Landmarks of Law Reporting 10 – Burrow’s Reports: “Works of art”

Sir James Burrow (1701-1782), Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King’s Bench … (5 vols.; London, 1766-80).

Burrow’s Reports established the modern pattern of what a law report should contain: the reporter’s statement of the facts, a summary of the arguments of counsel, and the court’s judgment.

Burrow had collected notes on King’s Bench cases for some time, and was prompted to publish them after being subjected to “continual interruption and even persecution by incessant application for searches into my notes, for transcripts of them, sometimes for the note-books themselves (not always returned without trouble and solicitation), not to mention frequent conversations upon very dry and uninteresting subjects, which my consulters were paid for considering, but I had no sort of concern in.”

“Burrow’s Reports, therefore, may, in their department, fairly be called ‘works of art,’ – … case, arguments, and opinion – going out to the bar separate in form as distinct in nature, each from the other; each complete in itself, but having, one with all, exact and reciprocal adaptation, and presenting so a full, harmonious, but never redundant whole.” – John W. Wallace, The Reporters Arranged and Characterized (4th ed. 1882).

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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