Roscoe Pound, Melvin Belli, and the Personal-Injury Bar: The Tale of an Odd Coupling
44 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2010
Date Written: July 14, 2010
In the fourth chapter of Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law, legal historian John Fabian Witt tells the story of a collaboration between storied scholar Roscoe Pound and trial virtuoso Melvin M. Belli, which he calls "among the most startling and yet unremarked-upon relationships in the annals of American law." Witt argues that it both shaped and energized the efforts of personal-injury lawyers to oppose proposals that would shift to the administrative branch of government responsibility for compensating auto-accident victims. Entitled "The King and the Dean," in reference to the media's coronation of Belli as the "King of Torts", and Pound's lengthy term (1916-1936) at the helm of the Harvard Law School, the chapter advances the claim that the two men came together synergistically in the early 1950s and mobilized a campaign by personal-injury lawyers to resist the enactment of automobile no-fault plans and other proposals that would have replaced common-law tort suits with alternative compensation mechanisms. This Article will first take issue with Witt's story of the Pound-Belli relationship and then offer a different version of the interaction between the Dean and the plaintiffs' trial bar.
Keywords: history, jurisprudence, torts
JEL Classification: K00, K10, K13, K23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation