rules is not useful in legal reasoning. In addition, Levi argues, fairness to the parties involved in litigation is served best by this ambiguity in legal categories. The commonality of the ideas of society coupled with the contributions made by legal experts both serve to shape the law.
Levi also discusses the role that reasoning by example has in the interpretation of case law, statutes, and the Constitution. The intent of the legislature enters into the consideration of the statute by subsequent judges, and so these judges have less flexibility in applying a statute than they would in the consideration of case law. Interestingly, Levi argues that the case for constitutional law is different, in that the judge has more freedom than was the case for statutorial or case law. The court can be inconsistent in this case, says Levi, but this freedom is masked under the guise of a search for the intent of the framers of the Constitution or as a characterization of the Constitution as a "living document".
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on June 15, 2007
While Levi clarifies much that's uncertain about legal interpretation, I don't recommend this book for those with no previous studies in law. If you must read it -- and there ARE rewards from doing so -- be sure to have a law dictionary at hand.

Besides using legal terms that aren't explained, Levi's prose is so dense as to be almost unreadable, but worse, it lacks anything resembling clarity. He often barges straight in to lengthy analyses of concepts without explaining the basic terms he uses or even why they're relevant; these must be induced from the text while reading. Since Levi is usually demonstrating through examples how concepts change over time, however, it's difficult to pin down what the concept means at any one point, before Levi has already jumped ahead to the next point without explaining either.

It's also highly recommended that you look up the cases Levi cites, since his quotations from judges rarely contain enough critical information to piece together the actual concept involved. Finding the original and just reading the parts that he replaced with ellipses add an infinite degree of clarity.
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on August 16, 2002
Legal reasoning is famously ambiguous: there's no objective way to determine the outcome of a given case as there is with a physics problem. If you know the weight of an item and the height from which it drops, you are able to determine fairly objectively (i) the rate at which it will fall to the earth and (ii) the time it will take to fall to the earth from the point at which it is dropped. Law, unfortunately, is not so straight-forward. Understanding its assumptions is absolutely critical to developing any sort of sophisticated understanding about the ways in which law affects civilization. This book provides a broad outline of those assumptions. I suggest having at least a rudimentary background in intellectual history and political philosophy to get the most out of this book.
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on January 5, 2011
It is a short book, but worth the price, and comprehensively packed with details about logical and legal reasoning. I can't imagine what you could do with it other than prepare for law school and/or law school exams/writing, but for that purposes, it reliably serves you well.

If you're heading to law school next Fall, pick it up (but be prepared to feel a bit overwhelmed/exciting about how much there is to learn), and when you're IN law school, pick it up (and be prepared to understand a heck of a lot more than when you read it the first time)!
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on August 28, 2009
If you have some spare time, this book goes through cases of product liability common law to demonstrate how judges create policy through thier judgments. It's very interesting and will grant you a broader understanding of common law, but you don't have to read this before entering law school.
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on August 16, 2013
Some of the material was slightly dated, and it was written with a legal style which can be difficult for the legal novice. Sort of a Catch-22. If you can read and clearly understand, you do not need what you just read.
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on July 12, 2013
Received on time just as described. This book offers a general overview of case law versus statutory law, alongside it's legislative interpretations.
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