Toni Fine's AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEMS is intended to be an introduction to the field of law for law students, students in law related disciplines (e.g., political science) and the general public. The book contains twelve chapters that cover the following topics: "Basic Concepts of American Jurisprudence," "Case Law," "Statutes and Legislative History," "Administrative and Other Executive Law," "Civil Litigation," "Appellate Court Review," "Overview of Party Designations and their Roles in the Civil Litigation Process," "Overview of Court Issuance and Dispositions," "Basic Legal Citation Form- An Overview," "Preparation of Interoffice Memorandum," "Preparation of a Motion and Memorandum of Law in Support of or Opposition Thereto," "and Preparation of an Appellate Brief." Professor Fine's text is well organized and written and is a good introduction to the law. However, I believe its usefulness for undergraduate or graduate students in political science is limited.
The organization of each chapter follows an outline form that parallels the table of contents. A substantial part of the text is presented in an easy to understand chart form. The charts follow a concept-definition format rather than line diagrams and graphs. For example, the chart on the Federal Courts in Chapter 1 begins with the Supreme Court and explains what type of Court it is, its basic structure, reporters and digests and continues with a description of the Courts of Appeals and the District Courts. The chart is not an organizational graph of the federal courts like you might find in a standard judicial process book.
AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEMS is an easy book to navigate and the topics are generally well explained. I found the discussion of "What is Common Law?" (pp. 3-4) useful in reconsidering the way I present this material to my undergraduates. The Chapter on Case Law also presents a considerable amount of useful information. There are other chapters, such as the ones on preparing motions and memorandums and appellate briefs that I was unable to use in my political science classes. While Fine's text is good handbook and might prove useful as a reference for scholars, it adds little in the way of substance to that already provided in the textbooks most of us use.
A concern that I would have about adopting this text, albeit one that is recognized by the author, is the absence of materials on computer and electronic legal research. In a note at the beginning of the text, Fine suggests that students need to learn the basics first. I agree. However, at 121 pages and with at least two chapters of marginal value to those not planning to become lawyers, there is surely room for a discussion of this critical method of research. My students are using legal material from the Internet in most of their assignments and the book would be stronger and more desirable if it addressed this area.
Fine's AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEMS is a reasonable introduction to the law. New professors building a reference library might consider purchasing a copy, however, veteran professors will already have this information available in other formats. Its usefulness as a supplementary text is questionable since the material in AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEMS is currently available in most popular law and courts textbooks. Perhaps it would be useful in classes adopting a nontraditional format or ones without a primary text. If your courses fit these categories you may want to give AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEMS a look.