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The Law is a Jealous Mistress - A Popular Fallacy- Joseph W Planck

Chapter Notes by Uma Gopal*

About the Author:

Joseph W Planck was a member of the Michigan1 Board of Bar Examiners and was
the President of the State Bar of Michigan (Lansing)2 from 1951-52. He practised in
Lansing ever since he graduated from the Law school. He articulated the merits of an
integrated bar system in and was instrumental in a change thereof in Michigan. He
stressed on the relationship between law and basic human values. He opined in
various platforms his views about jurisprudence3, legal science and legal philosophy.


Joseph W Planck refutes the statement that the Law is a jealous mistress, which was a
popular proverb among the Anglo-American law fraternity. He believed that the
statement was a libellous one on a great profession like law and was utterly false or a
fallacy. He put forward the views of lawyers and litterateurs who were eminent
authorities in their respective fields, who agreed to and disagreed to the fundamentals
of this statement/proverb.
He believed that the Lady Common Law does not like to lie alone, as believed by a
few eminent professionals. Instead he proposed that this venerable ghost be laid to
rest. He believed that law cannot be mastered in isolation. He said that the Lady
Common Law requires a host of bedfellows. Some of them are decidedly practical.
He was driving home the point that ultimately the purpose of law is to attain social
justice and therefore, it must be mastered along with other disciplines such as History,
Anthropology, Natural Science, Social Science, Political Science, Economics,
Psychology, and the like, which will help a student of law integrate the philosophy of
learning and life with practising law. Merely memorizing statues and law reports
without paying attention to the subject of Jurisprudence or Literature or Science is to
give a poverty stricken meaning to the subject of law. A lawyer must not merely store
the precedents of law in his knowledge bank but must possess the width of
comprehension, the serenity of a broad overall outlook of life and the catholicity of
compassion, which can be attained by gaining an overall knowledge of all aspects by
interacting with subject matter experts from all fields like Philosophy, Economics or
History to name a few.
In this chapter, he put forward the thoughts and views expressed by many eminent
lawyers and specialists from Juvenal4, a powerful Roman poet to Dean Leon Green5
of North-western University of the US to Sir Fredrick Macmillan6, a British Publisher,
widely respected names in the literary circles and among the fraternity of lawyers. He
concluded by saying that it is time for the law fraternity to bury the popular fallacy

An American state in mid-west America
Capital state of the US State of Michigan
The theory of philosophy of Law
Decimus Junius Juvenalis (Roman poet) (60?-140?), who specialised in the genre of satire
American legal realist (1888 – 1979)
Sir Fredrick Macmillan, British Publisher (1855 - 1936)

*Assistant Professor at Christ Academy Institute for Advanced Studies,Bangalore, India 1

that the Law is a Jealous Mistress and an epitaph reading ‘Requiescat in pace!’ must
be put on the tombstone.

Question 1: Which sentence would you pick up if you were asked to name one
sentence from the text, best summing up the author’s intent?

Answer 1: Let us prepare a grave both wide and deep and respectfully inter this hoary
proverb, that, ‘ The Law Is a Jealous Mistress,’ to which we have so long paid lip
service. In the same sepulture belongs Thackeray’s7 lawyer. ‘Requiescat in pace8’. In
other words, he believed that it was time to bury the old proverb that the law is a
jealous mistress in a deep grave and give it a respectful burial, a proverb to which a
lot of allegiance has been paid in the past. In the same tomb he wanted that
Thackeray’s thoughts about this fallacy be also buried.

Question 2: Why does the author conclude that modern lawyers must be radical
scientist, economists and sociologists?

