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Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System 1st Edition

38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195132656
ISBN-10: 0195132653
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Editorial Reviews Review

Thanks to TV cop shows, most Americans can probably recite the Miranda warnings, but do they know when the warnings do--and do not--apply? Tort reformers cite the $2.7 million in punitive damages a jury awarded a little old lady in Albuquerque when the cup of coffee she had set between her legs spilled and scalded her. These crusaders against "excessive" damage awards do not usually note that the trial judge reduced the award to $480,000, or that the coffee was 20 degrees hotter than competitors' coffee.

The law is all around. People continually invoke their rights, and every year millions of Americans are involved in formal legal proceedings. Yet most people are ignorant of even the basic concepts and organizing principles of U.S. law. Into the breach comes Jay Feinman's engrossing book Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System. Akin to a crash course in the first year of law school, Law 101 is a clearly written, eminently readable guide to the tenets of our legal system. It is structured around basic questions such as "If a contract is unfair, can a court refuse to enforce it?" and replete with clarifying examples--real and hypothetical. In explaining battery, Feinman writes: "If someone consents to a certain bodily invasion, he does not necessarily consent to any bodily invasion, however. When Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield are in a boxing match, Holyfield has consented to Tyson punching him in the nose ... but he has not consented to Tyson biting off a piece of his ear." Much clearer.

Law 101 won't instruct you on how to write your will or get divorced, but it will educate you at a more systematic level. It is also a great read. --J.R.

From Publishers Weekly

Although it falls a long way short of delivering "everything you need to know" about American law, this basic text offers nonlawyers a concise, accessible overview of topics typically introduced in the first year of law school. Feinman, a law professor at Rutgers, cites seminal cases to highlight key concepts in the fields of constitutional law, civil procedure, torts, contracts, property, criminal law and criminal procedure. He does not minimize the actual complexity of these subjects, conceding variously that contract law has "tormented the most students," property law "most irritates students," conflicts of law "tortures students" and civil procedure is "the most alien." Nevertheless, he distinguishes his book from the various how-to-be-your-own-lawyer manuals on the market: "This one is fun to read." But how much fun is to be found here is questionable. Although Feinman does explore a few juicy cases, such as the successful lawsuit against McDonald's by a woman scalded by its extra-hot coffee and the headline-grabbing criminal prosecution of subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, much of his book is a no-frills restatement of the most general legal principles, minus the titillating nuances. Uninitiated readers may prefer Feinman's regular-guy style ("some contracts just stink") to his more academic voice ("The decision in a particular case will depend on the level of generality at which the court states the controlling principle"). They may also wish he had provided a glossary for quick reference. But many readers, particularly those contemplating law school, will find this a painless introduction to American legal theory and practice. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195132653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195132656
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1.1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #704,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Luis Gallo on October 16, 2000
Ever heard of Tort Law? Roe V. Wade? The Miranda Warning? What is Constitutional Law, what rights does it protects? How does a lawsuit begin? What happens at trial? What is a criminal act? The answers to those and many other similar questions are in "Law 101" an excellent introduction to the American Legal System. In nine chapters, organized in questions and answers format, that cover Constituional Law, the litigation process, personal injuries and tort law, businesses, consumers and contract law, property law, criminal law and criminal procedure,the book offers an easy to read and highly educational insight of the legal system, explaining clearly how courts, judges, juries and lawyers operate and work to solve the legal issues that reflect everyday's life. Well written and covering the basic subjects that every lawyer learns during the first year of Law School, this book is accesible to lay readers and law students alike. Outstanding and useful. A five stars book that will help you to understand the law and many of the legal issues you commonly have to face.
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on October 12, 2004
Since I just recently reviewed Jay Feinman's excellent _Un-Making Law_, I may as well review this one too.

This book is a terrific resource, both for people in general who want to know how U.S. law works and for students headed to law school who want to jump-start their studies.

Basically, it's a user-friendly (but not oversimplified) introduction to the entire first-year law school curriculum. Feinman's claim is that the law isn't something mysterious that you have to belong to an esoteric priesthood in order to understand; on the contrary, it's possible for the ordinary layperson to understand what the law is and how it works.

His book bears out that claim. Heck, I wish _I'd_ had it to read before I started law school; he sets out the major concepts clearly and intelligibly, in the process touching on many of the key cases. I'd have had a _much_ better idea of what to expect during my first year if I'd read this first. (Nor would that have exhausted its usefulness. It would probably be handy to have around while, say, Putting Together The Big Picture for your state bar exam.)

Nor, of course, is it just for future lawyers. It's suitable for anyone who wants to know how the U.S. legal system works. ('Knowing how it works' here means 'understanding the principles and competing incentives that drive the development of U.S. law', not 'knowing how to act as your own lawyer'. This book isn't about 'how'; it's about 'why'. If you want to draft your own employee handbook or something, get a book from Nolo Press.)

You don't have to be of any particular political persuasion to profit from it, either. It's very fair and even-handed, carefully presenting both sides of every controversial issue.

In fact, just about the only people in the U.S. who may not get much out of it are practicing attorneys, who are already supposed to know all this stuff. And even there, it's just barely possible that . . . nahhhhh.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By o0mingmak on June 23, 2000
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the basics of law but does not want to read through tedious, mind-numbing text. This book covers a lot of ground (basically all of the main doctrines of US law) and is entertaining at the same time due to the author's clear / concise narrative and numerous examples.
From the beginning, Feinman explains that "law is not in the law books" but that law "lives in conduct; it exists in the interactions of judges, lawyers and ordinary citizens". Law is how we interpret it to be at a given time - it is in and of the people. From this and other insights, Feinman has helped me gain a greater appreciation for the US legal system as well as making me a more legal savvy citizen. In this day and age this is important - at one time or another we will all have to consult a lawyer for something.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Govindan Nair on July 21, 2003
Although I do not regret my decision, after deferring entry to law school for three years, to finally choose another vocation, I maintain a strong interest in legal philosophy and history, and comparative and international law. For me, Jay Feinman's book was an especially delightful find on the law section of a general bookstore. Few jurists, other than those like Alan Dershowitz and Richard Posner, seem to communicate clearly and effectively in non-specialist books which can satisfy curiosity outside of immediate needs such as writing wills or understanding consumer rights.
The claim of this book to provide "everything" you need to know about American law is undoubtedly exagerrated. This being said, Feinman provides a clear, thoughtful, and insightful coverage of the essentials of all that is covered in the first-year curriculum of a first-year U.S. law school program without the pain of wading through extensive case material - contracts, criminal law, torts, property, constitutional law, and legal procedure.
The strength of this book lies in its emphasis on the open nature of many legal issues -- where there are no straightforward answers. I especially enjoyed, in the section on constitutional law, the superb discussion of the scope of the justiciability doctrine which eshews intrusion of courts into the authority of other branches of government. But what exactly constitues a nonjusticiable political question which the courts should not decide?
An extract from the author's section on civil procedure underscores his invitation to the reader to avoid thinking about the law as cut and dried subject matter and process: "The lesson from all of this is that clear, rigid legal rules are often not what they appear to be.
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