Professor A. Benjamin Spencer Named Author of Massively Cited 'Federal Practice and Procedure'

"It's a weighty responsibility," civil procedure expert A. Benjamin Spencer says of contributing to the authoritative "Federal Practice and Procedure."

September 26, 2016

Wright & Miller's "Federal Practice and Procedure" quietly added a new name to its list of authors this year: University of Virginia School of Law professor A. Benjamin Spencer.

Spencer is taking over responsibilities for updating the civil rules of procedure covered in Vols. 5, 5A, 5B, and 5C — focused on pleadings — for the massively cited, multi-volume reference book series. He published his first supplement to volume 5A this year. Additional supplements will follow, with a new edition of the volume to carry his name in 2018.

"This is the preeminent reference for civil procedure topics for practitioners, courts and professors," Spencer said. "It's the No. 1 most-respected treatise, and it's a big responsibility, because courts cite this frequently. You'll see thousands and thousands of citations to this work."

Current author and New York University law professor Arthur Miller had Spencer as a student at Harvard Law School, where Miller previously taught. He continued to follow Spencer's career, and developed an admiration for Spencer’s scholarship in the pleadings area, which led to Spencer being approved for the volumes.

"I have very high regard for Arthur Miller," Spencer said. "He is the preeminent civil procedure scholar that we have in this country. He is the most-cited civil procedure scholar now, and probably for all time. It was an honor to have him as a professor, and to be thought highly enough of to take over several volumes; it’s his baby."

He said Miller still edits about 13 of the 57 civil and jurisdiction volumes himself, but is in the process of handing some of those volumes off. The treatise's other primary author, Charles A. Wright, was also a prominent legal scholar; he died in 2000. In total, "Federal Practice and Procedure" has 91 volumes, which also cover evidence and judicial review of administrative action.

Spencer said the incremental method of taking over a volume helps Miller and the publisher feel confident that the quality will remain top-notch. The first edition of "Federal Practice and Procedure" was published in 1969, and is now owned by Thomson Reuters.

"It's a weighty responsibility because there is nobody looking over my shoulder to check that what I write is the standard under these rules, so I have to make sure I am accurately reflecting how courts have interpreted these rules, and not try to shove in my own perspective," Spencer said.

Miller used "legions of students" over the years to compile his volumes, Spencer said. In fact, UVA Law Professor Ruth Mason was one of them when she was a student at Harvard, prior to her graduation in 2001.

But Spencer said the nature of the publication, and the type of work it entails, is changing.

"Before electronic databases were available, this would be the go-to place where you could find all of the cases that are relevant to a particular issue," Spencer said. "But now you can do that in seconds with a search on WestLaw. So the real value of this work is summarizing and articulating the law respecting the intricacies of federal civil procedure in a way that no other reference material has the time and space to do."

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