Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Karl N. Llewellyn

New York

Karl Nickerson Llewellyn was born in Seattle but grew up in Brooklyn. His father was Welsh and his mother from New England. He attended Yale College and began Yale Law School in 1915 where he served as editor of the Yale Law Journal. He stayed on at Yale after his graduation to work on his J.D. degree and was invited to teach commercial law. His first legal position was as house counsel for the National City Bank of New York. He then joined the law firm of Shearman and Sterling. In 1923 he returned to Yale Law School as an associate professor. A year later he visited at Columbia Law School and joined their faculty in 1925, while continuing to teach at Yale. He remained at Columbia Law School until 1951. While at Columbia, Llewellyn became one of the major jurisprudential scholars of his day, and was a major figure in the debate over Legal Realism. He was a collaborator with E. Adamson Hoebel on an anthropological study of Cheyenne law and served as a drafter of the Uniform Commercial Code. In 1951 Llewellyn moved to the University of Chicago, where he worked with his third wife, Soia Mentschikoff, and spent his remaining years of teaching.[Source: N.E.H. Hull, Roscoe Pound and Karl Llewellyn: Searching for an American Jurisprudence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)]

Llewellyn never "saw himself as a conventional law professor." [Hull, id. at 139]. He was

[a]lways a romantic at heart in his personal life and his jurisprudence, Llewellyn in his lair was a Romantic. In 1925, he had waxed eloquent on the artists who make the law. In 1935, he called for "an integration of the human and the artistic with the legal. . . ." By the late 1930s, the result was a series of published and unpublished satiric essays and literary ephemera written under the purloined pseudonym Diogenes Jonathan Swift Teufelsdröch.[Hull, at 262. Hull attributes the quote about integration of artistic and legal sensibilities to Karl Llewellyn, On What Is Wrong with So-Called Legal Education, 35 Colum. L. Rev. 663 1 (1935); the pseudonym appears on Llewellyn, Jurisprudence the Crown of Civilization: Being Also the Principles of Writing Jurisprudence Made Clear to Neophytes, 5 U. Chi. L. Rev. 171 (1938)]

It was with and against Roscoe Pound's ideas about jurisprudence that Llewellyn's sentiments can be framed, as Hull does so well in Roscoe Pound and Karl Llewellyn: Searching for an American Jurisprudence. In the following passage, near the end of that book she captures the distinction in their views:

Pound distrusted local knowledge; Llewellyn (most of the time) reveled in it. . . . Pound believed in disinterested expertise; Llewellyn preferred subjective "feel." Pound drafted and wished to impose a Western-style social science on provincial officials [in his work on Chinese Nationalist law]; Llewellyn listened to social "law-men" and tried to see the world through their eyes. Pound wanted to generalize through extensive comparison and categorization; Llewellyn wanted to particularize through the stories of individual cases. Pound planned conferences and Chinese law centers at Harvard; Llewellyn never expanded his interest beyond his immediate circle. [p. 313]

Llewellyn's poetry, in addition to two collections of published work, appears in The Bramble Bush, and The Common Law Tradition, Jurisprudence: Realism in Theory and Practice, as well as in early issues of the National Lawyers Guild Quarterly.

In the preface to Put in His Thumb, Llewellyn notes that: "For the book itself I offer no apology. There is some virtue in dilettantism in the arts; when art-for-fun moves from dabbling into sustained and honest effort, it has the same chance for contribution that fresh infusion brings to any line of work." [K. N. Llewellyn, Put in His Thumb v (New York: Century Co., 1931)]. Llewellyn goes on, in the preface, to note that "One who earns his living in lawyer's work with words, must puzzle over the ways of words themselves. One whose pleasure is study of the ways in which men clash with men, and of the ways of growth, will sometimes catch an aspect into rime." [vi]

Karl Llewellyn


K. N. Llewellyn, Put in His Thumb (New York: Century Co., 1931)

____________, Beach Plums (New York: Century Co., 1931)(8 pgs.)


Karl Llewellyn, The Bramble Bush: On Our Law and Its Study (Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, 1981)(1930)

___________, Cases and Materials on the Law of Sales (Chicago: Callaghan and Company, 1930)

___________, Jurisprudence: Realism in Theory and Practice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962)

___________, Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961)(1941)(co-authored with E. Adamson Hoebel)

___________, The Common Law Tradition: Deciding Appeals (Boston: Little, Brown, 1960)

___________, The Case Law System in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989)(Paul Gewirtz ed. & introd.; Michael Ansaldi trans.)

