Lectures by Llewellyn

I was delighted to learn from a tweet by Lyonette Louis-Jacques, the International Law Librarian at the University of Chicago (and a Slaw columnist), that two of Karl Llewellyn’s lectures are available in audio on the U of Chicago website. Llewellyn was an adherent of the U.S. “legal realism” movement and, perhaps most famously, the force behind the drafting of the Uniform Commercial Code.

One of his duties at Columbia, and later at the University of Chicago, was to deliver introductory lectures to first year students. His book The Bramble Bush, still read with pleasure today, came out of this duty. Karl Llewellyn died in 1962.

There are two audio files of Llewellyn available online: the 1957 “Elements of the Law: Introductory Lecture” [47 minutes] and the undated “Marriage and Family,” [102 minutes] a classroom lecture.

In the former, you’ll hear his forceful, indeed hectoring, voice hammering home to students the difficulty of practice and the importance of the duty each will have to clients. Some of what he says may be dated — he snaps at a student not to smoke — but the majority of it would benefit any law student, and not a few of the rest of us, perhaps.


  1. The interesting point for me was how Llewellyn and his wife Soia Mentschikoff drew on Llewellyn’s experience in German law to smuggle in some German concepts like s 242 of the BgB into the Uniform Commercial Code: Der Schuldner ist verpflichtet, die Leistung so zu bewirken, wie Treu und Glauben mit Rücksicht auf die Verkehrssitte es erfordern.

    Llewellyn was of all American-born legal academics the most familiar with German law. As a teenager he entered the Realgymnasium in Mecklenburg, Germany, where he boarded with family friends. During his three years in Germany, Llewellyn became fluent in German and demonstrated talent in mathematics and science. He left Mecklenburg in the spring of 1911, and briefly attended the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland, before returning to the United States.

    In September 1911 Llewellyn entered Yale, where he compiled an outstanding academic record and excelled at athletics, especially boxing. In the spring of 1914, he entered the Sorbonne, in Paris, to study Latin, law, and French. He was still a student there when the Great War broke out. Although denied enlistment because of his US citizenship, he fought with the Seventy-eighth Prussian Infantry on the western front, earning the Iron Cross for his service. He was back at the Yale Law School when the Americans entered the War.