Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About American Law / Edition 3

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The first two editions of the best-selling Law 101 provided readers with a vividly written and indispensable portrait of our nation's legal system. Now, in this third edition, Jay M. Feinman offers a fully updated survey of American law that incorporates fresh material on 2009 Supreme Court cases, the legal response to the war on terror (including the Guantanamo detainees and electronic surveillance), and to the latest developments in Internet law.

In a book brimming with legal puzzles, interesting anecdotes, and thought-provoking questions, Jay M. Feinman's clear introduction to the law provides us with a solid understanding of the American legal tradition and covers the main subjects taught in the first year of law school. Readers are introduced to every aspect of the legal system, from constitutional law and the litigation process to tort law, contract law, property law, and criminal law. Feinman illuminates each discussion with many intriguing, outrageous, and infamous cases, from the scalding coffee case that cost McDonald's half a million dollars, to the sensational murder trial in Victorian London that led to the legal definition of insanity, to the epochal decision in Marbury v. Madison that gave the Supreme Court the power to declare state and federal law unconstitutional. He broadens the reader's legal vocabulary, clarifying the meaning of everything from "due process" and "equal protection" in constitutional law to the distinction between "murder" and "manslaughter" in criminal law. Perhaps most important, we learn that though the law is voluminous and complex, it is accessible to all.

Everyone who wants a better grasp of current legal issues—from students contemplating law school, to journalists covering the legislature or the courts, to fans of Court TV—will find here a wonderful source of information: a complete, clear, and colorful map of the American legal system.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An engaging introduction to just about every aspect of law."—The American Lawyer

"All the benefits of that first year of law school without the tedium, the terror, and the sleep deprivation...These legal lessons are presented in a style nearly always engaging and very often humorous."—Jurist

"An entertaining and informative introduction to the law...For journalists, those interested in the law, and fans of television law dramas, this book should be required reading."—Library Journal

"A layperson's introduction to the legal subjects that assault every first-year law student. From constitutional law to contracts to Dickensian procedures that guide civil suites, the book gives an approachable overview of the cases and concepts that combine to form our legal system."—Newark Star-Ledger

"Though a book is aimed at laypersons, it offers a good refresher course to update legal practitioners and paraprofessionals in areas where they do not specialize. A good read overall for those interested in the law."—Booklist

"Law 101 attempts to teach you how to think like a lawyer—without requiring that you dedicate three years and tens of thousands of dollars to the task. The result? A practical book that is also a pleasure to read."—The Trenton Times

"This basic text offers nonlawyers a concise, accessible overview of topics typically introduced in the first year of law school. Feinman, a law professor at Rutgers, cites seminal cases to highlight key concepts in the fields of constitutional law, civil procedure, torts, contracts, property, criminal law and criminal procedure. He does not minimize the actual complexity of these subjects, conceding variously that contract law has "tormented the most students," property law "most irritates students," conflicts of law "tortures students" and civil procedure is "the most alien." Nevertheless, he distinguishes his book from the various how-to-be-your-own-lawyer manuals on the market: 'This one is fun to read.' ...But many readers, particularly those contemplating law school, will find this a painless introduction to American legal theory and practice."—Publishers Weekly (Praise for the Second Edition)

"Many readers, particularly those contemplating law school, will find this a painless introduction to American legal theory and practice."—Publishers Weekly

"Feinman's style makes for easy reading, and Law101 is chock full of analyses, anecdotes, examples, questions, and legal reasoning set out in lay terms. Overall, the book provides an excellent explanation of what American law is, and it frequently suggests ways in which it might be improved."—The Federal Lawyer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195395136
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/11/2010
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 80,962
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay M. Feinman serves as Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law, Camden. He is the author of five previous books, including 1001 Legal Words and Un-Making Law: The Conservative Campaign to Roll Back the Common Law.

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Table of Contents


1 There are no Secret Books: You can Understand the Law 1

2 Constitutional Law and Constitutional Politics: Interpreting and Applying the Constitution 9

What is constitutional law? 9

Why do we need constitutional law? 16

How does the Supreme Court decide what the Constitution means? 20

Where does the Supreme Court get the authority to interpret the Constitution? 26

What powers does constitutional law give to the rest of the federal government? 32

