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Roscoe Pound
(1870  – 1964)

Known to his successors as a giant of American law, Roscoe Pound was a distinctive scholar and educator who led his career by the maxim, “The law must be stable, but it must not stand still.” Pound was an unlikely individual to make such movement throughout the history of American law: rather than law, his career started in academics and the natural sciences. The intersection of his work in botany, social sciences, and jurisprudence set the stage for an unusual legal career. Interdisciplinarity became the cornerstone of his momentous contributions to the theory and practice of law.

Pound’s work matched the diversity of his disciplinary interests. He researched, analyzed, and published on the relationship between society, its representations of crime, and the effects this had on criminal justice and administration. He was dedicated to improving court administration and proposed radical reforms that, over time, became increasingly conservative as he separated from President Theodore Roosevelt’s ideologies.

Portrait of Roscoe Pound
Pound, Roscoe. 24" x 30". 2002. Collection of Estate of John O’Quinn. Houston, TX.

Career and Legacy

After a year of law school at Harvard University, he was admitted to the Nebraska bar. He practiced law from 1890 to 1903 while completing a PhD in Botany at the University of Nebraska. After teaching at several universities, including his alma mater, he sat as dean at the University of Nebraska Law School and later at Harvard Law School. He was known for his rigorous standards of excellence.
Pound’s best known contribution to jurisprudence is the development of the Sociological Jurisprudence Theory, which emphasized “the importance of social relationships in the development of law, and [conversely, law in the development of social relationships].”  He theorized a new perspective of justice and propounded law as social engineering, “a social institution to satisfy social wants,” and saw in legal history “a continually wider recognizing and satisfying of human wants or claims or desires through social control; […]a continually more efficacious social engineering.”

Pound’s best known contribution to jurisprudence is the development of the Sociological Jurisprudence Theory.

Pound’s diverse interests and scholarly background were a gift to jurisprudence. He unified disparate disciplines to to create a theory of law that focused on both method and wisdom.

Pound left a legacy in publications, interdisciplinary theories, and law reforms. Most importantly, he lives on in the Pound Civil Justice Institute established in 1956, first known as the Roscoe Pound-American Trial Lawyers Foundation. Like Pound himself, the center is dedicated to “excellence in legal research and education, [multidisciplinary explorations, and], a commitment to open debate among all those who love the law.”

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Theodore Roosevelt


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