John H. Langbein

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John Harriss Langbein (born 1941) is the Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School. He is an expert in the fields of trusts and estates, comparative law, and Anglo-American legal history.

Professor Langbein earned his A.B. in Economics from Columbia University in 1964; his LL.B. magna cum laude in 1968 from Harvard Law School; and a second LL.B. in 1969 and a Ph.D. in 1971 from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. His Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, "The Criminal Process in the Renaissance," was awarded the Yorke Prize. He also received an honorary M.A. degree in 1990 from Yale University. His first appointment was at the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught from 1971 to 1990. After being named Max Pam Professor of American and Foreign Law, he moved to Yale, where he eventually became a Sterling Professor, the highest-ranking appointment at Yale University.

In the field of trusts and estates, Professor Langbein is known for his scholarship advocating greater flexibility in the application of the Wills Act formalities, work which led to the adoption of the "harmless error" standard in the Uniform Probate Code. He has also called attention to the trend whereby human capital has replaced physical capital as the dominant form of wealth transmitted from parent to child.[1] In the fields of comparative law and legal history, he is best known for his critique of the common-law jury and adversarial procedure, which he considers inferior to the Continental alternatives, especially the German system.[2]

Professor Langbein is the author of numerous books and articles. He has focused in particular on the history of criminal procedure, comparing the Anglo-American tradition to that of the European Continent. His article, "The Prosecutorial Origins of Defence Counsel in the Eighteenth Century: The Appearance of Solicitors," was awarded the Sutherland Prize by the American Society for Legal History in 2000. He is also a coauthor of the leading casebook on American pension law, Pension & Employee Benefit Law (4th ed. 2006).

Professor Langbein has long been active in law reform. He has served as an Associate Reporter for the Restatement of Property (Third): Wills and Other Donative Transfers, and is an adviser to the Restatement (Third) of Trusts. He is also a Commissioner of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, and has served on the drafting committees for several uniform acts, including the Uniform Prudent Investor Act (1994), for which he was the Reporter.


  • JH Langbein and RA Posner, ‘Market Funds and Trust-Investment Law’ [1976] American Bar Foundation Research Journal 1, 6
  • Langbein, John (1978). "Torture and Plea Bargaining" (PDF). The University of Chicago Law Review. 46 (1). Retrieved 25 December 2012. 
  • JH Langbein and RA Posner, ‘Social Investing and the Law of Trusts’ (1980-1981) 79 Michigan Law Review 72, 88
  • JH Langbein, ‘The Uniform Prudent Investor Act and the Future of Trust Investing’ [1996] 81 Iowa Law Review 641
  • JH Langbein ‘Questioning the Trust Law Duty of Loyalty’ (2005) 114 Yale Law Journal 929 - 990.


  1. ^ See e.g. John H. Langbein, The Twentieth Century Revolution in Family Wealth Transmission, 86 Mich L. Rev. 722 (1988).
  2. ^ See e.g. John H. Langbein, The German Advantage in Civil Procedure, 52 U. Chi. L. Rev. 823 (1985).

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