Written by John Jay Osborn, Jr., a 1970 graduate of Harvard Law School, the book tells the story of Hart, a first-year law student at Harvard, and his experiences with Professor Charles Kingsfield, the brilliant, demanding Contracts instructor whom he both idolizes and finds incredibly intimidating.
At the same time he begins a relationship with a woman named Susan Field who turns out to be Kingsfield's daughter. Susan stands aloof from the law-school rat-race and is able to dismiss all the things Hart cares about the most.
The story unfolds in philosophic manner too. At the end of the term, Professor Kingsfield really means something in his students life but he still doesn't know their names. For him, it is only a group of people, names on a paper. He doesn't even recognize the protagonist Mr. Hart after several encounters, debates, insults and so on.
At the end, after so much of effort and success in exam, grades comes and he doesn't open it but throws in air, climbing a rock in beach where he is about to marry the same professor's daughter who just got the divorce from her former husband. They say together "It is again just another bunch of papers".
Chapters 1, 3, 13, 27, and 35 begin with quotes that set the tone for those chapters.
In 2003 a 30th-anniversary edition of The Paper Chase was released by Whitston Publishing which contains both a new preface and an afterword by the author, with the latter containing material deleted from the original novel.