In the field of law, it behooves us to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants. The following quotes, from various ancient Mesopotamian legal codes of the late third and early second millenium BCE, demonstrate the ancient origins of some of our most critical legal principles:
If a [landowner leases] an arable field to a(nother) man for cultivation, but he did not cultivate it, turning it into wasteland, [the penalty is a payment of] three kur of barley per iku of field.
-Code of Ur-Nammu, late 22nd century BCE
Court procedure and venue:
The case [of three accused murderers and one accused accessory] was brought to [the city of] Isin before the king, and King Ur-Ninurta ordered their case to be taken up in the Assembly of Nippur.
-"The Silent Wife," case from ancient Sumeria reported in a clay tablet 19th century BCE; this is the earliest known case of a change of venue in human history.
Agency and contract law:
If a man without authorization bound another man to a matter of which he (the latter) had no knowledge, that man is not affirmed (i.e., legally obligated); he (the first man) shall bear the penalty in regard to the matter to which he had bound him.
-Code of Lipit-Ishtar, late 19th century BCE
If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge's bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgement.
-Code of Hammurabi, mid 18th century BCE, establishing a rather harsh standard of judicial review.
For further information, see, e.g., Marc Van De Mieroop, A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 - 323 BC (Blackwell 2006); Russ Versteeg, Early Mesopotamian Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2000); Brian Gottesman, "The Silent Wife," In Re: The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association (November 2006).
Image: "Cylinder-seal of Khashkhamer, vassal of the king of Ur (c. 2400 BC) (British Museum)." Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria (Messrs. Mansell & Co. 1915), p. 50.