Welcome to LearnLawBetter.
Today I want you to understand what professors mean by black letter law, also commonly referred
to as hornbook law.
Black letter law is critically important, as it is the basis for your final exam and
the bar exam.
Hi, this is Beau Baez, and today I want to talk to you about the black letter law.
Black letter laws are the legal rules and principles that are so well accepted across
the country, that there is no longer any basic disagreement as to what they are.
But keep in mind, many States have slight variations on how they articulate the rules
or in how they define certain key terms.
So when you become a lawyer, make sure that you use the variation accepted in your State
where you are practicing law.
With that slight caveat, no one would dispute, for example, that a tortious battery requires
the intentional harmful or offensive contact of another.
That is black letter law.
Almost all law professors will require you to learn black letter law for exam purposes
because most law schools, except those of you in Louisiana and Puerto Rico, are preparing you
to practice law anywhere in the country.
Also, the uniform portions of the bar exam will test you on these rules.
So now, to answer the question many of you have: where do I find these black letter rules?
As I mentioned earlier, these rules are also called hornbook rules because you can find
them in hornbooks.
A hornbook, for those that are new to the law, are generally single volume books that
attempt to capture all of the most important issues, rules, and principles in a single
area of law.
Some examples include Criminal Law by LaFave, Torts by Dobbs, and Contracts by Perillo.
The hornbook writers are able to determine the black letter law by reading cases and
legislation from all 50 states, and then distilling them down into a single volume
One reason the hornbooks are so big is because they have extensive footnotes to many cases
are legislative enactments.
By the way, I do not recommend that students purchase hornbooks because they provide too
much information for the typical student.
I do recommend that you consider buying concise hornbooks, which condense hornbooks into a
more readable size. From, say a thousand pages to 250 to 300 pages.
For years, I assigned concise hornbooks, along with a casebook, as the concise hornbooks provide
the most important rules, without going into detail on the more obscure rules or minority
For those of you preparing to take the bar exam, the bar prep companies do a decent job
in providing you with the black letter law by distilling down the law found in the concise
books into something more manageable.
If you find some area where there is not basic agreement, you are unlikely going to
be tested in that area on the uniform parts of the bar exam.
Several years ago I noticed one of these unclear areas in tort law, so I called the National
Conference of Bar Examiners, the group that creates the uniform bar exam.
I was trying to figure out what rule they would use on the bar exam on that issue.
I was told that they don’t test these areas because there is no broad agreement on the
Finally, keep in mind that your casebook will have a mix of black letter law and minority
That’s done for various reasons, such as helping students see two sides of a legal
problem, or to provide you with a historical progression of a rule.
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