John H. Langbein

Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and Legal History

Ph.D., University of Cambridge, 1971

LL.B., University of Cambridge, 1969

LL.B., Harvard Law School, 1968

A.B., Columbia University, 1964

Courses Taught
  • Trusts and Estates: Family Wealth Transmission
  • History of the Common Law: Procedure and Institutions
  • Pension and Employee Benefit Law
  • Comparative Law
  • Fiduciary Law
  • The Law and Policy of the Private Pension System
John Langbein

John H. Langbein, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School, is a leading authority on fiduciary law and a distinguished scholar of legal history. He teaches and writes in four fields: probate and trust law, pension and employee benefit law (ERISA); Anglo-American and European legal history; and modern comparative law. 

Before moving to Yale in 1989, Langbein was the Max Pam Professor of American and Foreign Law at the University of Chicago. In the 1997-98 academic year he served as the Goodhart Professor of Legal Science at Cambridge University. From 1990 to 2001 he was Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale. He has also held academic appointments at Stanford University, Oxford University, New York University, and the Max Planck Institutes in Frankfurt and Freiberg, Germany. He is an honorary fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

Law Reform Work
Langbein has served continuously as a Uniform Law Commissioner under gubernatorial appointments from Illinois and Connecticut since 1984. He was the reporter and principal drafter for the Uniform Prudent Investor Act (1994), which governs fiduciary investing in most American states. He has served on drafting committees for numerous acts in the fiduciary fields, including the Uniform Probate Code (1989-90 revisions), the Uniform Principal & Income Act (1997), the Uniform Trust Code (2000), and the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (2006). For the American Law Institute, Langbein served as associate reporter for the Restatement of Property (Third): Wills and Donative Transfers (3 vols. 1999-2011); and as an advisor for the Restatement (Third) of Trusts (1987-2012).

Investment, Trust, Pension, and Probate Law
Langbein has written extensively in the leading law reviews about investment, trust, pension, and probate law. The movements to unify the constructional law of probate and nonprobate transfers, and to excuse harmless errors in the execution and content of wills, now codified in the Uniform Probate Code and in the Restatement (Third) of Property, trace to his scholarship: 18 Probate & Property (Jan. 2004); 87 Columbia L. Rev. 1 (1987); 97 Harvard L. Rev. 1108 (1984); 130 U. Pa. L. Rev. 521 (1982) (with Waggoner); 88 Harvard L. Rev. 489 (1975).

Langbein’s work on trust law has emphasized the influence of modern portfolio theory on fiduciary investing, the contractual dimensions of trusteeship, the growing use of commercial trusts, the extent and purpose of mandatory rules, and the changing character of the duty of loyalty: 114 Yale L.J. 929 (2005); 98 Northwestern U.L. Rev. 1109 (2004); 107 Yale L.J. 165 (1997); 81 Iowa L. Rev. 641 (1996); 105 Yale L.J. 625 (1995; 62 A.B.A.J. 887 (1976) (with Posner).

Following enactment of ERISA (1974), Langbein had a shaping role on the development of pension and employee benefit law as a scholarly field. He co-authors the principal coursebook used in American law schools: Langbein, Pratt, Stabile & Stumpff, Pension and Employee Benefit Law (Foundation Press, 6th ed. 2015). His scholarly work has focused on ERISA fiduciary and remedy law: 101 Northwestern U.L. Rev. (2007); 103 Columbia L. Rev. 1317 (2003); [1990] Supreme Court Rev. 207; 55 U. Chicago L. Rev. 1105 (1988) (with Fischel).

Langbein has served as a consultant and expert witness in pension and trust litigation, and he has appeared in a series of training videos for bank trust officers on aspects of trust and fiduciary practice. He has also testified in Congressional hearings on issues of policy facing the private pension system.

