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Bar News - May 21, 2014

Book Review: Uncommon Law, Ancient Roads, and Other Ruminations on Vermont Legal History By Paul S. Gillies


Vermont Historical Society, 2013, 414 pages

As the daughter of an eighth-generation Vermonter, I was particularly intrigued by the prospect of a book that could reflect the unique character of Vermonters and Vermont legal history while remaining an interesting and enticing read.

Much of author Paul Gillies’ book accomplishes this task, but there are times where there is so much meat within this book that you have to struggle to get it off the bone.

Uncommon Law is a collection of essays divided into four sections: law, litigation, luminaries, and limits. The first section is rather lighthearted as it traces the beginnings of Vermont law in the form of thoughtful essays about law practice.

The second section, litigation, contains seven specific practice areas: gristmills, minister lots, buying horses, building fences, grazing sheep, law on Sundays, and log drives. This section is most fascinating particularly because the areas were so historically important to the development of Vermont, yet few modern lawyers are aware of their import, let alone ever practice law concerning sheep or log drives.

The last two sections of the book addressing the judiciary and law concerning real estate are much more technical than the first two sections, and sometimes require rereading to absorb the voluminous amount of information.

The intended audience of Uncommon Law consists of practicing lawyers, judges, and historians – those who are looking for an educational rather than an easy read.

Melissa S. Penson-Mesa

Melissa S. Penson-Mesa is a staff attorney with the NH Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Support Services. She lives in Nashua with her husband, attorney Enrique Mesa Jr., and her cat.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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