Answer 2: Joseph Planck feels that law as a subject cannot be learnt in isolation. He
agrees with the Dean Leon Green of the Northwest University Law School, who was
of the opinion that a student of Law cannot give little importance to his own language
and its literature because these are the subjects that have helped him to think and
articulate, and express an idea which is a primary requirement. If one is not adept in
the basic language required to communicate, how can an idea be brought forward? A
student needs to first have a command over the basics, that is in the subjects of
Government, economics and history for him to have a better understanding of law.
The natural sciences can help him understand the world in which he lives, in a better
way. This can give him radical powers to change his thinking process and help him
take up the cudgels of archaic thinking and break free from the prejudices thereof,
which will enable him to come out of his narrow vision of life. Psychology,
anthropology and sociology are other significant fields that would help a student of
law understand the importance of human behaviour and human welfare. Both these
are very important for a student to understand the complexities of practising law.
When one strives to acquire knowledge in governance, economics, sociology, one
understands the relations between human behaviour and the social justice much better.
Thus, the primary function of their profession, that is, human welfare, is engraved in
their purpose of practising law, which is understood once the philosophy of
integrating all the basics of all the core principles of life is learnt through the
knowledge gained thereof from studying natural sciences, psychology, sociology,
history and the like.
A student who learns law in isolation will end up gaining a myopic vision and will
not be able to keep pace with the changes of a society and thus would probably fail in
his profession. Lawyers today must be political scientists, economists and sociologists,
like Hamilton, Jay and Madison, who were eminent statesmen, practised law and
were the founding fathers of the USA.

William Makepeace Thackeray, an English novelist. (1811-1863)
Rest in peace

*Assistant Professor at Christ Academy Institute for Advanced Studies,Bangalore, India 2

Question 3: The author follows a set pattern in the text in order to make and
support his point forcefully. What is that pattern?
Answer 3: The author has presented the essay in an argumentative style, bringing
forward the views of subject matter experts in various fields, who believed the Law is
indeed a jealous mistress and the counter arguments of others who thought that it was
a fallacy and thus qualified to be a libellous statement . He strongly believed that The
Lady of the Common Law must not lie alone, and puts forth more support for this
He begins by quoting Blackstone9, who believed that the the Law is indeed a jealous
mistress or Lady of the common law likes to lie alone. This statement has been heard
for several centuries in the Anglo-American10law. Lending support to this statement
was Thackeray, who believed that while studying or practising law, one must exclude
all things from his thoughts, all the wisdom and philosophy of historians, all thoughts
of poets, all wit and fancy, all art, love truth so that one can master law. The law
student needs to shut himself out from the world of love, nature and art. In other
words, Thackeray believed the study of law must be taken up in isolation without any
distractions. In other words law is jealous mistress and calls for undivided attention.
However, Planck did not believe in what Blackstone or Thackeray opined. He agreed
with what John Selden11, Charles Lamb12, Juvenal, Dean Leon Green of
Northwestern University, Hon. Merrill E. Otis13, Lord Macmillan believed. They all
emphatically went on to disprove this fallacy and wanted to change the popular belief
that was held by the Anglo-American practitioners. They all believed that the horizon
of law is as broad as the human life itself.
Dean Green was very categorical in what he said, that is, to understand the subject of
law in totality, one must also acquire knowledge in all subjects such as History,
Government, Economics and the like, because these subjects form the base of
integrating philosophy of all learnings in life. For example, learning natural science
can help remove all prejudiced ways of thinking which till then had an antecedent. So
did Merill E.Otis, who said that if potential lawyers did not feel the need to have
knowledge on all subjects, it would leave their life with a vacuum of knowledge. In
fact social science was the basis on which the subject of law was built. He remarked
that lawyers should be like Hamilton, Jay and Madison, who were political scientists,
economists, sociologists and lawyers/ politicians, who brought great reforms in the
federal structure the American society through constitutional reforms.
Planck recalls that Lord Macmillan, the great publisher, once while addressing the
American lawyers in Chicago refuted the libellous fallacy and said that no lawyer is
entitled to be called honourable and learned if he is only confined to the statutes and
law reports. Lawyers should have practical knowledge of life and the exchange of
ideas between experts of different subjects is a must. Lawyers must not go just by
precedents of law but should have the wisdom of social aspects of life and catholicity
of compassion, which can be acquired by interacting with the masters of literature. A
lawyer should get a broader perspective of the all the elements of the society. In other
words a lawyer must understand all the subjects and aspects of life to become a
successful lawyer and bring in a change in the society which is the ultimate goal of
Sir William Blackstone was eminent English Jurist (1584-1654)
Common law, as in the United States Constitution.
English Jurist (1584-1654)
English essayist who wrote under the pen name Elia
United States federal judge (1884 – 1944)