Legal History, Civil and Criminal Justice
Langbein has written a series of articles and books on the history of Anglo-American criminal procedure, as well as books and articles contrasting modern Anglo-American civil and criminal procedure with Continental practice. In 2009 he published a textbook, History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions with R. Lerner & B. Smith (Aspen 2009). Langbein's book, The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (Oxford U.P. 2003), which traces the history of the Anglo-American adversary system of criminal justice, received the Coif Biennial Book Award (2006) as the outstanding American book on law for the period 2003-04. His book on the history of the law of torture, first published in 1977, was republished with a new preface in 2006: Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime (Chicago U.P. 2006). In 2000 the American Society for Legal History awarded him the Sutherland Prize for his "pioneering work." His historical account of the disappearance of civil trial in the United States appears in 122 Yale L.J. 522 (2012).

Comparative Law
Langbein’s work on comparative law has advanced the position that European-style nonadversarial justice is fairer, more accurate, and more economical than Anglo-American procedures: 15 Harvard J.L. & Pub. Pol. 119 (1992); 52 U. Chicago L. Rev. 823 (1985); 78 Michigan L. Rev. 204 (1979).

Langbein's memberships include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, the International Academy of Comparative Law, the International Association of Procedure Law, the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and the International Academy of Estate and Trust Law. He is admitted to the bar in Florida and the District of Columbia, and as a barrister of the Inner Temple in England. 

After completing an undergraduate degree in economics at Columbia University in 1964, Langbein studied law and legal history for seven years in England, Germany, and the United States. He graduated magna cum laude from the Harvard Law School, where he was an articles editor of the Harvard Law Review. He received his degree in English law with first class honours from Cambridge University (Trinity Hall). He earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge in 1971. His Ph.D. thesis won the Yorke Prize (1973); published as Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France (Harvard U.P. 1974), the book has been recurrently cited in opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court.



History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions (Aspen Publishers 2009) (with Renee L. Lerner & Bruce P. Smith).




Pension and Employee Benefit Law Pension and Employee Benefit Law (with David Pratt, Susan Stabile & Andrew Stumpff) (6th ed., Foundation Press 2015) (prior eds., 2010, 2006, 2000, 1995; 1990).




History of the Yale Law School: The Tercentenary LecturesHistory of the Yale Law School: The Tercentenary Lectures (with A. Kronman et al.) (Yale Univ. Press 2004)


The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (Oxford Univ. Press 2003, paperback 2005) (2006, awarded Biennial Coif Book Award for outstanding American book in law)




 Uniform Statutes on Trusts and Estates: 2009-10 Edition
Uniform Statutes on Trusts and Estates: 2009-10 Edition (with Lawrence Waggoner) (Foundation Press 2009) (previous editions, since 1987).



The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination: Its Origins and Development The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination: Its Origins and Development (with R.H. Helmholz et al.) (Univ. Chicago Press 1997) 




 Comparative Criminal Procedure: Germany

Comparative Criminal Procedure: Germany (West Pub. Co., American Casebook Series 1977)



Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancient Regime Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancient Regime (Univ. Chicago Press 1977; paperback edition with new introduction, 2006)




Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, FranceProsecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France (Harvard Univ. Press 1974, reprint edition 2005); Korean edition, (Korean Institute of Criminology 2012); excerpted in part and published in translation as “Die Carolina” in F.C. Schroeder, ed., Die Carolina: Die Peinliche Gerichtsordnung Kaiser Karls V. von 1532 (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1986)






Pension and Investment Law

Trust Law as Regulatory Law: The Unum/Provident Scandal and Judicial Review of Benefit Denials under ERISA, 101 Northwestern Univ. Law Review 1315 (2007)

Social Security and the Private Pension System,” in In Search of Retirement Security: The Changing Mix of Social Insurance, Employee Benefits, and Individual Responsibility (T. Ghilarducci et al. eds.) (National Academy of Social Insurance 2005)

“What's Wrong with Employee Stock Pension Plans,” in Enron and Other Corporate Fiascos: The Corporate Scandal Reader 487 (Nancy B. Rapoport and Bala G. Dharan eds. 2d ed. 2009) (reproducing testimony presented to U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Jan. 24, 2002)

