Law Profs and Students

In asking the relevant and useful question “What is/should be a law student?,” Professor Morrison begins ill: “Actual and potential law students are arguably the most powerful parties in this system.”

This claim doesn’t warrant a response, but the professor ironically comes away seeming dignified when it combines with the generally unserious tenor of his post to provoke an array of juvenile criticisms — to which he naturally does not deign to respond.

Prof. Morrison concludes that a law student is/should be:

  • A well informed, intelligent agent who can make informed choices prior to entering law school regarding debt load, job prospects, and the like
  • A student who is actively engaged in class work, extracurricular activities, networking, skills building, etc.  A student, in short, who takes ownership of her education and uses the school, the faculty, and their resources to self-direct her career.

A charming sentiment, to be sure, but the current legal education system requires that “Who is a law student?” be answered in substance “Somebody who pays law professors.”

State of the Prawf: “WOC” Edition

Professor Baradaran has a good post over at Prawf’s Blawg on the topic of what a female professor ought to do to secure control of her classroom early in the course. She seems to have a pretty good handle on the situation and I expect that her advice is quite sound for those to whom she directs it.

But far more interesting than the post itself are the comments, particularly those authored by “women of color” (WOC) professors (WAWCs?).

There’s so much of note here that it’s difficult to fit into a single post under a heading more specific than “Minority Female Law Professors Confess Anonymously to Wide-Ranging Bias Against White Male Law Students.” Nonetheless, I feel compelled to address a few highlights.

First of all, some of this stuff is really pretty extraordinary, if only one imagines that prejudice against white males is as inappropriate as against anyone else. And remember that the prejudiced individuals here are figures of authority. Take just a single phrase for instance: “misbehaving, entitled white men,” and replace white with black, such that you have “misbehaving, entitled [black] men.” This is, I think, shocking to most self-selecting people of conscience. Do the same with men/women and these same will be less shocked but not less outraged. The poster, “Depends on the School?” might think it unfair of me to post this quotation out of context (although the context does not obviously improve upon it), but I shan’t concern myself. An author of the modified version above would be pilloried no matter the context and I see no reason to vary the standard here.

Second, although I believe it’s likely that students “test” female professors more than male professors because all people are biologically programmed to interpret certain masculine characteristics like height and deep voice as authoritative (it’s not clear to me that this is exacerbated by the professor being “of color,” except possibly as to black women), I also wonder whether some “WOC” professors1 might be hired based in some part on their Critical credentials. I don’t know enough about the hiring process to more than conceive of this as a possibility, but it’s not an extraordinary stretch to imagine a feminist/critical race studies professor being less well-versed in doctrine than a professor with relevant scholarly interests. Or perhaps better put, since many professors teach (especially 1L) courses outside their area of expertise, I think it’s possible that crit-focused professors might tend in classroom discussions to stray from relevant doctrine toward areas not concededly of interest to people outside of the critical fields. It doesn’t take a genius (or even a 2L) to notice when this is going on, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an xL to object when that stuff is bandied about outside of appropriately titled courses.

Third, both male and female professors complain about receiving sartorial comments in their end-of-semester reviews. To the extent (entire, I think) that these professors perceive such commentary to proceed from white males, a bit of incredulity is in order. I submit that students discussing clothing in their reviews are, in order of descending likelihood:

  • (a) For female professors: (1) girls; (2) gay guys; (3) straight guys.
  • (b) For male professors: (1) girls; (2) gay guys.

And really, anyone whose clothing provokes commentary not in the order above ought to consider spending at least as much time on their wardrobe as they do complaining about said commentary on law prof blogs.

  1. Not Prof. Baradaran, to be sure, though I cannot second her support for postal banking. 

Yes, 1Ls Should Use Commercial Supplements

The best way to learn to think like a lawyer is to read cases, but the best way to score highly on law school exams is to read and use commercial supplements developed for that very purpose.

Cost is not an issue: it’s trivial in comparison to the cost of a legal education and the potentially greater payoffs that come with good grades.

The 1L year moreover contains the most difficult subject matter you will encounter in law school. With the exception of Criminal Law (which really shouldn’t be mandatory or taught in the first year because it’s a putrid statutory swamp), 1L courses mainly deal in the common law. The uncodified nature of common law permits professors to teach it more or less as the please, with results that will vary by student. However, because the common law is coherent when understood, exams do not vary between professors to nearly the same degree.

Take the Rule Against Perpetuities for a concrete example. No matter what cases you read or who your professor is, the RAP is always going to provide that “no interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than 21 years after some life in being at the time of its creation,” and it will always affect the same fact pattern in the same way. But not all property professors are capable of explaining this in a coherent manner, and some students are inevitably baffled by the complexity of the rules apprehension despite the relative simplicity of its application. However incompetent a teacher the professor may be, I assure you he can score an exam.

Law school exams are universally time-pressured; it’s not useful to be able to get everything right in 4 hours if you only have 3. By far the best way to improve your speed is to practice, particularly on something like the RAP which has several well known exceptions (e.g., Unborn Widow) that are confusing at first but become easily recognizable with experience. If you’ve worked through the Property E&E, you’re going to spot these patterns in a much shorter period of time than an otherwise equally capable student who has not done the practice problems. This is the difference between a B+ and an A.

Commercial Outlines, Follow-Up

As an addendum to my previous post, it may also be noted that outlines are surprisingly cheap for law school supplements (usually around $30).

An important caveat however: I would hesitate to recommend the outlines to someone who does not already have a pretty firm grasp of the subject matter. They tend toward the reductive side of things and a student who relies too heavily upon them may come away with some dubious impressions. The really effective use of an outline is as a means of organizing material you already have a decent sense of — comparing the outline with your casebook’s table of contents is often instructive.

And a minor issue to go with that one: commercial outlines uniformly adopt the oversized form factor, but none of them use it to any effect. I don’t see the point in having larger pages if you’re just going to use larger font and put the same amount of information on each page. (Actually, I assume the theory is that students will take notes in the margins, but this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as notes are always more flexibly taken on the computer and a substantial number of professors will not allow commercial outlines in exams.) It would be much more useful to pack more information into each page so that a high level view of the material could be obtained without sacrificing too much detail. As it is, many more or less atomic concepts are spread out over five or ten pages, which is not ideal.

Commercial Outlines

ImageI have mentioned previously that my all around favorite law school supplement is the Examples and Explanations series. Working the examples really is the best way to learn the material.

However, outlines really come in handy as refreshers and general cramming aids: the structure of an outline is more or less consistent with the issues you’ll need to spot on an exam.