Saturday, December 04, 2004

comments on classes

Only a few weeks of classes left before the end of the semester, so I expect my current handle on the nature of my classes is fairly accurate. And because this is a forum for expressing that sort of thing, you have the dubious privilege of reading about it.

I realized a few days ago that Torts seems to have become my favorite class, which surprises both others and myself. The professor is definitely an entertainer, and also definitely a little full of himself, but that never bothers me. I usually think his lectures are enjoyable and mostly clear (though others disagree). And the subject matter is surprisingly interesting. As little desire as I have to read about people suffering grevious injuries and demanding recompense, there is a surprising amount of abstract theory at work behind the policies guiding the decisions, drawn from economics and sociology/psychology and hinging on concepts such as distribution of resources, cost spreading, and incentive promotion. And I've always been a little turned on by abstract conceptualizations.

Civil Procedure, which started out as probably my least favorite class, has moved up, and may be my second favorite now. The professor started out seeming Socratic and downright frightening, but once I got used to his style, paid more attention in class and felt more confident in my ability to answer his questions, I started enjoying his methods and appreciating what he was trying to do. The last two weeks have been a bear, though, because we're focusing on the Texas prison litigation (Ruiz v. Estelle) and the concept of a 'Special Master', which sounds cool but is actually just a boring and complicated way to enforce a judicial ruling. My problems with this class are twofold: the material is just generally boring, and we spend far, far too much time focusing on minutiae concerning justifications and principles and moral acceptability for the procedures we're talking about.

Contracts has slipped in its evaluations. While I appreciate the considerable clarity and precision of the material and the presentations, the class is my small group, which means it of all my classes is supposed to be about interaction and discussion and a presentation of individual viewpoints... and it's anything but. I'm tired of the rigor (though it's nice as a balance for the other classes), and I'm very tired of the material, which is somewhat interesting on a case by case basis, but leaves me feeling absolutely zero interest in reading more. Contracts is probably last on my list of subjects which I'd like to learn more about, though I admit Civil Procedure sometimes gives it a run for the money. At least the Civil Procedure readings are more interesting, because they're not just dense judicial opinions, but also theories and stories and arguments.

Constitutional Law... I thought this would be my favorite class. I imagined myself as a future legal academic (note the use of past tense), and figured that it would behoove me to learn Con Law and to be interested in it and want to relate other areas of law to it, as it does in a very real sense represent the underlying framework of the rest of our legal system. It turns out that it's very hard for me to not think of Con Law as extremely subjective and arbitrary, a series of vague rationalizations to reflect the Court's purpose as an agent for social change (moving, in my mind, to a far more libertarian world where people do their own thing and the government learns it's not in the business of legislating morality), ostensibly maintaining an adherence to a few pieces of paper written many many years ago when the world was a completely different place, and grudgingly updated over the centuries resulting in even more vague collections of arbitrary words which, along with the rest of the Constitution, have largely been interpreted as the judges see fit, while still carrying the strongest legal weight of any words written in any context. Wow, that was a long sentence. I guess I'm a little miffed. Anyway, the classroom environment is frequently unpleasant too. The subject material is somewhat subjective and meaningless, but it can't hold a candle to the discussions. I think the prof is a great guy, but he lets the discussions move out of control, and we move far away from any productive discussions and comparisons of principles and approaches, preferring instead individual testimonials of the way the law should be.

So in other words I'm looking forward to next semester. I still like law school in general, and I don't regret coming. But these basic courses leave a lot to be desired. Next semester's courseload: Empirical Law & Economics, Information Society, one of {Introduction to the Philosophy of Law, Criminal Law, and Advanced Constitutional Law - if I want to give Con Law another shot}, and (hopefully) an independent study to try to write a publishable legal research paper. Barring that I'll take a second course of the set of three. I'll also be in Habeas Chorus still, and still helping out with the American Constitution Society, and some stuff with the Information Society Project. It should be fun.


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