Introducing U.S. Law

Robert H. Klonoff, Introduction to the Study of U.S. Law (2016).

Teaching an introductory course on United States Law to foreign students is a challenging task, regardless of whether it is done in a U.S. law school as part of an LL.M. program or in a course taught abroad. LL.M. programs usually provide one such course each academic year. Some of these courses use material randomly assembled by the teachers and assigned to the class. Others use published casebooks, most of which are outdated or otherwise unsatisfactory, too synthetic to achieve their stated goal, lacking a unitary vision, and devoid of informative comparative angles.

Robert Klonoff’s Introduction to the Study of U.S. Law is the most updated, thorough, and precise text on the subject currently available. The first true “U.S. Law” casebook for foreign students and designed in the U.S. law school tradition, it embarks on its mission with intriguing comparative law angles, addressing questions that a foreigner might raise when first confronting U.S. law. Overall, the casebook offers a solid, engaging, and effective guide to the study of the pillars of the U.S. legal system. The selection of topics, the organization, and the clearly stated analysis make the book an effective tool for any foreign lawyer interested in taking the bar exam in the United States. But it is so much more than that.

Klonoff’s casebook also offers a useful compendium for students, practitioners, and academics already grounded in U.S. law, with a carefully updated, comprehensive, and profound vision of the crucial rules and doctrines underlying our system. I could easily imagine this casebook being used in a final law school course giving students an opportunity to appreciate the legal system in its entirety. The book is especially effective in showing the common grounds and common problems that run through U.S. law, contributing to that holistic vision necessary to meaningfully approach legal analysis.

Each chapter in the casebook might also serve as introductory reading for a foundational course on the subject. For example, as a Civil Procedure teacher, I found the chapter on procedure quite intriguing. It provided an interesting Civil Procedure “story” that a professor might assign before moving to the fragmentation and topic-by-topic approach that we all must necessarily attend to. It also provides a carefully stated and streamlined presentation of the topics one typically associates with a first-year Civil Procedure course. Using Goldberg v. Kelly on procedural due process as the opening gambit is a deft move, as that case introduces the reader to (or reminds him of) the idea that any civil procedure topic should be addressed against a solid and concrete due process background.

Each chapter similarly opens with an introductory note highlighting the central features of the topic, covered through the edited opinions and accompanying Notes & Questions. The move from the general to the particular was balanced and effective, serving as a powerful bridge from the author to the teacher to the student. In fact, the Notes & Questions offer context to the cases and preview the doctrines that tie the cases together. They also introduce foreign students to the Socratic method, trace for them an effective learning path, and generate wonderful classroom exchanges. Klonoff also uses them to develop substantive themes that go beyond the specific cases covered, often showing the connections between those cases and other areas of study.

After providing an overview of the common law system in the U.S., the judicial system and the lawyers’ role within it, the casebook offers a thorough overview and analysis of the foundational subjects of the U.S. legal system: Constitutional Law (Chapter 2), Civil Procedure (Chapter 3), Contracts (Chapter 4), Torts (Chapter 5), Property (Chapter 6), Criminal Procedure (Chapter 7), and Criminal Law (Chapter 8).

The selection of cases is spot-on, moving from common grounds to the peculiarities of the U.S. system, and from older to more recent cases, thus offering foundational as well as contemporary applications of critical doctrines in state and federal courts. But, in general, the emphasis is on contemporary cases, allowing teacher and student to move through the materials without the baggage of doctrines that may be less than illuminating.

The book also offers opportunities for scholarly reflections, as on the American Law Institute’s work on the Restatements, the role of dissenting opinions, or scholarly debates on the most current topics, such as electronic formation of contracts or the current impact of Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal.

Chapter 1, “Introduction to the U.S. Legal System,” is worth highlighting, as it offers information crucial to a complete understanding of the interlocking aspects of the legal system. It is comparative, moving fluidly from the civil law to the common law system. The chapter also explores the U.S. legal system through different angles, including the academic, historical, traditional, and practical. The sources range from ABA materials and federal government publications to articles and lectures by Supreme Court Justices.

Klonoff’s Introduction to the Study of U.S. Law is, without doubt, the best text currently available to introduce foreign students to the study of the U.S. legal system. Moving from Supreme Court cases to lower federal and state court opinions to scholarly articles and current debates to current practice, it offers a panoramic and truthful overview of a system that continues to inspire scholars, lawyers, judges, and legislators all over the world. The author’s knowledge of and sensitivity to a foreigner’s curiosity and his encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. law are evident on every page.

Cite as: Simona Grossi, Introducing U.S. Law, JOTWELL (November 9, 2016) (reviewing Robert H. Klonoff, Introduction to the Study of U.S. Law (2016)),