Unusual Law School Classes

lawgavel.jpgI recently posted about a law school course about wine, only to discover that it’s not all that unusual. That got me thinking fondly of my days in law school, where there were many unusual courses – probably due to the fact I went to Yale. I located my old course bulletins, and here are 10 of my favorite unusual courses from those bulletins.

I also thought I’d invite readers who went to law school, are now in law school, or who are teaching in law school, to post in the comments their favorite unusual law school classes. And I thought I’d make a quiz out of this too.

· Favorite Unusual Courses: Please post in the comments some of the unusual courses from where you teach or where you went to school. Please be sure to indicate the law school where the course is taught. Any links to online course listings, if available, would be helpful to verify that the courses are indeed real. In the alternative, feel free to email the courses and descriptions to me.

· Quiz: A bit of puzzleblogging (inspired by the Volokh Conspiracy): Can you guess who taught these courses? Below the courses, I provide a list of instructors to select from. Extra credit: I took two of the ten courses below — guess which ones. Winner’s Prize: A whole lot of nothing.

Courses from the Yale Law School Bulletin

1. ART, LOVE, AND POWER: A PHILOSOPHY OF AMERICAN LAW

If morality is defined as recognition of the limits imposed upon one, then good law is an effective moral force. This seminar will explicate such a view and apply it to U.S. society.

2. BEARING WITNESS

In many law school courses, the primary focus is on law itself. In others, one or more of the law’s dramatis personae take center stage—the judge, the jury, the lawyer, the legislature, and occasionally even the litigant. This seminar will focus on an oft overlooked player – the witness – and on the very idea of witnessing.


3. THE LAW AND ECONOMICS OF ART AND MORTALITY

This seminar will examine, with the aid of economic analysis, two problems of international importance involving divided property rights. The first is the scope of the rights held by the original artist, and those held by the government or public, in works of art. The second is the institution of the trust. . . .

4. MODERNITY

Many theoreticians today insist that political and legal phenomena be analyzed from the perspective of power. The political order, they say, cannot be adequately comprehended within the classical norms of reason and virtue. This seminar will trace the origin and development of the modern analytic of power, beginning with readings from Machiavelli and Hobbs. A considerable portion of the class will be spent on Neitzsche. . . .

5. TRAGIC CHOICES

A consideration of those choices which a society cannot avoid making, whether explicitly or implicitly, but which, however made, undermine fundamental values of that society. Three paradigmatic situations (allocation of artificial kidneys, service in a limited war, and population control) will be discussed. . . .

6. IS CONSTITUTIONAL LAW LAW?

This course assumes (1) that law postulates coherence, communicability, and reasonable impersonality; and (2) that reasonable impersonality is a higher standard than the possibility that, given sufficient facts, one can predict at least five votes. Given these assumptions, the challenge will be to produce an analysis (in the form of a paper) that meets such a standard in connection with any constitutional topic sufficiently broad that decisions are both (1) reasonably numerous and (2) not wholly technical.

7. LAW AND GRACE

In the West, we view the rule of law from two qui different perspectives. From one, law expresses the social contract: it rationalizes desire and thus brings stability, peace, and order to the chaos of nature. From the other, law expresses only the conditions of existence after the Fall. Under this tradition, law is not the answer to the problem of the state of nature but is itself a problem, which must be solved by grace. This seminar will explore the second tradition. Readings will include the works of Plato, St. Paul, and Shakespeare.

8. LAW, SECRETS, AND LYING

An examination of the legal treatment in the control of one party and desired by or valuable to another. Examples will be drawn from constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, intellectual property, legal ethics, procedure, securities regulation, and other fields. The politics of concealment, especially the various justifications offered for lying (by the president, by witnesses) to the Congress and American public will also be discussed. . . .

9. LAW AND THE HUMAN SUBJECT

When it comes to understanding the human subject—e.g., how we process information, handle internal conflict, function under conditions of stress, and comprehend the ineffable—our legal system operates at a level of sophistication that pales in comparison to politics, marketing, and even the comic strip Sylvia. This seminar will explore these themes, with particular attention to the prospects and consequences of doing better. Readings will be drawn largely from the cognitive and behavioral sciences.

