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

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

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

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.


Law is everywhere. Listen to the television news any evening and you'll hear about a notorious criminal trial, a massive lawsuit, or a new constitutional claim. And it all seems so complicated. Why are there legal technicalities that trip up the police and allow criminals to get off? Why does litigation take so long and cost so much? How do the courts figure out how the words of the Constitution apply to situations the framers never dreamed of?

Lawyers are trained to understand issues like these, and there are plenty of resources to help them. The library at my law school has over 400,000 volumes in which lawyers can find statutes, judicial opinions, and learned commentary on the law. This book is for everybody else. Law 101 is a basic explanation for the nonlawyer of the rules and principles that lawyers and judges use. The premise of the book is straightforward: It's not easy to decide legal questions, but anyone can acquire a basic understanding of what the questions involve.

Each of the substantive chapters of the book covers one of the basic subjects that every lawyer learns during the first year of law school: constitutional law, civil rights, civil procedure and the litigation process, torts, contracts, property, criminal law, and criminal procedure. In each chapter you will learn the fundamental principles that underlie the subject, acquire a legal vocabulary, and see how the rules are applied in ordinary and unusual situations. The book not only tells you about the law--more importantly, it engages you in the process of lawmaking by asking you to think about the tough questions and troubling cases that lawyers and judges face. You will have some fun along the way as well, because the situations the law deals with are sometimes amusing or outrageous, and always interesting.

After reading this book, when you hear about controversial legal issues you will have a better sense of the background and the complexity of the issues and you will be better able to make your own judgments about what the law should be. You also will be better prepared to think about the legal problems that you may encounter in everyday life, from owning a home to suing someone to asserting your constitutional rights. If you ever have considered going to law school, Law 101 will give you a taste of what it is like. And if . . .

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