To “think like a lawyer” also requires one to “read like a lawyer,” navigating legal authorities efficiently and accurately. Books written to assist law students in developing this skill go back centuries. One important English legal method book was written by a Middle Temple Bencher in the seventeenth century: Sir John Dodderidge’s The English Lawyer (1631). By examining The English Lawyer alongside fellow Middle Temple Bencher Glanville Williams’ contemporary legal classic, Learning the Law, we can explore the remarkable persistence of teaching law students a particular way of reading and understanding the common law.
The English Lawyer
Sir John Dodderidge (1555–1628) was a well-respected judge of the King’s Bench.[i] During his lifetime, reading and private study were the primary means of learning the law. Aural exercises at the Inns of Court were “more perfunctory” and would cease altogether by 1700.[ii] The lack of formal direction in legal education meant that there was an important place for books like The English Lawyer, a 271-page quarto that was published posthumously in 1631. [iii]
There are two copies of this book at the Middle Temple Library, one bound in leather, and the other bound in parchment with other works by Dodderidge and some Star Chamber case reports. It carries the bookplate of “Richard Clark, Esq, Chamberlain of London.” There is also a handwritten table of contents dated 1761 with Clark’s name. Clark’s ownership of the book one hundred and thirty years after publication and its subsequent placement in the Middle Temple Library suggests it had enduring value for generations of law students and lawyers.
In The English Lawyer, Dodderidge advocates sustained time for reading. Time allows for reflection and guards against exhaustion:
What booteth it to reade much, which is wearinesse to the flesh; to meditate often, which is a burthen to the minde; to learne daily with encrease of knowledge, when as the matter learned is to seeke, at that time especially when we have most need of the use thereof? Memory therefore is the Chest of an inestimable treasure given from God for the preservation of all kinde of knowledge.[iv]
Time of day matters too: the morning is for committing information to memory and after dinner, “being silent and quiet,” is for memorizing speeches to deliver the next day.[v]
Both Latin and Law French are indispensable: Latin in order to read legal sources like the Magna Carta, and Law French in order to read law books. [vi] Dodderidge assumes his readers already know these languages: he includes untranslated excerpts of both Latin and Law French. He parallels the way in which common law treatises like Glanvill, De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, and Fleta order the common law with the divine order of the universe:
GOD in his most excellent worke of the frame of transitorie things, though hee hath furnished the world with unspeakeable variety, thereby making manifest unto all humane creatures, to their great astonishment, his incomprehensible wisedom, his omnipotent power, and his insearchable providence, yet being the God of order, not of confusion, hath admitted no infinitenesse in nature (howsoever otherwise it seeme to our weak capacities) but hath continued the innumerable variety of particular things under certaine specialls; those specialls under generalls; and those generals againe under causes more generall, linking and conjoyning one thing to another, as if by a chaine, even untill wee ascend unto himselfe, the first, chiefe and principall cause of all good things.[vii]
The common law might seem less refined than civil law, but not to Dodderidge. The law changes over time; better to have the law “not left in any other monument, than in the mind of man” so it can be applied anew as circumstances change.[viii] Such a system requires lawyers who are ready with the legal principles in their minds, so Dodderidge provides step-by-step instructions on how to extract the most important parts of a case:
First, after the case read, let us consider with our selves, & meditate in our minds, to what severall purposes the same case may bee applyed, and what matter, or severall matters the resolution of the Case can confirme. Which when wee have considered of, it shall be good for our memorie to commit them to writing […] Upon meditation had of this case, what it will prove, these Propositions or Rules following may easily be collected [.][ix]
Echoing his description of the divine order of the universe, Dodderidge asserts that law students can go from “the particular case, to the Speciall Reason, from that to a more generall, untill we finde out the very primarie ground of naturall reason, from whence all the other are derived.”[x] This draws from French logician Peter Ramus, whose method had spread to Oxford and Cambridge in the late sixteenth century. Ramism’s subsequent popularity at the Inns of Court coincided with increasing numbers of law students who first attended university, like Dodderidge, who had a B.A. from Oxford.[xi]
Dodderidge’s guidance would help law students create what was known as a commonplace book, in which passages would be organized by general and specific headings. Many Early Modern readers kept commonplace books to collect and make sense of what they read. As Robert Darnton explains,
Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life…. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts.[xii]
Creating legal commonplace books would help students make sense of the common law.
Learning the Law
First published in 1945, Glanville Williams’ Learning the Law has run to sixteen editions so far. Williams’ obituary described it as “a little introductory book about law studies which was, and still remains, indispensable reading for any would-be law student.”[xiii] Williams (1911–1997) had an illustrious career as a lawyer, reformer and scholar. Recent editions of Learning the Law still bear his name but are edited by lawyer and professor A.T.H. Smith, also a Bencher of the Middle Temple.