10. PUBLIC LIFE IN THE MODERN WORLD

Where in the modern world are opportunities and occasions for public action to be found? Or is this world, with its bureaucracies and consumerism and privatizing of experience, hostile to public life in all its forms? Has public life in fact disappeared from the world, and if so, what has replaced it? The Revolution of 1989 in Eastern Europe seems to contradict these skeptical musings, and special attention will be paid to that world historical experience. Readings from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arent, Foucault, Weber, Habermas, and others.

List of Instructors

Please note that one professor below might be the correct answer to more than one course. And I’ve thrown in a few professors who do not teach any of the above courses.

(a) Jan Deutsch and J.L. Pottenger, Jr.

(b) Guido Calabresi

(c) Paul Kahn

(d) Akhil Amar

(e) Henry Hansmann

(f) Harlon Dalton

(g) Jules Coleman

(h) Jan Deutsch

(i) Bruce Ackerman

(j) Stephen Carter

(k) Paul Kahn and Anthony Kronman

(l) Owen Fiss and Anthony Kronman

(m) Reva Siegel

By the way, this post isn’t meant to mock these courses. It often isn’t the subject of a course that matters most, but the way that it is taught that has most lasting influence and impact on one’s thinking and legal abilities. This post is not meant to open a debate on whether certain courses are practical enough; nor is it to serve as a forum of disrespectful comments. Please only post answers to the quiz or your favorite unusual courses (from any law school). Thanks.

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37 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    You forgot “Law and What I’m Thinking About”.

  2. Cathy says:

    Rhetoric and Copyright, taught by Wendy Gordon at Boston University.

    I took the first iteration of the course last year and she’s doing it again this year. We examined the rhetorical arguments underlying copyright policy, while at the same time honing our general rhetorical skills. The class included a writing workshop component and an oral presentation workshop component. Richard Lanham gave a guest-lecture on the writing part, and Richard Stallman on the IP policy part. The class was also co-taught by Shakespearean actor Jonny Epstein. Shakespeare and Aristotle were both drawn from heavily as part of the pedagogy as well.

    http://www.bu.edu/law/jd/registrar/courseselection/descriptable.html#rhetoric

  3. Unusual Law School Classes:

    Over at Concurring Opinions, Dan Solove is seeking input on “unusual” law school classes. Dan starts off with a list of some of the classes offered when he was a stu…

  4. jallgor says:

    Law & Pop Culture: UCLA School of Law (where else?)

  5. O. Kerr says:

    Alan Dershowitz used to co-teach “Thinking About Thinking” at Harvard, cross-listed with a number of other departments. The final exam in the class from 1996 is here.

  6. Doug says:

    My favorite class at Columbia Law School was Biblical Jurisprudence taught by George Fletcher and Suzanne Stone. The class was talking the informing of issues by the history of the human race as told through the Bible. In addition to the two teachers (who were very knowledge on religion in general and Judaism in particular), we had a presybeterin minister, a Jesuit priest, a Muslim scholar, an evangelical Christian, a devout atheist, and several European Christians/skeptics. As such, the class was a hodgepodge of ideas that could barely make it through two or three verses of scripture in the three hour class.

    The current class is focusing on how war and sacrifice are treated in the Bible.

  7. Medis says:

    Chicago (not surprisingly) offers a lot of unusual courses, particularly within the Greenberg Seminar program. One of my favorite Greenberg Seminar titles from last year was “Degenerate Law”. From this year’s list I would nominate “Seductive Theories”.

  8. Milbarge says:

    I’ll guess that Prof. Calabresi taught “Tragic Choices,” since he wrote the book of the same name.

  9. Another Eli says:

    Harlan Dalton offered a course at Yale called just “Law,” but if memory serves it was canceled because it was undersubscribed. For those familiar with Yale Law School’s curriculum, this is hilarious on a number of levels.

  10. Unusual Law School Classes

    Dan Solove at Concurring Opinions has an interesting post up on unusual law school classes. Definitely worth checking out. Ben Barros

  11. Another Eli — I actually recall hearing about the course called “Law” — it was offered, I believe, a year after I graduated. I believe it involved reading from one volume of the Federal Reporter and just covering all the cases in it. I could be wrong about this, however. I’d love to track down the course description for the course. Can anybody dig it up from their old course bulletins? I bet it would have been taught sometime in 1997 or 1998 (maybe 1999, but that might be too late).