What ERISA Means by “Equitable”: The Supreme Court’s Trail of Error in Russell, Mertens, and Great-West, 103 Columbia Law Review 1317 (2003), substantially republished in NYU Review of Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation 2-1 (2004)

Trust-Investment Law in the United States: Main Themes of the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, Shintaku No. 189 (Feb. 1997) (in Japanese)

The Uniform Prudent Investor Act and the Future of Trust Investing, 81 Iowa Law Review 641 (1996); republished in Modern International Developments in Trust Law (D. Hayton, ed.) (1999)

The New American Trust-Investment Law, 8 Trust Law International 123 (1994)

Reversing the Nondelegation Rule of Trust-Investment Law, 59 Missouri Law Review 104 (1994) (William Fratcher memorial issue)

The Supreme Court Flunks Trusts, [1990] Supreme Court Review 207 (1991)

The Conundrum of Fiduciary Investing under ERISA, in Proxy Voting of Pension Plan Equity Securities 128 (D. McGill, ed.) (Wharton School: Pension Research Council 1989)

ERISA's Fundamental Contradiction: The Exclusive Benefit Rule (with Daniel R. Fischel), 55 Univ. Chicago Law Review 1105 (1988)

Social Investing of Pension Funds and University Endowments: Unprincipled, Futile, and Illegal, in Disinvestment: Is it Legal, Is it Moral? Is it Productive? (National Legal Center for the Public Interest, 1985) 

Social Investing and the Law of Trusts (with Richard Posner), 79 Michigan Law Review 72 (1980) 

Market Funds and Trust-Investment Law II (with Richard Posner), 1977 American Bar Foundation Research Journal l 

The Revolution in Trust Investment Law (with Richard Posner), 62 American Bar Association Journal 887 (1976) 

Market Funds and Trust-Investment Law (with Richard Posner), 1976 American Bar Foundation Research Journal 1

Trust and Estate Law

“Why the Rule in Saunders v. Vautier is Wrong,” in Equity and Administration (pp. 189-202) (Cambridge Univ. P, 2016) (P.G. Turner, ed.)

Destructive Federal Preemption of State Wealth Transfer Law in Beneficiary Designation Cases: Hillman Doubles Down on Egelhoff, 67 Vanderbilt Law Review 1665 (2014) (ACTEC Foundation Symposium on “The Federal Role in Private Wealth Transfer”)

Major Reforms of the Property Restatement and the Uniform Probate Code: Reformation, Harmless Error, and Nonprobate Transfers, 38 ACTEC L. J. 1 (2012).

Burn the Rembrandt? Trust Law's Limits on the Settlor's Power to Direct Investment, 90 Boston University L. Rev. 375 (2010)

Why Did Trust Law Become Statute Law in the United States?, 58 Alabama Law Review 1069 (2007) (Meador Lecture 2006) 

Questioning the Trust-Law Duty of Loyalty: Sole Interest or Best Interest? 114 Yale Law Journal 929 (2005) (2006 Green Bag award, best written major article)

The Rise of the Management Trust, 143 Trusts & Estates Magazine 52 (Oct. 2004), republished in 4 Trusts Trimestrale di Approfondimento Scientifico e Professionale 338 (2005) (Italy)

Mandatory Rules in the Law of Trusts, 98 Northwestern Univ. Law Review 1105 (2004) (Hess Memorial Lecture of the Ass’n of the Bar of the City of New York, April 2002)

Curing Execution Errors and Mistaken Terms in Wills: The Restatement of Wills Delivers New Tools (and New Duties) for Probate Lawyers, 18 Probate & Property 28 (Jan./Feb. 2004); substantially republished in 51 Yale Law Report 36 (Sum. 2004)

The Uniform Trust Code: Codification of the Law of Trusts in the United States, 15 Trust Law International 69 (2001)

