Unusual Law School Classes: Quiz Answer Key

lawgavel.jpgIf 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 unusual law school courses and course descriptions. I may collect some of my favorite entries from the comments and emails I received and post them sometime soon.


A Casebook That Gets Used

hart.gifUnlike my law professor co-bloggers, I don’t have piles of free case books littering my office. (At present, I do have lots of insurance documents and stacks of filings in pharmaceutical cases.) In legal practice I find that there is only one of my case books from law school that I still regularly consult: Hart & Wechsler’s The Federal Courts and the Federal System. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, I am mainly a litigator, which means that I spend a lot of time fussing about procedure and jurisdiction. Indeed, a great deal of my time of late has consisted of finding esoteric ways of shuttling cases from one court to another court. Of course, from time to time when all else fails we are forced to grapple with the substance of the claims in the cases. However, as a law-geek I am happy to spend most of my time on the part of the case the occurs before and up to the 12(b)(6) motion and then after final judgment on appeal. Facts are such troublesome things and they require a huge amount of scutt work to develop. Procedural and jurisdictional fussier that I am, Hart& Wechsler comes in handy.

Second, the law of federal courts is pretty complicated and if you poke around long enough you will find that it is riddled with odd little doctrines and exceptions. Hart & Wechsler is filled with case citations followed by questions. The questions are actually useful in practice. On one or two occasions, I have found that trolling through a section of Hart & Wechsler, I come across a question and think “If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then my client wins.” And hence a legal theory is born.

Third, Hart & Wechsler very self-consciously contains more material that is pedagogically useful. I had federal courts from Dan Meltzer, who is one of the current authors, and he made no attempt to cover everything that the text book covered. He would have been insane to do so. (Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t other insane teachers at HLS.) Obviously, Hart & Wechsler isn’t Wright & Miller, but it does provide quasi-comprehensive coverage. More importantly, it makes a serious attempt to reference the relevant secondary literature in the law reviews. Because federal courts is an area where there is still a fair amount of doctrinal scholarship, the referenced law review articles are actually useful from time to time.

So for law professors interested in writing case books with a bit of shelf life in them, here is my advice. First, pick a topic that comes up ubiquitously in litigation. Second, pick a really complicated body of law where there are lots of ambiguities. High light as many of these ambiguities as possible so that future litigators can troll through them looking for a stray edge of the law to worry. Third, be big. Don’t limit yourself to what would be useful to students in class. Make your case book into a portal for the field. Cover all of the epicycles in the doctrine and provide citations to lots of cases and relevant law review literature. Also, pick a topic where the law review literature still contains serious doctrinal writing.

Do these things and your case book to can earn a hallowed spot on my desk next to the insurance documents.


Death of the Casebook?


Predictions about the death of the book have so far been premature and it’s not hard to see why. Books are a very nice technology. Portable, durable, easy-to-read, stable – people like books, and they aren’t going away any time soon.

But what about casebooks? They’re heavy, inconvenient, not terribly portable – and no one really has warm fuzzy feelings about curling up with the latest edition of Gunther. (Co-Blogger Nate may be an exception). Can we safely make a prediction about the death (or at least transformation) of the casebook?

I can see a number of advantages to a purely electronic casebook: (1) weight, or lack thereof (bits are light); (2) ease of updating (no more supplements); (3) customizability (no need to buy all those extra chapters); (4) ability for students to cut and paste into outlines; (5) multimedia, etc.

I can also see several disadvantages: (1) lack of access to computers; (2) dislike of reading material on a computer screen; (3) lack of portability. But it seems to me that two of these disadvantages are becoming less significant as (1) computers become ubiquitous in law school; and (2) people seem increasingly comfortable reading material off of computer screens.

So, is anyone ready to predict the death of the casebook? Are we stuck with casebooks? Or is there some interesting hybrid we should be looking forward to? (Note this is not a purely disinterested question, as I’m currently working on a casebook).


Short movie remakes

I just noticed the new Empire Strikes Back animated gif created by Folds Five. (via Boing Boing). empire.gif This is the latest in a series of modified movies that seem to be proliferating on the internet, ranging from the “movies in 30 seconds, as re-enacted by bunnies” of Angry Alien to the recent, hilarious redone trailer of “Shining” which recasts the classic horror movie as a Cameron Crowe style family comedy.