  12. chicago grad says:

    Chicago had a course called “the law of early china” or something equally esoteric.

  13. Simon says:

    Two favorites from Michigan: Faking It, taught by Bill Miller, and Brian Simpson’s The Boundaries of the Market.

  14. Adam says:

    I took “The Tyranny of Abstraction” at Chicago, a course on the failure of Theory to explain everything.

  15. Trent says:

    Another Bill Miller course (Michigan):

    “Bloodfeuds”: An investigation of disputing and dispute processing in Iceland of the saga age with side glances at pre-Conquest England and some contemporary pre-industrial, kin-based cultures. Course materials include translations of Icelandic family sagas and early law; there are also assigned readings in secondary historical and anthropological works.

    http://cgi2.www.law.umich.edu/_ClassSchedule/aboutClass.asp?term=1570&classNbr=10055

  16. This guy says:

    USC Law offers the riveting “Acting for Lawyers” which should be no surprise in TinselTown….

  17. UVa student says:

    Richard Bonnie teaches this course at Virginia:

    ORGAN DONATION: ALTRUISM OR RECIPROCITY?

    This course will address the growing gap between the need for kidneys, livers and other organs for transplantation and the supply of available organs. The areas to be explored are the moral basis of organ donation, the reasons for the low rate of donation, the current legal structure of organ procurement, and the possible policy solutions to the problem. The course will be coordinated with the work of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Increasing the Rate of Organ

    Donation on which the instructor is serving.

  18. Paul Gowder says:

    My favorite unusual law school courses were actually normal-sounding classes with totally abnormal treatments of the subject matter. Charlie Nesson’s Evidence, of course, is King of this genre (and I learned much more there than one would learn in a traditional evidence class). David Rosenberg’s Federal Litigation class traditionally bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the description in the catalog or to anything else… but possibly the best course title I’ve ever seen in the HLS catalog is “Beyond Biology.” “Law, Psychology and Morality: An Exploration Through Film,” is a close second. It appears that today there’s a “Power, Beauty, Sex and Violence” reading group…

  19. Laura I Appleman says:

    Let’s not forget the classic YLS course, “Procreation and the Law of Family,” taught by Dr. Jay Katz, all about reproductive technology. A fantastic course that had the extra added benefit of shocking various law firm partners & judges during interviews. Truly, the pained look on their faces when they asked if I really had taken a course about sex in my first year of law school was just priceless.

  20. Thanks for the comments so far. I might gather together some of my favorites from your comments in a post later on.

    Also, I’ll post the answers to the quiz later this week.

    So please keep submitting courses and course descriptions. And if anybody can track down the description for the YLS course called “Law” by Prof. Dalton, it would be greatly appreciated.

  21. Avery Katz says:

    Here at Columbia Law School, we have a popular course called “Deals,” taught by Ron Gilson and Victor Goldberg.

  22. Nate Oman says:

    When I was in law school I took a course that was called “Property” (apparently not required at YLS) that I thought was pretty strange.

    We essentially studied the genesis and evolution of a bunch of rules related to the regulation of feudal society and then tried to apply them to modern situations. There were all of these strange epicycles like the Rule in Shelly’s Case (a real name) and stuff about perpetuities. It was a fun intellectual endeavor as a matter of historical and antiquarian interest, but I didn’t think that it really had any contemporary applications.

  23. Paul Gowder says:

    Nate: hah! I can top that. I took a class supposedly about economic analysis… of law!

  24. gulcalum says:

    cross-posted from Volokh Conspiracy:

    When I was at Georgetown, I took a class with Prof. Neal Katyal called “Clinton.” We studied Morrison v. Olson and the ICA, the secret service privilege case, Clinton v. Jones, the government attorney client privilege case, the Swidler Berlin case (Sup Ct case involving whether Vince Foster’s attorney-client privilege survived him), impeachment issues, etc, etc. Guest speakers included Ken Starr, Bob Bennett, Asa Hutchinson, and Monica Lewinsky, though not, for some reason, the course’s namesake. This was, as I recall, fall semester 1999. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  25. Rick says:

    I took a course at Yale — a wonderful course — called “Administering Death”, taught by Bo Burt.

