Lawrence M. Friedman has achieved a singular preeminence as a legal historian for articulating a new vision of legal history as a discipline in his 1973 work entitled A History of American Law. This book treats American law as a mirror of society. At the time, Friedman's vision was still something quite new in American legal historiography. James Willard Hurst's notions of legal history as a sociolegal inquiry would heavily influence Friedman, helping to move the field into new and often surprising precincts. Friedman's approach to legal history is one that introduced us to previously unexamined actors and institutions.
Whether looking at criminal justice in the limited context of late nineteenth-century Alameda County or giving us a broad overview of criminal law and its administration across the broad sweep of the nation's history, Friedman makes an important contribution precisely because of his ability to integrate the legal and the social. Crime and society's responses to crime involve law with the society's broader culture in a way that no other area of the law can. At its base, criminal law and its administration involve fundamental questions of a society's moral vision and the mobilization of the public behind that vision. It also deeply involves questions of social hierarchy and power. These are legal questions, but behind those legal questions stand powerful questions concerning a society and its culture. The history of American criminal law has benefited greatly from having Friedman apply his skilled law and society lens to a once neglected field in legal history.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-127, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-127
Robert J. Cottrol, Legal Scholarship Symposium: The Scholarship of Lawrence M. Friedman, 40 Tulsa L. Rev. 627(2005).