Making sense of the rules of law |

Making sense of the rules of law

The California Civil Code contains a few dozen seldom-used pearls of legal wisdom entitled “Maxims of Jurisprudence.” Their purpose is to aid in the application and interpretation of the law.


Some are recognizable, a few humorous, most downright nonsensical; all are verbatim law. I’ve added a of my own interpretations:

— When the reason for a rule ceases, so should the rule itself. (Try that the next time you come up against a rule you don’t like).

— Where the reason is the same, the rule should be the same.

— One must so use his own rights as not to infringe upon the rights of another. (Tell that it to your loud and obnoxious neighbor).

— He who consents to an act is not wronged by it. (Fight back).

— Acquiescence in error takes away the right of objecting to it. (Speak up or forever hold your peace).

— No one can take advantage of his own wrong. (Except it’s done every day).

— He who can and does not forbid that which is done on his behalf, is deemed to have bidden it. (Let your agents act on your behalf and you suffer the consequences).

— No one should suffer by the act of another. (At least without having their own attack attorney).

— He who takes the benefit must bear the burden. (Nothing is free in life).

— For every wrong there is a remedy. (Favorite expression of plaintiff’s attorneys).

— Between rights otherwise equal, the earliest is preferred. (The early bird gets the worm).

— No man is responsible for that which no man can control. (The unforeseeability defense).

— The law helps the vigilant, before those who sleep on their rights. (Wake up, smell the roses and get to a lawyer as fast as possible).

— The law respects form less than substance. (Unless you miss that legal deadline).

— That which ought to have been done is to be regarded as done, in favor of him to whom, and against him from whom, performance is due. (You are responsible if you don’t do things you are supposed to do-or something like that).

— That which does not appear to exist is to be regarded as if it did not exist. (Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil).

— The law never requires impossibilities. (The impossibility defense always works).

— The law neither does nor requires idle acts. (There is a meaning for everything).

— The law disregards trifles. (Focus on what’s important).

— The greater contains the less. (Duh).

— Superfluity does not vitiate. (Indeed).

— Time does not confirm a void act. (The law never forgets).

— Interpretation must be reasonable. (Reasonable is a lawyer’s favorite word).

— Private transactions are fair and regular. (Sounds like a laxative advertisement).

— Things happen according to the ordinary course of nature and the ordinary habits of life. (Stuff happens).

— The law has been obeyed. (We won).

— He who writes a column like this has bidden it.

The next time you are in a legal beef, or get to talking law on the cocktail circuit, pull out one of these 1872 beauties and impress your friends!

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno.

He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at or at the firm’s Web site

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