Legal realism is a family of theories about the nature of law, usually associated with the United States (American Legal Realism) and Scandanavia (The Scandanavian Realists). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is sometimes considered the most important precursor of American legal realism. Among the important realists were Jerome Frank, Karl Llewellyn, and Roscoe Pound. No single set of beliefs was shared by all legal realists, but many of the realists shared some of the following ideas:
  • Belief in the indeterminacy of law. Many of the legal realists believed that the law in the books (statutes, cases, etc.) did not determine the results of legal disputes. Jereome Frank is famously credited with the idea that a judicial decision might be determined by what the judge had for breakfast.
  • Belief in the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to law. Many of the realists were interested in sociological and anthropolical approaches to the study of law. Karl Llewellyn's book The Cheyenne Way is a famous example of this tendency.
  • Belief in legal instrumentalism, the view that the law should be used as a tool to achieve social purposes and to balance competing societal interests.
The legal realist movement was in its heyday in the 1920s through the 1940s, but as its leading figures retired or became less active, it gradually faded. In contemporary legal theory, there are many groups that claim to be heirs to legal realism, including the critical legal studies movement and the law and economics school.

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