UMKC Law Launches Professor’s New, Improved “Famous Trials” Website

Famous Trials” first appeared on the Web in 1995, making the website older than about 99.96% of all websites. In 2016, the site seemed to be showing its age. Famous Trials 2.0 debuts today, February 14, 2017, with a cleaner look, additional video and audio clips, revised trial accounts, and new features that should improve navigation around the site. You can find the new homepage here. (For the foreseeable future, the old homepage will remain up and provide links to materials at the new site.)

Douglas Linder, Emeritus Professor of Law at UMKC School of Law, first created Famous Trials to post a variety of background materials for students enrolled in his Famous Trials Seminar. Now, many years later, Linder’s site serves as research base for high school, college, and law school instructors and students, and even inspiration for plays and songs. The goal was to lay out material in an obvious and understandable way, so anyone of any age can use the website. 

Doug Linder received his J.D. from Stanford Law School and received his undergraduate degree in mathematics at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. While at UMKC Law, Linder taught Constitutional Law, The Jury: Practice and Perspectives, Seminar in Famous Trials, The Quest for a Satisfying Career in Law, and First Amendment Law. Professor Linder is the co-author of The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law (Oxford University Press, 2010) and the author to The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law (Oxford University, 2013). 

Linder solely decides which Famous Trials to include on the website, based on two criteria. First, the trial must have enraptured the public’s attention, and second, the trial must have shaped history in some significant way or, alternatively, be an especially good window for observing and understanding a particular time period.

“Trial transcripts are rich source material, full of vivid detail that comes from a variety of perspectives.  The words in a transcript of a great trial sometimes seem to leap at you off their pages—and these are words not filtered through the biases of any reporter or historian,” says Linder. 

The majority of the trials are criminal trials. Not all the trials took place in civilian courts: the site includes trials by an international tribunal (Nuremberg), a military court-martial (Calley), and two sets of trials by military commissions (Lincoln conspirators, Dakota trials). A few civil trials can also be found on the website, including the Falwell v Flynt tort trial and the civil rights trial of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. The two impeachment trials (Andrew Johnson, William Clinton) are also civil in nature. 

Visitors may not find every trial they deem “famous,” but they are encouraged to go to “Other Famous Trials” if they cannot find the trial they seek. In addition, visitors will not find famous Supreme Court decisions on Famous Trials but they can be found on companion website, “Exploring Constitutional Law.”

UMKC Law hopes the new website will allow for even better research and exploration into Famous Trials over the years and spark a whole new set of visitors to the website.

Published: Mar 6, 2017