Author Box
Articles Categories
All Categories
Articles Resources

Book Review: The Path Of The Law

February 23, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 197

Title: The Path Of The Law

•Sub-title: Learning, Understanding, and Mastering the Law

•Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

•Publication Date: 2009

•ISBN: 978-1933230-08-5


The thoughtful reader of The Path of the Law will enjoy the sensation of having at his side a guide, philosopher, and teacher who carefully guides him to learning, understanding, and mastering the law. To read and reread this book is to experience taking on from a great teacher some of the things he has learned and to become excited about the subject too.

The Path of the Law presents the conclusions drawn by Holmes after more than 30 years of legal observation, thought, and practice of law. He probably wrote this essay to further discuss what he began in his most famous publication, The Common Law. The Path of The Law was written not as a manual about the practice of law, but a manual to show students how to think like a lawyer; what it means to be a good lawyer; and what it means to have a successful law career.

What Is This Book About?

Obviously, many changes and improvements have taken place in the legal profession and in legal education since Holmes wrote this essay in 1897. But in this book Holmes is not concerned with the practical minute details of learning about the law: "Theory is my subject, not practical details. The modes of teaching have been improved since my time, but ability and industry will master the raw material with any mode. Theory is the most important part of the dogma of the law, as the architect is the most important man who takes part in the building of a house."

Who Is Holmes?

Holmes was in a position to speak about American law with great authority. After graduating from Harvard with his law degree, he taught law there. He then served for 20 years on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Then he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, where he served for 30 years. Despite his fancy titles and very extensive experience, Holmes never talks down to the reader of this book. Holmes' obvious love of the law and his desire to help others understand this attraction comes through to the reader loud and clear. Holmes uses many easy-to-understand examples throughout the essay to make his point.

The "Bad Man Theory" and "Morality Vs. Law"

The quality and simplicity of Holmes' writing is reason enough to attract readers - especially law students. His illustrations are obviously chosen from wide experiences and are like vivid pictures flashed on a miniature screen. Everyone's favorite illustration is usually Holmes' explanation of his "bad man theory". Holmes explains "that a bad man has as much reason as a good one for wishing to avoid an encounter with the public force, and therefore you can see the practical importance of the distinction between morality and law". In other words, a bad man will want to know only what the material consequences of his conduct will be; he will not be motivated by morality or conscience. This example sets the stage for most of the book. Holmes puts a lot of effort into giving examples of the differences between morality and law.

History and Tradition

A large portion of the book discusses the importance of history, or tradition, as an important part of the study of law. Holmes tells us that "The rational study of law is still to a large extent the study of history. History must be a part of the study, because without it we cannot know the precise scope of rules which it is our business to know. It is a part of the rational study, because it is the first step toward an enlightened skepticism, that is, toward a deliberate reconsideration of the worth of those rules."

Isn't This Book Outdated?

The hasty reader might assume that this book was written too long ago to be of any practical use to a modern law student or lawyer. But a careful reader will immediately realize that Holmes has much to offer us today. Holmes sums up his entire book in two short paragraphs:

"I take it for granted that no hearer of mine will misinterpret what I have to say as the language of cynicism. The law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. Its history is the history of the moral development of the race. The practice of it, in spite of popular jests, tends to make good citizens and good men. When I emphasize the difference between law and morals I do so with reference to a single end, that of learning and understanding the law. For that purpose you must definitely master its specific marks, and it is for that I ask you for the moment to imagine yourselves indifferent to other and greater things."

"If a man goes into law it pays to be a master of it, and to be a master of it means to look straight through all the dramatic incidents and to discern the true basis for prophecy. Therefore, it is well to have an accurate notion of what you mean by law, by a right, by a duty, by malice, intent, and negligence, by ownership, by possession, and so forth."


Those of you reading this book before entering law school should make an effort to re-read it several times during your law school studies. It is then that you will begin to understand more of The Path of the Law each time you read it, and really begin to understand what Holmes was trying to tell us - at a deeper level - and enjoy his message even more.