The Secret Life of the Trust: The Trust as an Instrument of Commerce, 107 Yale Law Journal 165 (1997); republished in Modern International Developments in Trust Law (D. Hayton, ed.) (1999)

The Contractarian Basis of the Law of Trusts, 105 Yale Law Journal 625 (1995)

Will Contests, 103 Yale Law Journal 2039 (1994) (review)

Reforming the Law of Gratuitous Transfers: The New Uniform Probate Code (with Lawrence Waggoner), 55 Albany Law Review 871 (1992) (Uniform Probate Code symposium issue)

The Inheritance Revolution, The Public Interest 15-31 (Winter 1991)

Education and Family Wealth, 20 Planning for Higher Education 1 (1991)

Taking a Look at the Pluses and Minuses of the Practice, Trusts & Estates Magazine 10-18 (Dec. 1989)

The Twentieth-Century Revolution in Family Wealth Transmission, 86 Michigan Law Review 722 (1988)

The Twentieth-Century Revolution in Family Wealth Transmission and the Future of the Probate Bar, 1988 Probate Lawyer 1 (American College of Probate Counsel)

Excusing Harmless Errors in the Execution of Wills: A Report on Australia's Tranquil Revolution in Probate Law, 87 Columbia Law Review 1 (1987)

Redesigning the Spouse's Forced Share (with Lawrence Waggoner), 22 Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal 303 (ABA 1987).

The Nonprobate Revolution and the Future of the Law of Succession, 97 Harvard Law Review 1108 (1984)

Reformation of Wills on the Ground of Mistake: Change of Direction in American Law? (with Lawrence Waggoner), 130 Univ. Pennsylvania Law Review 521 (1982)

“Defects of Form in the Execution of Wills: Australian and Other Experience with the Substantial Compliance Doctrine,” in American/Australian/New Zealand Law: Parallels and Contrasts 59 (ABA Press 1980)

Crumbling of the Wills Act: Australians Point the Way, 65 American Bar Association Journal 1192 (1979)

Living Probate: The Conservatorship Model, 77 Michigan Law Review 63 (1978)

Substantial Compliance with the Wills Act, 88 Harvard Law Review 489 (1975)

Comparative Law 

Cultural Chauvinism in Comparative Law, 5 Cardozo Journal of International & Comparative Law 41 (1997)

Scholarly and Professional Objectives in Legal Education: American Trends and English Comparisons, in What Are Law Schools For? (P. Birks ed.) (Oxford Univ. Press 1996)

Money Talks, Clients Walk, Newsweek, April 17, 1995, at 32-34

The Influence of Comparative Procedure in the United States, 43 American Journal of Comparative Law 545 (1995) (United States National Report to the Tenth World Congress for Procedure Law).

“American Legal Education in Comparative Perspective,” in Legal Education in the Netherlands in a Comparative Context 55-64 (Grotius Academy 1995)

The Influence of the German Émigrés on American Law: The Curious Case of Civil and Criminal Procedure, in Einfluß deutschsprachiger juristischer Emigranten auf die Rechtsentwicklung in den USA und in Deutschland (Mohr Verlag, Tübingen 1993)

Trashing "The German Advantage," 82 Northwestern Law Review 763 (1988)

Comparative Civil Procedure and the Style of Complex Contracts, 35 American Journal of Comparative Law 381 (1987); republished in Der komplexe Langzeitvertrag/The Complex Long-Term Contract 445 (F. Nicklisch, ed.) (C.F. Müller Verlag, Heidelberg 1987); republished in German as Zivilprozessrechtsvergleichung und der Stil komplexer Vertragswerke, 86 Zeitschrift für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft 141 (l987)

The German Advantage in Civil Procedure, 52 Univ. Chicago Law Review 823 (1985)

Mixed Court and Jury Court: Could the Continental Alternative Fill the American Need?, 1981 American Bar Foundation Research Journal 195

Land without Plea Bargaining: How the Germans Do It, 78 Michigan Law Review 204 (1979)

Judging Foreign Judges Badly: Nose Counting Isn't Enough, 18 Judges’ Journal 4 (Fall 1979) 

