Hart & Wechsler's "The Federal Courts and the Federal System":
Is this famous casebook a magnificent treatise? A law geek's guilty pleasure? Or is it just an annoying series of unanswered questions? Over at Concurring Opinions, Nate Oman explains why H&W is "the only one of my case books from law school that I still regularly consult."
Law Student:
As a law student who took Fed Courts last year, I thought H &W was patient, helpful and interesting. Yes, the unanswered questions could be frusterating, but getting to the bottom of that frusteration is the only way you can learn Fed Courts.
10.27.2005 2:59am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Is this famous casebook a magnificent treatise? A law geek's guilty pleasure? Or is it just an annoying series of unanswered questions? "

These aren't mutually exclusive. How a student views it depends in large part on the professor!

I somehow managed to end up with two copies of this text. I suppose I'm doubly blessed/cursed, which is appropriate, because I took Fed. Courts twice - once from a prof. who was spiteful, then from a prof who was magnanimous!
10.27.2005 3:43am
First-Year Associate (mail):
I still consult it. It is great. The questions are good.
10.27.2005 3:45am
T. More (www):
The Hart &Wechsler materials are the most challenging and intelligent that a law student will face. Other casebooks are mere textbooks--silly and superficial and wasteful of one's time if one wants to learn rather than merlely score well.

H&W, especially in the hands of one Henry Paul Monaghan, amount in themselves to a legal education. That the question arises speaks to the watering down of legal education that is already upon us.
10.27.2005 4:23am
Visitor Again:
I took Federal Courts from Henry Hart in his last year of teaching, 1967-68. He was a wonderful teacher, although there was a bit too much Felix Frankfurter in him for my liking. (Frankfurter was not the bee's knees among most Harvard Law students in the late Sixties.) If memory serves, it was Frankfurter who originally put the course together, and Hart was one of his students.

Hart &Wechsler was the single most valuable tool I came across in my quest to understand this country's legal system, and course and casebook, if it can be called that, have served me well throughout my career as a lawyer. For decades I continued to buy each new edition as it came out because it almost always pointed me in the right direction on the knottiest of problems. It was always the first place I went for any federal courts problem. Often it was the last because it had the answer. And, of course, it was tremendously useful in state court cases presenting problems of the interconnection between federal and state law.

Some commentators have said Hart &Wechsler is too difficult for most law students. To the contrary, the authors' use of cases, notes, questions and dialogues made it the best and easiest way of getting a grasp on a complex subject. It is much more than a casebook if only because it sets one to thinking in a way no mere casebook ever did.

But it is more than a wonderful teaching tool and more than a great resource for lawyers. It is also a magnificent work of legal scholarship.

Not many casebooks get cited in judicial opinions. I would wager Hart &Wechsler has been cited more times than any other casebook. It might even be mong the most cited works of legal scholarship.
10.27.2005 5:57am
Al Maviva (mail):
It's a good text and it's still on my shelf, but I find that the Mullenix, Redish &Vairo's hornbook, Understanding Federal Courts &Jurisdiction, is the really indispensible tool in this area that I brought with me from law school. Hart is nice, but when an opponent throws a difficult but oddball fed jur question into a brief, the hornbook is better for getting a baseline explanation of the doctrine along with a bibliographic case law &treatise starting point, as well as a glossary of key terms relating to an issue. Mullenix et al are usually concise and accurate, although they aren't always correct in their detailed understanding of the cases. But then that's why I'm paid to go do the reading.
10.27.2005 9:14am
Nobody Special:
I have a serious problem with the latest incarnation of the casebook.

In the foreword, it boasts of cutting out several hundred pages relative to the previous edition. Of course, it did this by turning such important cases as Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife into note cases!

The problem with that, of course, is that someone only casually perusing the book will likely overlook one of the more recent and important cases on Article III. This pattern is repeated throughout the book.
10.27.2005 9:24am
The latest edition of Hart &Wechsler it the latest attempt at turning a good federal courts casebook into a platform to pitch the law review articles of Profs. Fallon &Meltzer.

They crop cases to emphasize citations to their own work, not to emphasize substantive points. They spend pages at a time trying to make a particular issue out to be an insoluble dilemma, and then... bam! -- why don't you read our law review article? That, plus the authors dedicating the Fifth Edition to themselves was a bit off-putting.

