William S. Stevens, matchmaker of legal writs and baseball p

by Vault Law Editors | December 17, 2008

  • My Vault
William S. Stevens, author of the semi-serious seminal screed ?The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule,? died at age 60 Monday, leaving behind a legacy defined by diversity and highlighted by the work that evolved into a major cultural landmark within the legal community. Stevens, whose contributions to law included leadership stints with the American Law Institute and the American Bar Association, detailed a number of similarities between the development of common law and the creation of baseball?s infield fly rule in an article published anonymously in Penn?s law review while Stevens was a student there.

The heavily footnoted piece examined the gradual progression of the respective regulatory sets, pointing out that each grew and transformed as new circumstances unearthed new flaws that were subsequently addressed. The work?s most profound impact, however, came in the example it set for other legal writers?it popularized the idea that nontraditional subject matter was fair game, so to speak. In simpler terms, Stevens took a sledgehammer to what was considered publishable legal analysis. Fittingly, as he summed up his still-growing body of work in a 2002 retrospective (see pgs. 17-19) on the article?s origin and influence, Stevens displayed the same subtle humor that he?d introduced to legal minds in 1975: ?My ego is simultaneously flattered and bruised by the notion that something I cranked out more than 25 years ago would prove to be the highlight of my professional and academic careers.?

William S. Stevens, R.I.P.

-posted by ben fuchs

Filed Under: Law

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