Joseph C. Kunz, Jr. is an author, self-publisher, educator, infopreneur, small-business manager & marketing maven & wiz, husband & father of twins. Life-long love affair with books and reading. Very excited about being part of the new media movement. Known for casual, easy-to-read writing style and ability to explain complex topics in an understandable way. Kunz likes to share all that he has learned about self-publishing and small-business management at "If you are serious about your work you should self-publish. Retain creative control. Retain the profits. Enjoy the satisfaction and status that comes with being published." Visit Kunz's website about all aspects of self-publishing at, for an insider's guide to becoming a financially successful and happy self-publisher, and sign-up for his free newsletter.

Source: EzineArticles
Was this Helpful ?

Rate this Article

Article Tags:

Book Review


Successful Law Career


Law School


Law Study


Oliver Wendell Holmes


Bad Man Theory

Finding and collecting vintage comic books for fun and profit is something that is interesting, but can be difficult. With so many places to look, narrowing down the options can be painstaking, until

By: Jorge Orduna l Book Reviews > Comics Humor l July 07, 2012 lViews: 286

Action packed story that reads like you are there in person. Lieutenant Commander Andrew Carlson was a U.S. Navy Seal. He was as rough and tough as they come. He was part of a mission to be inserted

By: Cy Hilterman l Book Reviews > Mysteries Thrillers l July 06, 2012 lViews: 278

"Look Me In The Eye, If You Dare!" Okay, all of You "Internet Millionaire Moguls," I want some answers, and I want them now.

By: Travis L Perkins l Book Reviews > Internet Marketing l June 29, 2012 lViews: 310

Crush it is a great "How to" book on using social media and being real with yourself on what you do. Gary is very passionate about what he does. The key to his success is blending who he is with what

By: Joe Mosed l Book Reviews > Internet Marketing l June 29, 2012 lViews: 547

My resolution this year was to knuckle down and do something to bring in some new clients for my practice, so I was pleased to see that Internet Marketing Bible for Accountants looked like it might

By: Karen K Jefferson l Book Reviews > Internet Marketing l June 29, 2012 lViews: 295

When promoting your business online, are you using internet marketing? If you have yet to spread your branches into the online world, you ought to consider doing so.

By: Joyce McNeill Christopher l Book Reviews > Internet Marketing l June 29, 2012 lViews: 281

In his new book "SHAM PEER REVIEW: The Power of Immunity and The Abuse of Trust," Denver attorney and author Gregory Piche' offers several effective ways to bypass the current system known as the

By: Barry James Hickeyl Book Reviews > Law Legall April 04, 2012 lViews: 197

Legal terms and procedures include complex laws and practices that a layman cannot understand easily. Thus, there is a demand for eBooks that teach the most difficult terms conveniently. Such eBooks

By: Ivan Rojovskil Book Reviews > Law Legall March 29, 2012 lViews: 151

"I heard that I can discharge my tax debt, is that true?"  The preceding question is one that is frequently posed in our Utah bankruptcy practice.

By: Russell B. Weekesl Book Reviews > Law Legall January 27, 2012 lViews: 193

Criminal justice is a serious matter for those who work in the field. For the general public, however, it stirs up a great deal of morbid curiosity. Many popular books have been ripped straight from

By: Erik R Johnsonl Book Reviews > Law Legall December 20, 2011 lViews: 173

"The Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising: Raise Money for Your School, Team, Library or Community Group" by Ilona Bray is a very good book for those that are looking for ideas to help with fundraising

By: Alain Burresel Book Reviews > Law Legall October 05, 2011 lViews: 190

The author makes you actually feel as though you are in the story whether it is as a cop, a fireman, a defense or prosecuting attorney, a person on trial, the witnesses of the alleged crime, or just

By: Cy Hiltermanl Book Reviews > Law Legall July 01, 2011 lViews: 218

There are many automatic external defibrillators (AED) available in medical related as well as public places. Most of the public know what an AED is - but have never had their hands on one or been

By: Joseph C Kunz, Jrl Reference & Education > Survival and Emergencyl June 11, 2012 lViews: 204