It has a lot of good information, but I found it insulting to have to wade through pages of their navel-gazing and hero-worship of dead Harvard law profs to try to learn what I think is an otherwise fascinating subject. They've defiled the Hart &Wechsler legacy with their own ambitions, and the fewer lawprofs who continue to use the book, the better. The only way I think the book could be used is if a professor went through it paragraph by paragraph and separated out the informative stuff from the deliberately confusing sales pitches. I would think that authors as accomplished as FM&S (and also tenured, no less) would be able to resist the urge to insert the equivalent of pop-up ads in their treatises, but I was disappointed in their effort.

That said, I'm told that other fed courts books oversimplify stuff, so H&W might be the only game in town.
10.27.2005 10:59am
J (mail):
Federal Courts itself is full of nuances, which, from only 5 feet back, look silly. I happen to believe it's because the entire study of it is silly. A history of judicial activism, if you ask me.

That said, H&W do a good job of explaining the silly. So I guess it's ok.
10.27.2005 11:05am
dj subzero (mail) (www):
It's Godel Escher Bach for lawyers. I actually can't comment on the recent editions (mine's years old), but I still occasionally find it useful as a starting point for research on meta-issues like standing, mootness, political question, etc.
10.27.2005 12:49pm

H&W, especially in the hands of one Henry Paul Monaghan, amount in themselves to a legal education.

Oh, dear.
10.27.2005 12:50pm
Goober (mail):
Hey now, Columbienne! You gotta problem with the Notorious H.P.M.?
10.27.2005 1:14pm
Guest2 (mail):
I still have mine and still consult it when I have to deal with fed jurisdiction issues. I can't agree with WB's complaints.
10.27.2005 1:27pm
Craig Oren (mail):
I took Paul Mishkin from the course. We used the second edition. The book is challenging, but that's appropriate for the material. The classic edition is of course the first, which is really the only edition that H &W themselves worked on. (I think W's participation in the 2nd edition was only nominal.)

I've noticed the book on the shelves of outstanding lawyers. Obviously, it's a goodie.
10.27.2005 3:08pm
Visitor Again:
The first edition appeared in 1953 and the second in 1973. Hart--who looked like a Supreme Court justice should look, beautiful silver gray hair and sharp, handsome features--died in 1969, the year after I had him for Federal Courts. Wechsler lived on until the turn of the century, but he had moved on to other things, mostly to do with the ALI from what I can gather. And so second and subsequent editions were the work of others.

From what I've read on the web today, most of the criticism of the casebook came after the appearance of the fourth edition. Posner says the first edition is by far the best casebook ever, and other luminaries say the second and third editions were as good. I rather think the third edition is the last one I bought. My entire library is in storage at the moment, so I cannot check. The first edition was dedicated to Felx Frankfurter, with a notation something like "who first opened our minds to these problems."
10.27.2005 6:06pm
Flavio Rose (mail):
When I was in law school at Boalt in 1991-94, I found it odd that doctrinal scholarship was possible in Fed. Courts when it was passe in essentially all other areas. I still remember a well known professor there telling me that doctrinal scholarship was 1950s stuff, but there was his colleague Willie Fletcher, who was publishing stuff on doctrinal issues in Fed. Courts until he decided that F.3d would be a better outlet for his writing.

Since doctrinal scholarship is of some use to litigators, it is no wonder that Hart &Wechsler is considered more useful than other casebooks. Since I enjoyed law and doctrine, Hart &Wechsler was definitely more to my taste than other casebooks, where you often were reading very old cases or cases chosen to be unusual or even contrary to current law, and the authors did not seem to have as their ultimate goal giving you a doctrinal understanding of a body of law as it currently stands but instead something else -- I'm not sure to this day what.
10.27.2005 10:30pm
Attila (Pillage Idiot) (mail) (www):
H&W (2d ed.) + Paul Bator = hours of fun.

And I was something of a goofoff in law school.
10.27.2005 10:31pm
Guest2 (mail):
I just checked my shelves -- the 4th ed. is the one I learned from (under Dan Meltzer, who BTW was one of the best teachers I've ever had). Personally, I'd rather have a book full of his, Fallon's, and Shapiro's thoughts than an anthology of opinions that I can just as easily get on line. But maybe 50 years from now I'll be complaining that 8th ed. is crap.
10.28.2005 10:21am