Law Society’s Gazette, September 1961

The Clamdigger Slacks Case

The Los Angeles Times of July 13 reports a novel method of dealing with an over-full cause list which was introduced recently in Los Angeles Superior Court by the presiding judge. It all began when a Mrs Kahn sued a Mrs Longnecker for $13, the price of a ‘pair of black silk clamdigger slacks’.

This, my California correspondent informs me, is a tight-fitting garment ending just below the knees and so called because they are worn while digging for clams in mudflats. This at any rate was the original source of their name though I suspect that their present-day wearers have found better outlets for their talents than scratching about in muddy estuaries.

At any rate, Mrs Longnecker lost in the Small Claims Court and appeared in the Superior Court on appeal – ‘aided by her lawyer-husband’. The judge is reported to have said that ‘he had no objection to lawsuits with low amounts but high principle’. He did not apparently find any high principle in this case; it was, he said, ‘more like a backyard argument’ and there were thousands of other cases remaining untried.

He thereupon wrote his personal cheque for $13 and handed it to Mrs Kahn. He awarded the slacks to Mr Longnecker as a fee, and he presumably (though there is no authority for this supposition in the Los Angeles Times) in due course awarded them to Mrs Longnecker. So everyone was happy.

‘The Woman’s Lawyer’

A Seventeenth Century Study of Women’s Rights

As a solicitor’s wife with, I hope, a proper respect for the tools of my husband’s trade, I regard law books with much the same admixture of awe and exasperation that the Ancient Romans must have felt for the Sibylline Prophecies - awe at the majestic rampart of wordage standing foursquare between order and anarchy, exasperation at the occult utterance meaningful only to the initiate. Their titles please me more than I can say.

At a time when artily allusive quotations head so much of our fashionable reading, the robust Anglo-Saxon forthrightness of, for example, Byles on Bills, Emmet on Title, or Jarman on Wills, comes like a breath of fresh air in an overheated espresso bar.

But alas, until now, I have always had to admire from afar.

Despite all my efforts, Russell on Crime has never really ousted Agatha Christie from my bedside table, and with the best will in the world I have found it impossible to curl up with Chitty on Contracts or Pollock on Torts.

Until now, I repeat. For at last a law book has come my way written of and for women. It was published in 1632 and is that rare, even unique bird – a law book with a sense of humour. It is called: The Lawes Resolutions of Women’s Rights: Or, the Lawes Provision for Womoen (sic).

Beginning with Adam and Eve - ‘the first and last that were married so young’ - he takes woman through every variation - legally speaking that is - of her involvement with the opposite sex, from the age of consent on. Throughout, the emphasis is upon what can be done to protect her property and person from the all-too-powerful male.

This, then, is my ideal law book - a little out of date, perhaps, but in essentials timeless: a work instinct with an apprehension of Law as the sum total of human activity, not a sterile body of precepts and prescripts, and the study of Law as no arid intellectual exercise, but the first of the humanities.