Saturday, May 17, 2008

Summer is here...and I might as well post even more about law school

Indeed, summer is here, and after a brief haitus for finals and post finals merriment, I am back on the blogosphere. I'll be leaving for Los Angeles in a few days... and I'm still waiting for my new laptop to come in the mail (my old one collapsed on me after finals) so the postings might be somewhat infrequent, but once I get my laptop, and everything else in order, the postings should be a bit more regular.

Like I said, I'll be moving to LA for the summer. This summer, I'll be clerking for a city attorney's office in SoCal. Should be interesting. Hopefully I'll get to prosecute some misdemeanors and work on some other municipal issues. I worked there last summer, and I really enjoyed the people and the work, so I decided to give it another go around. I will very likely be blogging on that throughout the summer. I'll aslo try and get some other law students on to blog about how their summer internships are going.

And, of course, I'll be posting on all the current SCOTUS opinions that come out. There should be some good ones, and I'm looking forward to reading them.

But before I get to the summer posts, I'd like to share a post I read on the Volokh Conspiracy about some of the difficulties about teaching a law school class. One of the main points the author points out is the gap between reading edited textbook cases and reading actual cases are vast. And that students do learn siginficantly from reading whole cases. Though, this is impractical due to time constraints.

Reading this post put me into a "last summer" time warp when I clerked for the LA DA. There, I simply did legal research and writing, with absolutely no court time. While it took me awhile to get my bearings, I eventually learned the skills the poster, David Post, was writing about: sifting through the BS in opinions and recognizing beneficial patterns in the case law that help shape your arguments (as well as the patterns that work against you... which, in turn, becomes how you plan your defense strategy). I'm not sure how well this could be taught in a law school class, but it would be helpful. Anyhow, here's a sample of the post:

My idea was pretty simple. Being able to read a judicial opinion from start to finish and to figure out what it means, or even what it might mean, even though there’s a lot of confusing junk in it, is an indispensable skill for any lawyer. If you are unable to do it – and I recognize that there are lots of lawyers out there who really are unable to do it – you are at an immense disadvantage in the practice of law (at least, in any practice that requires making legal arguments on behalf of clients); among other things, you will always be dependent on others who can do it (e.g., the authors of the treatises or hornbooks or articles or other secondary material on which you will necessarily have to rely) to do it for you, to tell you what the cases and the statutes mean. It is also very, very difficult; I have read a number of the cases that I include in my coursepack literally dozens of times, and there are still parts of them that remain inscrutable to me. Like most difficult things – playing the piano, reading and understanding 17th century poetry, surfing – it requires practice, and lots of it; the more you do it, the better you get at doing it.

You’d think, then, that we’d give our students lots and lots of practice, and lots and lots of help and guidance while they’re practicing, to help them master this critically important skill. But we don’t. In fact, we give them hardly any practice, and hardly any help and guidance, at all. All throughout law school we feed them a steady diet of edited, pre-digested cases, with all the “confusing stuff” – the stuff that just “gets in the way” of their learning the work-for-hire doctrine, or the elements of the patent infringement claim, or whatever it is we’re trying to teach them – taken out. All of the stuff that makes it hard to figure out what’s going on. But that’s precisely the point: it is hard. So how in God’s name are they ever going to learn how to do it if they never do it?

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