___________, Commercial Transactions (New York: Association of American Law Schools/Practising Law Institute, 1946)

Writings: Articles

Karl Llewellyn, Jurisprudence the Crown of Civilization: Being also the Principles of Writing Jurisprudence Made Clear to Neophytes, 5 U. Chi. L. Rev. 171 (1938)(a satire under the pseud., Diogenes Jonathan Swift Teufelsdröch)

___________, On What Is Wrong with So-Called Legal Education, 35 Colum. L. Rev. 663 1 (1935)

___________, On Philosophy in American Law, 82 U. Pa. L. Rev. 205 (1934)


N.E.H. Hull, Roscoe Pound and Karl Llewellyn: Searching for an American Jurisprudence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)

William Twining, Karl Llewellyn and the Realist Movement (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985)(1973)

Bibliography: Articles

N.E. H. Hull, The Romantic Realist: Art, Literature, and the Enduring Legacy of Karl Llewellyn's 'Jurisprudence,' 40 Am. J. Legal Hist. 115 (1996)

Henry F. Murray, Peggy M. Pschirrer, & Robert W. Whitman, The Poetic Imagination of Karl Llewellyn, 29 U. Tol. L. Rev. 27 (1997)

James J. Connolly, Peggy Pschirre & Robert Whitman, Alcoholism and Angst in the Life and Work of Karl Llewellyn, 24 Ohio N.U.L. Rev. 43 (1998)

Dom Calabrese, et. al., Karl Llewellyn's Letters to Emma Cortsvet Llewellyn from the Fall, 1941 Meeting of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, 27 Conn. L. Rev. 523 (1995)

Robert Whitman, Soia Mentschikoff and Karl Llewellyn: Moving Together to the University of Chicago Law School, 24 Conn. L. Rev. 1119 (1992)

____________, The Idea of Juristic Method: A Tribute to Karl Llewellyn, 48 U. Miami L. Rev. 119 (1993)

Leslie E. Gerwin and Paul M. Shupack, Karl Llewellyn's Legal Method Course: Elements of Law and Its Teaching Materials, 33 J. Legal Educ. 64 (1983)

John F. Nvala, From Bauhaus to Courthouse: An Essay on Educating for Practice of the Craft, 19 N. Mex. L. Rev. 237 (1989)

Walter Nelles, Review of Put in His Thumb, 41 Yale L. J. 646 (1932)

Michael Ansaldi, The German Llewellyn, 58 Brooklyn L. Rev. 705 (1992)

Ajay K. Mehrotra, Law and the "Other": Karl N. Llewellyn, Cultural Anthropology, and the Legacy of The Cheyenne Way, 26 (3) Law and Social Inquiry 741-775 (2001)

John M. Breen, Statutory Interpretation and the Lessons of Llewellyn, 33 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 263-448 (2000)

Research Resources

Karl Llewellyn Papers
University of Chicago Law Library
contact: Bill Schwesig, Reference Librarian

Karl Llewellyn Papers
W.S. Hein Microform Division (1987 & 1990)
Buffalo, New York

Guides to the Llewellyn Papers at the University of Chicago include:

Sheri H. Lewis, The Karl N. Llewellyn Papers: A Supplementary Guide to the Collection (Buffalo, New York: W. S. Hein, 1995)

William Twining, The Karl Llewellyn Papers (University of Chicago Law School, 1968)

Raymond M. Ellinwood and William L. Twining, The Karl Llewellyn Papers: A Guide to the Collection (University of Chicago Law Library, rev. ed., 1970)