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Joseph Henry Beale, Jr.

THE YALE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN LAW, pp. 31-32, Roger K. Newman, ed., Yale University Press, 2009

3 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2009  

Perry Dane

Rutgers Law School

Date Written: 2009


This short entry in the The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law, edited by Roger K. Newman, discusses Joseph Henry Beale, Jr. (1861-1943), Royall Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the founding dean of the University of Chicago Law School. Beale is best remembered for his work on conflict of laws, which was the highest expression of a decidedly formalistic approach to the subject, and the foil for the Legal Realist critiques that eventually overturned that formalism.

Beale's work on conflict of laws spanned much of his career, culminating with his 1935 treatise and with the First Restatement of Conflict of Laws, for which he was the reporter. His approach emphasized mechanical rules based on identifying specific, territorially defined, rights-creating events, and was already the object of sustained attack by the time these publications appeared. Legal Realist opponents battered his notions of territorially defined vested rights, and their critique ultimately led to a revolution in choice of law. More profoundly, Beale's work became for many the emblem of antiquated formalism in legal thinking.

Such criticism aside, however, Beale grounded his approach in sophisticated, if debatable, jurisprudential assumptions. He was a more subtle thinker, widely read in foreign sources and interested in legal theory and history, and often a more wry and ironic writer than the caricature would allow. A surprising number of his writings, which ranged widely from criminal procedure to taxation and municipal corporations, paid heed to social facts and legal adaptation.

Beale was an interdisciplinary thinker in his own way and was more jurisprudentially self-conscious than most American legal scholars of his generation. Indeed, there is no better evidence of his intellectual breadth than his commitment to conflict of laws, which Beale introduced to the law school curriculum and put at the center of legal scholarship.

Keywords: Joseph Henry Beale, Jr., conflict of laws, choice of law, Legal Realism, formalism, legal education, University of Chicago Law School, Harvard Law School, jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Dane, Perry, Joseph Henry Beale, Jr. (2009). THE YALE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN LAW, pp. 31-32, Roger K. Newman, ed., Yale University Press, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Perry Dane (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

United States
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