The Trials of Law School
Here is the trailer for a new documentary…
My review comes after the fold…
Heath Morgan — an attorney and independent film-maker in Oklahoma — has made legal education into a documentary: “The Trials of Law School.” The film follows 8 1Ls through their first semester at Oklahoma Law School. Along the way, Heath manages to interview an impressive cast of law professors, including — in no particular order — Liz Warren, Randy Barnett, Mark Tushnet, Elizabeth Garnett, and many many others.
Watching the film I was struck by what an unfilmable process law school is. There are a few “action” shots of students in class rooms, but the reality of law school, of course, is that most of the time is spent reading law books. Hardly the most photogenic activity. Heath benefited here from Oklahoma’s building, which provided enough architectural variety to make shots of students studying a bit more visually appealing. The main reading room in the library looks quite wonderful. Still, at the end of the day most of the drama of law school (if one can use that term) takes place within the craniums of its neurotic inhabitants.
Heath, however, does a good job of capturing that drama. The students he follows are a nice mix of bright-eyed over-achievers, a relatively laid back Baylor grad one could imagine watching a football game with, and three non-traditional students: a single mother, a mother of six, and 41-year-old father of an indeterminate number of teenage daughters. Having gone through the last half of law school with a baby, I found their stories particularly poignant. At one point, the 41-one-year-old father notes that he simply cannot hope to compete with single, monomaniacal students who can let law school be their sole focus. Well do I remember that frustration.
Heath uses the impending final exam to provide the dramatic energy for his story. For me this was the least satisfying part of the film. There was no sense, for example, among Heath’s students that they were discovering a new world in the law. There was no sense of intellectual excitement over what they were learning or seeing; only the impending dread of the final examination. In this, I fear that Heath may have been truer to the experience of many students. Still, there is more — one hopes — to law school than stress about a six-hour exam. One hopes that students are learning to love the law. If they aren’t, an unhappy career caught in its clutches awaits them.
As for Heath, as a contract’s prof, I await with baited breath his production of “The Ballad of Willie and Lucille,” which tells the story of Peevyhouse v. Garland Coal Company. I can only assume it is based on the law review article of the same name. The thought of it gives me a new goal in life: to someday sell the movie rights to one of my articles.