*Assistant Professor at Christ Academy Institute for Advanced Studies,Bangalore, India 3

any profession. Lord Macmillan cautioned the lawyers in the audience to not be like
Chief Baron Palles14, a lawyer, who took along with him Fearne on Contingent
Remainders15 during his honeymoon. Merely studying the subject of law in isolation
through statutes and reports does not make anyone master the subject of law in
Planck further recalled Mr. Pleydell16, a fictitious lawyer character in Sir Walter
Scott’s17 novel ‘Guy Mannering’18 (1815), whose character in the novel was that of
one whose lifestyle was influenced by literature and other subjects. Pleydell in Guy
Mannering had remarked, “ A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a
mere working mason; if he possess some knowledge of these; he may venture to call
himself an architect.” One can very well relate to the fact the difference in being just a
mason as compared to being an architect.
Planck concludes logically and emphatically by saying that the hoary popular proverb,
‘The Law is a jealous mistress’ is a libellous statement and needs to be buried along
with Thackeray’s belief about how lawyers should be, with an epitaph on the
tombstone that read, ‘Requiescat in pace’ or Rest in Peace!

Question 4: Comment on the tone of the author at the end of the text.

Answer 4: Jospeh Planck completely opposes the popular saying among the
Anglo-American law fraternity that the Law is a jealous mistress and that law as a
subject likes to lie alone without any bedfellows. He gives many convincing
arguments put forward by eminent jurists and litterateurs to prove his point. He says
that a lip service has been paid to this proverb long enough and one should allow
this fallacy to die forever. At the end he logically and emphatically concludes by
saying that a wide and deep grave must be dug to bury the popular fallacy with an
epitaph on the tombstone that reads, ‘Requiescat in pace’ or Rest in Peace! He wants
to bury this fallacy and once and for all wants to put an end to this debate.

1. Bhatnagar. R.P. (2016). . Law and Language. “In the Court”. ISBN:
978-93-5138-012-2. Bangalore. M.P.P House. pp.211-213
2. Staff. (2009). “James Madison”. A&E Networks.
Retrieved on June 2, 2018 from
3. N. ( last updated on April 27, 2015). “Alexander Hamilton Biography” The website. A & E Television Networks. Retrieved on June2, 2018
4. Planck, Joesph, W. (1938). The Law Is a Jelous Mistress: A Popular Fallacy.
A.B.A. J. 24 pp 166 Retrieved on June 2, 2018

An Irish barrister, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General and a judge for over 40 years (1831- 1920)
One among the works of English Jurist Charles Fearne published in 1772
Mr Paulus Pleydell, an advocate from Edinburgh in the novel Guy Mannering, who is an advocate representing
Colonel Mannering, who help Harry Bertram to get back the Scottish estate of Ellangowan
Scottish poet and historical novelist (1771 - 1832)
A novel by Sir Walter Scott. The plot concerns the attempt of a criminal lawyer, Glossin, to deprive Harry
Bertram, the heir to Scottish estate of Ellangowan, office property

*Assistant Professor at Christ Academy Institute for Advanced Studies,Bangalore, India 4

5. Planck Joseph W. ( April, 1958) “ Producing Great Lawyers: Jurisprudence and
Legal Science”. American Bar Association.44(4) pp 327-329. Retrieved on June
2, 2018 from
6. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, (last updated on May 17, 2018). “John
Jay United States Statesman and Chief Justice” Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Retrieved on June, 2018 from
7. The Editors of Encyclopaedia. n.d. “Sir William Blackstone” . Encyclopaedia
Britannica. Retrieved on June 2, 2018 from

*Assistant Professor at Christ Academy Institute for Advanced Studies,Bangalore, India 5