What powers do the states have under constitutional law? 43

3 First Freedoms: Constitutional Rights 49

What rights does constitutional law protect? 49

What is due process? 51

Does constitutional law require that everyone be treated equally? 56

How does the Constitution protect freedom of speech? 63

How does the Constitution protect freedom of religion? 77

What other rights are protected by the Constitution? 84

4 Your Day in Court: The Litigation Process 95

What is civil procedure? 95

Why do we need civil litigation and civil procedure? 98

Where do court cases come from? 100

Where can a lawsuit be brought? 102

When can you make a federal case out of it? 105

If you can sue in different places, what law will apply in each place? 108

How does a lawsuit begin? 110

What can the defendant do to respond to a lawsuit? 112

What if there are more than two parties to a lawsuit? 115

What if there are many parties to a lawsuit? 118

How do the parties discover the facts about their case? 120

What else happens before the trial? 124

What happens at trial? 126

What evidence can be presented at trial? 129

What about the jury? 131

What happens after trial? 137

5 Auto Accidents, Scalding Coffee, and Medical Malpractice: Personal Injuries and Tort Law 141

What is tort law? 142

Why do we need tort law? 144

Is it a tort when you hit someone? 149

Is it a tort when you injure someone by not being careful? 152

What does the law mean by reasonable care? 158

How does a plaintiff prove that a defendant has been negligent? 161

What if the victim is partly at fault for an accident? 164

Suppose someone does not intend to injure someone else and acts with reasonable care. Can he or she still be liable in tort? 166

When is a manufacturer liable for injuries caused by its products? 167

What damages can a plaintiff get in a tort case? 173

When are damages awarded to punish the defendant? 178

6 When is a Deal a Deal? Businesses, Consumers, and Contract Law 181

What is contract law? 181

Why do we need contract law? 182

How do you make a contract? 187

Does a contract have to be in writing to be enforceable? 191

Can anyone make a contract? 193

Once two people make an agreement, is it always enforceable? 194

If a contract is unfair, can a court refuse to enforce it? 197

How does the law treat form contracts? 199

Once you make a contract, can you ever get out of it? 202

What happens if one party's performance depends upon something happening and it doesn't happen? 204

Will a court order someone to perform a contract? 207

How much does someone have to pay for not keeping a promise? 209

7 You Are What You Own: The Law of Property 213

What is property law? 213

Why do we need property law? 217

What kinds of property are there? 221

Who owns the Internet? 223

How can someone acquire property? 227

How is property purchased and sold? 230

How is property transferred on death? 234

What is a trust? 239

How do people own property collectively? 240

How else can ownership of property be shared? 243

What are the property rights of a landlord and a tenant? 247

When can the government take your property? 249

8 From Insanity to In Cold Blood: Criminal Responsibility and Criminal Law 255

What is criminal law? 255

Why do we need criminal law? 259

What is a criminal act? 263

Does someone have to mean to commit a crime to be guilty? 266

When is self-defense justified? 270

In what other circumstances is someone justified in committing a crime? 276

Why are criminals allowed to plead insanity as a defense? 280

What other defenses are available? 286

Can someone be convicted for almost committing a crime? 288

What is homicide? 293

Why is rape law so controversial? 298

9 Protecting the Innocent, Freeing the Guilty: Criminal Procedure 305

What is criminal procedure? 305

Why do we need criminal procedure? 307

What are the steps in the criminal process? 310

When can the police conduct a search and seizure? 313

What is the privilege against self-incrimination? 319

What happens if police violate a defendant's rights? 322

What is plea bargaining? 325

Why do we have juries? 328

What is the adversary process? 333

How does sentencing work? 335

What about the death penalty? 339

Why does it seem that criminal appeals go on so long? 343

Conclusion 349

Index of Legal Cases 351

Index of Subjects 355

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted September 23, 2010

    For those obsessed with Law & Order

    Law 101, overall was both entertaining as well as informational. Each chapter explains in depth different forms of law including contract law, tort law, criminal law and property law. Within these chapters the author explains the basic rules that are generally applied as well as the thinking process that lawyers actually experience from case to case. Themes throughout this book are primarily focused on the process of litigation (process in court) and problem solving skills that apply to judges and lawyers a like, making every case as fair as possible. Most of the cases presented in the book are well known, making it easier for the reader to connect to them like the famous Mcdonald's case where the woman won $480,000 after receiving third degree burns. The book was well written and easy to understand, Feinman wrote it all as if they were all short stories, like mini episodes of Law & Order but with more explanation. Shortly after reading the first chapter I was skeptical about if I had chosen the wrong book, but trust me once getting past the first chapter you're hooked. Anyone who is obsessed with Law & Order, aspires to be a law student, or just wants a better grasp on the American legal system should definitely read this book. By going into depth on several public and private cases, it will keep your interest while elaborating the type of law you're trying to comprehend.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2012

    Let me start out by saying that I never had a particular interes

    Let me start out by saying that I never had a particular interest in Law before reading this book. If anything, I imagined the subject matter to be boring. With that said I have five words: I LOVE THIS BOOK! It is so well written and interesting. It really made me understand the basics of law, and more importantly, it made me understand how legal theory "works". It turned me into a "law-lover" because I now understand what is at stake, when laws are written and interpreted. With this book YOU WILL LEARN SO MUCH!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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