Williams tells students that learning to identify the ratio decidendi of a case is “an art gradually acquired through practice and study.”[xiv] The Latin phrase is an example of the persistence of Latin in law, though now, like Law French, it exists only in particular terms. Rather than suggesting a student should know either language, Williams directs students to dictionaries and guides on pronunciation.[xv]
While Williams agrees with Dodderidge that students must study cases in order to understand the law, today’s students have another option that Williams endorses: casebooks. First, there is so much more legal literature now.[xvi] Second, structured law courses compress learning into an “alarmingly short space”[xvii] with many hours needed for lectures, tutorials and other activities, in addition to reading the law. He concludes that students need only read some cases in their entirety and can rely on casebooks for the rest.[xviii]
While practicing lawyers have little need “to carry much law in the mind,” law students “must also be able to recite a considerable number of rules and authorities,” at least for exams.[xix] Like Dodderidge, Williams teaches specific mnemonic techniques, but they are adapted to the academic year:
you can learn the same amount in less learning time by distributing your learning evenly over term and vacation than by crowding your learning into the term and leaving the vacations an academic blank.[xx]
Reading should be done in small portions in order to allow time to assimilate new information into a coherent whole, and passages should be reread multiple times. [xxi] Rather than following Dodderidge’s advice to meditate silently on the reading, Williams advocates reciting aloud, drawing, perhaps unknowingly, on the Medieval technique of murmuring.[xxii]
The Continued Survival of Early Modern Reading?
Robert Darnton once described the Early Modern reader as reading in fits and starts, breaking up texts, and reassembling them to suit a purpose.[xxiii] This reading for action “compelled its practitioners to read actively, to exercise critical judgment, and to impose their own pattern on their reading matter.”[xxiv] While largely extinct, Darnton found that this type of reading still survived “in places.”[xxv] Could the legal profession be one of those places? When law students learn to brief cases and compile them into outlines for exams, they are hearing echoes of Dodderidge’s advice to “frame a Directory… fit and convenient both for the speedy finding of that we would seeke, and the ready having of that we can wish for.”[xxvi] While they may have new tools, law students continue to have to assemble their learning in a way that makes sense to them individually and makes sense of the common law as a whole. Perhaps these unique needs have meant that Early Modern reading techniques have persisted in this profession while they have been largely forgotten elsewhere.
This guest blog post was written by Amy Kaufman (B.A., LL.B., M.I.St., Head Law Librarian, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada )*
It is based on an article that was recently published in the Canadian Law Library Review: https://callacbd.ca/resources/Documents/CLLR%2044.3%20(Final).pdf
[i] David Ibbetson, “Dodderidge [Doddridge], Sir John,” in Sir David Cannadine, ed, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2005), online: <doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/7745>.
[ii] Wilfrid R. Prest, The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts, 1590-1640 (Aylesbury: Longman, 1972) at 48, 124-41.
[iii] Sir John Dodderidge, The English Lawyer (London: Assignes of I. More Esq, 1631).
[iv] Ibid at 12-13.
[v] Ibid at 22.
[vi] Ibid at 40-41; 244-45.
[vii] Ibid. at 236-37.
[viii] Ibid. at 241.
[ix] Ibid at 247-49.
[x] Ibid at 255.
[xi] Richard J Ross, “The Commoning of the Common Law: The Renaissance Debate over Printing English Law, 1520-1640” (1998) 146 U Pa L Rev 323 at 346; AWB Simpson, “The Rise and Fall of the Legal Treatise: Legal Principles and the Forms of Legal Literature” (1981) 48 U Chicago L Rev 632 at 649-50; Richard J. Ross, “The Memorial Culture of Early Modern English Lawyers: Memory as Keyword, Shelter, and Identity, 1560-1640” (1998) 10 Yale JL & Human 229 at 287-95, 304; Ibbetson, supra note 1.
[xii] Robert Darnton, “Extraordinary Commonplaces”, New York Times Review of Books (21 December 2000), online: <www.nybooks.com/articles/2000/12/21/extraordinary-commonplaces/>.
[xiii] JR Spencer, “Obituary: Professor Glanville Williams,” Independent (17 April 1997), online: <www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-glanville-williams-1267628.html>.
[xiv] ATH Smith, ed., Glanville Williams: Learning the Law, 13th ed (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2006) at 92.
[xv] Ibid at 85-88.
[xvi] Ibid at 73.
[xvii] Ibid at 74.
[xviii] Ibid at 75.
[xix] Ibid at 71.
[xx] Ibid at 72.
[xxi] Ibid at 72.
[xxii] Ibid at 73; Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd ed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) at 205.
[xxiii] Darnton, supra note 12.
[xxvi] Dodderidge, supra note 3 at 269.
*Thanks to Giles Mandelbrote, Dr. Cynthia Johnston, Daniel Boyer, Sivan Tumarkin, and Simon Baron for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper that this blog post is based on. I am grateful to Renae Satterley, Librarian of the Middle Temple, for all her help.