Friend v. Friend: The Transformation of Friendship and What the Law Has to Do with It

Friend v. Friend: The Transformation of Friendship and What the Law Has to Do with It

Friend v. Friend: The Transformation of Friendship and What the Law Has to Do with It

Friend v. Friend: The Transformation of Friendship and What the Law Has to Do with It


Friendship is one of our most important social institutions. It is the not only the salve for personal loneliness and isolation; it is the glue that binds society together. Yet for a host of reasons--longer hours at work, the Internet, suburban sprawl--many have argued that friendship is on the decline in contemporary America. In social surveys, researchers have found that Americans on average have fewer friends today than in times past.

In Friend v. Friend, Ethan J. Leib takes stock of this most ancient of social institutions and its ongoing transformations, and contends that it could benefit from better and more sensitive public policies. Leib shows that the law has not kept up with changes in our society: it sanctifies traditional family structures but has no thoughtful approach to other aspects of our private lives. Leib contrasts our excessive legal sensitivity to marriage and families with the lack of legal attention to friendship, and shows why more legal attention to friendship could actually improve our public institutions and our civil society. He offers a number of practical proposals that can support new patterns of interpersonal affinity without making friendship an onerous legal burden.

An elegantly written and highly original account of the changing nature of friendship,Friend v. Friend upends the conventional wisdom that law and friendship are inimical, and shows how we can strengthen both by seeing them as mutually reinforcing.


You loan a friend $25,000. You don’t write up any formal paperwork because the transaction seems to be predicated on trust, and you think it wouldn’t make sense to formalize the loan because of the friendship. In any case, she loaned you that much a few years back. She fails to pay you back even though she seems to have the money. Are you precluded from suing in a court to get your money back?

A close friend steals your business idea, runs with it, and doesn’t share profits with you. Do you have any recourse other than ending the friendship?

You are comatose and have failed to designate an end-of-life decision-maker for your health care decisions. You have discussed your desire not to remain in a vegetative state with your friends but not with your religious family, who would not approve of your preferences. Should the hospital listen to your family or your friends? Should we have regulations that clarify which person in your circle of intimates is the most reliable proxy for your views?

Your best friend is extremely ill. Four different colleagues in your office got legally mandated time off to care for family members who had the same type of cancer as your best friend. Should the law require your employer to give you the same rights as your colleagues to help your best friend through his illness?

This book helps you think through these hard problems. They aren’t hypotheticals. These are everyday real-world scenarios that present themselves to us and to our public institutions with frequency. They are manifestly important because the viability of our legal . . .

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