Many of these make me laugh. I’m not so sure about their legality, though. Parody? Maybe. (Are they clearly parodies?) Fair use? Again, maybe. But I wouldn’t really want to bet the farm on either of those. What do our IP experts think?


Will Christine Hurt recruiting at Jenkens & Gilchrist?

The American Lawyer has picked up on Christine’s earlier post at Conglomerate, criticizing the cheesy recruiting video put together by J&G.

As AmLawyer notes, the video was put together in “fun.” Nevertheless, Scott Moss and other commenters have pointed out the real issues that could come out of this. Is the video introduceable as evidence in a future discrimination lawsuit? Law firms are supposed to be smarter than this. At a big firm, someone is (or should be) vetting everything that goes out the door.

And law firms often do have deep-seated underlying problems with gender. Speak off the record with attorneys at many big firms, and you’re likely to hear about all sorts of potential concerns: alcohol-fueled team visits to strip clubs; female secretaries paid to keep quiet about harrassment; questionable relations between male associates and female paralegals; and so on.

This isn’t to suggest that J&G has any such problems itself (I have no knowledge whether it does or does not). And it’s not to suggest that the video is actionable itself.

But if J&G is sued for other alleged violations, the video potentially takes on new significance. A smart plaintiffs’ attorney will try to connect the video to any other problems. The video could make it harder for the firm to disavow the acts of any particular associate or partner. I’m no employment law expert, but I know that’s a case I wouldn’t want to have to defend. All because someone tried to be funny.

As Christine correctly notes, “it’s always funny until someone reads it back to you at a deposition.”


Law books just want to be free

One of the things that has suprised me most about becoming a law professor is the quantity of free material everybody suddenly wants to send me. Representatives from every imaginable legal publisher send me copies of a dozen different books or supplements each month.

Not that I’m complaining. I enjoy being catered to, the free books are nice, and I even manage to read a few of them. But a large (and growing) stack of them are ones that I’ll probably seldom, or never, even open. And like Christine, I’m starting to wonder just how much my own stack of never-gonna-open-em books contributes to the $100 price tag of law books. Is it more than Ian Ayres’ $10?


To Blog, or Not to Blog

hamlet2.jpgOver at his blog, Goldman’s Observations, Professor Eric Goldman (law, Marquette) has some thoughtful observations about the pros and cons of blogging. For example, Goldman notes:

Blogging is a way of organizing data for my own future retrieval. For example, for the last 2 years, John Ottaviani and I have published a list of the top 10 cyberlaw/IP cases of the prior year. With the blog, it’s very easy to see what I’ve blogged about and pick the top cases from that.

This is one of the advantages of blogging that is often not mentioned in discussions about blogging. For me, it’s very true. I like knowing that with each post, I’m creating a kind of reference for something I want to remember. Instead of scrawling notes to myself and stuffing them away in manilla folders, I just put my thoughts in blog posts. So folks, when you’re reading this blog, you’re really getting a (slightly) more polished version of what I’d be jotting down on scratchpads. Not worth a whole lot — but the blog’s free, so you have no right to complain.


The Open Library

openlibrary1a.jpgThe Open Content Alliance’s Internet Archive, which plans to scan in over 150,000 books next year, has set up a website where people can preview a few books: The Open Library. The format is quite striking, providing a great readable image of the actual book pages in the original.

The Open Content Alliance is composed of a group of university libraries, nonprofits, as well as companies such as Microsoft (MSN Search) and Yahoo!. According to the website:

The Open Library website was created by the Internet Archive to demonstrate a way that books can be represented online. . . .

Books are scanned and then offered in an easy-to-use interface for free reading online. If they’re in the public domain, the books can be downloaded, shared and printed for free. They can also be printed for a nominal fee by a third party, who will bind and mail the book to you. The books are always FREE to read at the Open Library website.

It doesn’t capture the smell and feel of an old book, but visually, it’s wonderful to peruse the pages.

Hat tip: BoingBoing


Free Credit Reports: My Exciting Adventure

Under the federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, the credit reporting agencies must provide a yearly free credit report to individuals who request it. This was one of the benefits given to consumers by the law in return for extending the federal preemption of certain state law regulations.

There are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. You may have heard that there’s a new website where you can conveniently get your credit report from all three agencies. Since I pay attention to this field of law, I knew the name of the website, but many people I’ve spoken to don’t know what it is called.

But we live in the age of Google, so most people would just do a Google search for “free credit report.” Here’s what you pull up in your search:


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