The Tragedy & Lost Legacy of James M. Landis — Book Review by Duncan Farthing-Nichol

The current issue of the Journal of Legal Education has a fascinating book review by Duncan Farthing-Nichol of Justin O’Brien’s The Triumph, Tragedy and Lost Legacy of James M Landis: A Life on Fire (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2014, pp. 187, $52.00 (cloth). Here is how the review opens:

Dean James Landis (1889-1964)

Dean James Landis (1889-1964)

In The Triumph, Tragedy and Lost Legacy of James M Landis, Justin O’Brien asks why Harvard Law School has so far neglected to hang its portrait of James M. Landis (11). The library’s walls bow under the weight of history; Harvard’s twentieth-century deans gaze down en masse from the south end. But Landis, dean from 1937 to 1946, is not among them.1 Professor O’Brien traces the omission to Landis’ 1963 conviction for tax avoidance, a crime for which Landis was sentenced to thirty days in jail. The school, according to O’Brien, has let the conviction overshadow Landis’ vital role in shaping law and government. O’Brien reminds readers that Landis wrote and administered the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934—the first serious efforts at federal securities regulation—and, in 1938, developed the most persuasive contemporary theory of government by administrative agency. The University of New South Wales professor also contends that Landis introduced social responsibility to legal education, an achievement that elevated law from a mere technical discipline to a means of seeking justice. Harvard, O’Brien concludes, should hang its Landis portrait.

I agree, but on somewhat different grounds. O’Brien lays a compelling case for Landis’ impact on administrative thought and practice. He moves too quickly, however, in naming Landis a transformative figure in legal education. Landis spoke in ambitious terms: He aimed for a legal education that transcended technique, reflected the rise of public law, and respected the new experts (economists, sociologists, and other specialists). He sought to instill a desire for justice in his students. Yet Landis did relatively little to institutionalize that vision, acting more as a caretaker than a reformer. If Harvard should hang Landis’ portrait, it is for his ideas and his story, rather than his deeds. . . . [read more here]

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