Histories of Courtroom Procedure Especially Judges and Lawyers in Court

Williamjames Hoffer's picture

Quick question from a colleague: I have a student who is interested in the history of courtroom procedure—more the performative aspect than the administrative one (though he is also interested in the “unwritten rules” of the judge-lawyer relationship). I want him to do some readings about the history of courts in the US so he can do some comparisons with the present. Do you have any suggestions for books (or articles) on the topic that would work well for an undergraduate?



John Wertheimer

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of History

Davidson College

There are reasonable descriptions of the work that a colonial lawyer would do at the beginning of multi-volume works, where editors set up what the collections do. Bear in mind that the paperwork being explained shows little of how it would be read or acted upon by a judge, but in passing, there are comments made about how lawyers and judges interacted.
L. Kinvin Wroth & Hiller Zobel, eds,. Legal Papers of John Adams
Edward Hanson and Neil York, eds, Papers of Robert Treat Paine
Dan Coquillette, ed., Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior
Julius Goebel, ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary

I hope these will help the student, who sounds like a budding legal historian!
Sally Hadden
Western Michigan University

Hi John,

Sorry I am not figuring out how to get into/reply via H-Law at the moment so replying off line,, here are two suggestions that may be of interest.

Amalia Kessler, Inventing American Exceptionalism, has a lot about 19th century courtroom performance and adversarialism.

A book about 18th century England, but that might be interesting, is called The Bar and the Old Bailey (I think?).. has a lot on the invention of criminal defense advocacy and performance.

These may be long for an undergrad (depending on the undergrad). There may be a chapter or two within each that would give the gist.

Sara Mayeux (Vanderbilt Law)