Torts Notebook Provides Insight Into Legendary Torts Professor
Web Editor - Published: September 10, 2009
ProsserNotebookPromoWhen former student Clarke Madden shared the Torts notebook of his grandfather, Leroy S. Merrifield, with his Torts professor, Christopher J. Robinette, he offered Robinette some intriguing insights into the mind of legendary Professor William Prosser. Merrifield attended the University of Minnesota Law School and was in his first year during the 1938-39 school year, where he had William Prosser as his Torts professor.

William Lloyd Prosser served as the Dean of the College of Law at U.C. Berkeley from 1948 to 1961, but it was during his time as a professor of law at the University of Minnesota Law School that he wrote and published Prosser on Torts, which is widely regarded as the most influential treatise on tort law. Leroy S. Merrifield went on to become a law professor at George Washington University Law School, ending up as the Lobingier Professor Emeritus of Jurisprudence and Comparative Law. Merrifield passed away in September of 2008.

Despite its age, the 70-year-old black notebook remains in good condition, and it offered a treasure trove of insight not only into Prosser’s teaching style, but also his mindset as he began work on Prosser on Torts. The notebook became the subject of several posts that Professor Robinette made on TortsProf Blog. Robinette decided to write an article on the notebook and set out to conduct proper background research.

With research assistance from librarians Ed Sonnenberg at Widener Law, Katherine Hedin at the University of Minnesota, and archivist William Benemann at Berkeley, Professor Robinette wrote an article entitled “The Prosser Notebook: Classroom as Biography and Intellectual History.” The piece will be published in the University of Illinois Law Review in March of 2010. Benemann also helped get the full contents of the notebook digitized and posted online.

With most of Prosser’s personal papers missing or destroyed and no definitive biography available, Professor Robinette hopes that the article can offer insight into who Prosser was while illuminating his many accomplishments. “The Prosser Notebook: Classroom as Biography and Intellectual History” is available from SSRN.