  26. The Fried Man says:

    In a self-referential meta stroke of brilliance, a Yale Law barrister’s union trial focused on fictional events that took place in a fictional course called “Law and the Law.” Anear Afar was the fictional professor, and strongly resembled Akhil Amar.

  27. Law and basket-weaving

    Dan Solove has a post recounting the amusinc course offerings from his days here at Yale. I confess that I cannot sort out which professors match which courses, in part because it is just too easy to envision so many…

  28. Law and basket-weaving

    Dan Solove has a post recounting the amusinc course offerings from his days here at Yale. I confess that I cannot sort out which professors match which courses, in part because it is just too easy to envision so many…

  29. Alfred Brophy says:

    Well, the historian in me leads me to another question: when did unusal law classes enter the legal academy? Even during the period of my primary interest–the years before the Civil War–some lectures would be considered by some of posters here as unusual. David Hoffman’s 1823 Lectures at the University of Maryland were pretty strange by standards of his contemporaries. (Maybe that’s why they weren’t popular.) And so were James Wilson’s 1791 lectures for that matter. Come to think of it, the introduction to book one of Blackstone’s Commentaries looks pretty strange to people concerned solely with the practice of law in the eighteenth century.

    But I’m guessing that a law school catalog from the 1950s don’t have courses like Bloodfueds. So the modern origins of the unusual courses are the late 1960s? Didn’t Borris Bitker teach a course in reparations at Yale in the early 1970s? Of course, going back to Solove’s first post, perhaps an interesting question is when did courses begin to be organized around a common object (like wine). Weren’t there courses in railroad law at the beginning of the twentieth century? I thought so, though perhaps I’m just confusing railroad law treatises with courses in railroad law.

  30. Last year, I taught a course on “The Law of Sprawl”; I’m actually writing an article about the course.

  31. ANSWER KEY

    1. Art, Love, and Power: A Philosophy of American Law

    (a) Jan Deutsch and J.L. Pottenger, Jr.

    2. Bearing Witness

    (f) Harlon Dalton

    3. The Law and Economics of Art and Mortality

    (e) Henry Hansmann

    4. Modernity

    (k) Paul Kahn and Anthony Kronman

    5. Tragic Choices

    (b) Guido Calabresi

    6. Is Constitutional Law Law?

    (h) Jan Deutsch

    7. Law and Grace

    (c) Paul Kahn

    8. Law, Secrets, and Lying

    (j) Stephen Carter

    9. Law and the Human Subject

    (f) Harlon Dalton

    10. Public Life in the Modern World

    (l) Owen Fiss and Anthony Kronman

    I took courses 5 and 7. Both were great.

  32. Unusual Law School Classes: Quiz Answer Key

    If you attempted to take the quiz I set out in my post earlier this week about unusual law school classes, I just posted the answer key in the comments to the post. Please continue to submit comments about your…

  33. Paul Secunda says:

    To follow up on Orin’s earlier comment, if memory serves right, Dershowitz taught “Thinking about Thinking” along with Stephen Jay Gould and John Rawls. It was a big hit with freshman at Harvard in the ’89-’90 cycle as part of the core curriculum.

  34. Jeremy A. Blumenthal says:

    Digression – “Thinking about Thinking” was with Alan, SJG, and Robert Nozick (not Rawls, which also would have been fascinating). VERY entertaining course, though lectures often were often more about the interplay among the profs than about the substance.

  35. nyujew says:

    Sexuality, Voice, and Resistance: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Neurobiology and Politics

    http://its.law.nyu.edu/StudentCourseInfo.cfm?

    STAGE=2&CourseId=3451

    Course Description: The seminar examines the central place of sexual voice in resistance to basic injustices like anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Our study asks why the repression of sexual voice (whether in celibacy or Puritanism) is often required by such injustices, and how questioning such repression energizes movements of resistance. Our interdisciplinary approach includes political philosophy, psychoanalysis, and neurobiology in understanding the body, voice, resonance, and truth in various historical and contemporary liberation movements. The seminar includes in its pedagogy experiments in freeing creative voice through multiple short papers each week, and theater exercises, including writing and staging plays with other students.