Comparative Criminal Procedure: “Myth” and Reality (with Lloyd L. Weinreb), 87 Yale Law Journal 1549 (1978)

Controlling Prosecutorial Discretion in Germany, 41 Univ. Chicago Law Review 439 (1974)

Legal History

“The Demise of Trial in American Civil Procedure: How It Happened, Is It Convergence with European Civil Procedure?,” in Truth and Efficiency in Civil Litigation: Fundamental Aspects of Fact-finding and Evidence-Taking in a Comparative Context (C.H. van Rhee & Alan Uzelac, eds. 2012)

The Disappearance of Civil Trial in the United States, 122 Yale L.J. 522 (2012) (2013 Green Bag award, best written major article)

Bifurcation and the Bench: The Influence of the Jury on English Conceptions of the Judiciary,” in Judges and Judging in the History of the Common Law and Civil Law: From Antiquity to Modern Times 67 (Paul Brand & Joshua Getzler eds. 2012)

"Blackstone on Judging," in Blackstone and His Commentaries: Biography, Law, History 65 (Wilfrid Prest ed. 2009)

"The Legal History of Torture," in Torture: A Collection 93 (Sanford Levinson ed.) (Oxford Univ. Press 2004)

Review, The Trial in History (Vol. 1, M. Mulholland & B. Pullan eds., Vol. 2, R.A. Melikan ed.), 119 English Historical Review 192 (Feb. 2004)

Trinity Hall and the Relations of European and English Law from the Fourteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries, in The Milestones Lectures (Cambridge, England 2001)

The Prosecutorial Origins of Defence Counsel in the Eighteenth Century: The Appearance of Solicitors, 58 Cambridge Law Journal 314 (1999) (awarded the Sutherland Prize, American Society for Legal History, 2000)

The Later History of Restitution, in Restitution Past, Present and Future: Essays in Honour of Gareth Jones 57-62 (Oxford 1998)

The Historical Foundations of the Law of Evidence: A View from the Ryder Sources, 96 Columbia Law Review 1168 (1996)

The Historical Origins of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination at Common Law, 92 Michigan Law Review 1047 (1994)

Chancellor Kent and the History of Legal Literature, 93 Columbia Law Review 547 (1993)

On the Myth of Written Constitutions: The Disappearance of Criminal Jury Trial, 15 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 119 (1992); published in translation, 17 Yonsei Law Review (Sept. 2007) (South Korea); 1996 Nueva Doctrina Penal 45 (Argentina)

The English Criminal Trial Jury on the Eve of the French Revolution,” in The Trial Jury in England, France, Germany: 1700-1900 (Comparative Studies in Continental and AngloAmerican Legal History) (Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1987)

Shaping the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Trial: A View from the Ryder Sources, 50 Univ. Chicago Law Review l (1983)

Albion's Fatal Flaws, Past and Present (No. 98, February 1983) 96-120 

Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume III (Univ. Chicago Press, reprint ed. 1979), Introduction Reprinted 2002.

Understanding the Short History of Plea Bargaining, 13 Law & Society Review 261 (1979)

Torture and Plea Bargaining, 46 Univ. Chicago Law Review 4 (1978); republished in Spanish as “Tortura Y Plea Bargaining,” in El Procedimiento Abreviado (J.B. Maier & A. Bovino eds.) (Buenos Aires 2001); substantially republished in The Public Interest (Winter 1980) at 43; latter version republished in The Public Interest on Crime and Punishment (N. Glazer ed. 1984)

The Criminal Trial Before the Lawyers, 45 Univ. Chicago Law Review 263 (1978)

The Historical Origins of the Sanction of Imprisonment for Serious Crime, 5 Journal of Legal Studies 35 (1976)

Fact Finding in the English Court of Chancery: A Rebuttal, 83 Yale Law Journal 1620 (1974)

The Origins of Public Prosecution at Common Law, 17 American Journal of Legal History 313 

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