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

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9780195132656: Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System

Most of us know very little about the law. We pick up bits of information from television and newspaper accounts of current legal battles, and from bestselling novels and popular movies. But these pieces do not give us an accurate or complete picture.
In Law 101, Jay M. Feinman offers a delightfully clear introduction to law, covering the main subjects found in the first year of law school and giving us a basic understanding of the American legal tradition. Readers are introduced to every aspect of the legal system, from constitutional law and the litigation process to tort law, contract law, property law, and criminal law. Feinman illuminates each discussion with many intriguing, outrageous, and infamous cases, from the scalding coffee case that cost McDonald's half a million dollars, to the sensational murder trial in Victorian London that led to the legal definition of insanity, to the epochal decision in Marbury v. Madison that gave the Supreme Court the power to declare state and federal laws unconstitutional. He broadens the reader's legal vocabulary, clarifying the meaning of everything from "due process" and "equal protection" in constitutional law, to the distinction between "murder" and "manslaughter" in criminal law. Perhaps most important, we learn that law is voluminous and complex, but accessible to everyone.
Anyone who enjoys Court TV will find this book irresistible. Everyone who wants a better grasp of current legal issues, from students contemplating law school to journalists covering the legislature or the courts, will find here a wonderful source of information--a complete, clear, and colorful map of the American legal system.

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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.

About the Author:


Jay M. Feinman is Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Law at Camden. An expert on contract law, tort law, legal education, and legal theory, Feinman is the author of three books and more than forty scholarly articles. He lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

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