Bernard E. Witkin

Bernard E. Witkin (May 22, 1904 - December 23, 1995) is the founder of the California law treatise Witkin's.

In 1928, Witkin was an unhappy law student at Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley) who thought that the Socratic method used in law school teaching was not an efficient way to learn the law. He seldom went to class and was in danger of flunking out. About the time the Dean told him he needed to shape up, Witkin had an epiphany: law is like any other discipline; it has rules that can be taught. He thought legal education should be more like science education and should teach students the rules of the discipline in an organized way. In his view, the way to understand the law is to be instructed in what the rules of the law are. He created an outline for each of his courses and started selling his notes to his fellow students.

Following graduation, Witkin took a job with a law firm in San Francisco for two years, while continuing to develop and sell his outlines. Following that job, Witkin clerked for the California Supreme Court. At the same time, he started to teach a bar review course.

Witkin later clerked for the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Around the same time, Witkin developed his outlines into a lengthy hardcover book arranged by subject matter.

In 1940, Witkin became the California Reporter of Decisions. In that role, Witkin regularized the rules of appellate practice and wrote the California Style Manual. Later he became interested in judicial education and legal reform. Over the years, his Summary of California Law grew into four inter-related treatises, which still reflect his original work.

According to notes from a lecture at Stanford Law School given by John Hanft, the Director of the Witkin Legal Institute, Bernard E. Witkin was "a short, rotund gentleman with a cackly laugh and lots of off-color stories."

Witkin died in 1995 at the age of 91. His treatises continue to be updated by the Witkin Legal Institute. Among many other honors, the California State Law Library is named in his honor.

In San Diego, the Law Library Justice Foundation holds an annual awards ceremony in honor of Bernard E. Witkin. The Bernard E. Witkin Award honors members of the legal community for civic leadership and excellence in teaching, practice, enactment, or adjudication of the law.

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