Karl Llewellyn

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Karl Nickerson Llewellyn (May 22, 1893 – February 13, 1962) was a prominent American jurisprudential scholar associated with the school of legal realism. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Llewellyn as one of the twenty most cited American legal scholars of the 20th century.[1]


Karl Llewellyn was born on May 22, 1893, in Seattle, but grew up in Brooklyn. He attended Yale College and Yale Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. He studied under Arthur Linton Corbin, whose influence on him was profound.

Llewellyn was studying abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris when World War I broke out in 1914. He was sympathetic to the German cause and traveled to Germany to enlist in the German army, but his refusal to renounce his American citizenship made him ineligible. He was allowed to fight with the 78th Prussian Infantry Regiment, and was injured at the First Battle of Ypres.[2] For his actions, he was promoted to sergeant and decorated with the Iron Cross, 2nd class. After spending ten weeks in a German hospital at Nürtingen, and having his petition to enlist without swearing allegiance to Germany turned down, Llewellyn returned to the United States and to his studies at Yale in March 1915. After the United States entered the war, Llewellyn attempted to enlist in the United States Army, but was rejected because he had fought on the German side.

Llewellyn joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 1925, where he remained until 1951, when he was appointed professor of the University of Chicago Law School. While at Columbia, Llewellyn became one of the major legal scholars of his day. He was a major proponent of legal realism. He also served as principal drafter of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).

Llewellyn married another professor and UCC drafter, Soia Mentschikoff. She went on to become dean of University of Miami School of Law.

Llewellyn died in Chicago of a heart attack on February 13, 1962.

Legal realism

Compared with traditional jurisprudence, known as legal formalism, Llewellyn and the legal realists proposed that the facts and outcomes of specific cases composed the law, rather than logical reasoning from legal rules. They argued that law is not a deductive science. Llewellyn epitomized the realist view when he wrote that what judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officers "do about disputes is, to my mind, the law itself" (Bramble Bush, p. 3).

As one of the founders of the U.S. legal realism movement, he believed that the law is little more than putty in the hands of a judge who is able to shape the outcome of a case based on personal biases.[3]


  • 1930: The Bramble Bush: On Our Law and Its Study (1930), written especially for first-year law students. A new edition, edited and with an introduction by Steven Sheppard, was published in 2009 by Oxford University Press.
  • 1941: The Cheyenne Way (with E. Adamson Hoebel) (1941), University of Oklahoma Press.
  • 1960: The Common Law Tradition-Deciding Appeals (1960), Little, Brown and Company.
  • 1962: Jurisprudence: Realism in Theory and Practice (1962).
  • 1989: The Case Law System in America, edited and with an introduction by Paul Gewirtz, University of Chicago Press. (Revised text of lectures delivered in German at the University of Leipzig in 1928, originally published in German in 1933.)[4]
  • 2011: The Theory of Rules, edited and with and Introduction by Frederick Schauer, University of Chicago Press (A lost treatise rediscovered decades after Llewellyn's death.)


  1. Shapiro, Fred R. (2000). "The Most-Cited Legal Scholars". Journal of Legal Studies. 29 (1): 409–426. doi:10.1086/468080. S2CID 143676627.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Casualty List (Prussian) dated Dec. 23, 1914 lists under 78 IR, Ist Battalion, 4th Company Krgsfr (Kriegsfreiwilliger - War Volunteer) Karl Llewellyn verwundet (wounded)
  3. "Jurisprudence". West's Encyclopedia of American Law. Ed. Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2005.
  4. Munday, Roderick (March 14, 1990). "The Case Law System in America. By Karl Llewellyn. Edited and with an Introduction by Paul Gewirtz. Translated by Michael Ansaldi. [Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1989. xxxvii, 123 and (Index) 3pp. Hardback £19.95 net.]". The Cambridge Law Journal. 49 (1): 179–180. doi:10.1017/S0008197300107147 – via Cambridge Core.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • William Twining. Karl Llewellyn and the Realist Movement. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1973; Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.
  • George W. Liebman. The Common Law Tradition: A Collective Portrait of Five Legal Scholars. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers 2005.
  • Mathieu Deflem. Sociology of Law: Visions of a Scholarly Tradition. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Roger Cotterrell. The Politics of Jurisprudence. Second revised and enlarged edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Neil Duxbury. Patterns of American Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

External links