ambivalent imbroglio home

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January 23, 2005

Mo' Grade Blues Defending Criminals in Fed Courts

Speaking of grades (which I was a bit yesterday), Energy Spatula basically summed up how a lot of us feel about them right now. The huge comment thread on that post is like a communal outlet for grade angst. I especially love this comment:
Law school is a sad, sad, pathetic excuse for an educational program. In no other form of graduate education in the US does *anyone* think that the appropriate means for teaching sophisticated reasoning is the large lecture class based on idiotically-edited primary materials, or that the appropriate means for measuring mastery is a single time-limited evaluation. It's a factory mass-production system designed solely to sort the students with the minimal degree of credibility required to satisfy the firms through the exertion of the most limited amount of effort by the professors.
Absolutely true, at least as far as I know (I don't have exhaustive knowledge of every other form of graduate education in the U.S., but I can't think of another that uses the law school large-lecture model so extensively). From this perspective, the “legal profession” looks more like a house of cards than some distinguished and rigorous life calling, but everyone tiptoes around this fact just so the whole thing won't come tumbling down. I'm sure many law professors would disagree, as would many hiring partners at firms, as would the ABA, etc. They're all invested in the illusion of meaning that grades represent, hence the tip-toeing that they do, inculcating law law students with the finer points of the tip-toe until we all internalize the illusion and begin the “grades are meaningful” dance ourselves. (At the risk of overloading my own metaphor, the legal profession house of cards rests on more than the illusion of grades as meaningful measures, but I'll save those other illusions for another day.) Anyway, if your grades did not rock your world (and I've already noted that mine did not—and the worst is probably yet to come), you should go read Favorable Dicta. To quote The Oracle: “I promise, by the time you're done eating it, you'll feel right as rain.” Although I read Favorable Dicta as often as I can (E. Spatula is a superhero!) I actual came across the above post thanks to Res Ipsa Loquitur, a new-to-me blawg. (Not to be confused with other iterations of Res Ipsa Loquitur. Seems to be a popular little blog name.) This Res Ipsa Loquitur also has a recent interesting post about the importance of criminal defense attorneys to the justice system that includes a great, heartwrenching criminal defense scenario from tv. As I contemplate a possible/likely career in criminal defense myself, hypothetical situations like this—where a defense attorney basically has to defend a monster who is clearly guilty—are troublesome, certainly. Unfortunately, I continue to learn of so many real situations in which law enforcement agents (by which I mean cops, federal agents, prosecutors, and sometimes judges) violate the rights of both the innocent and the probably-guilty so egregiously that they prove the old maxim true over and over again: It's better that ten guilty people go free than that one innocent person suffers. (But why “ten”? For more on that, see Alexander Volokh, “n Guilty Men” (1997).) For the record, Res Ipsa's post is a response to one by Deviant Lawyer (another new-to-me-blawg) in which he laments having to defend a crooked cop. (This is for a law school assignment, not for real.) And since I'm just jumping from topic to topic here, for some reason, Favorable Dicta lead me Legal Quandary who noted that Fed Courts isn't as bad as she'd thought, as classes go. As you may recall, I was unsure whether to stick with Fed Courts myself, but I've had the same impression as Legal Quandary: Very interesting material, but totally unreasonable amounts of reading in a frustratingly large and obscure book. Professor Althouse has some thoughts on the Hart and Wechsler's, noting that the book seems to beg professors to assign way more reading than is necessary, even though much of its content is arcane details that are not very important to the major goals of a course in federal courts. My own Prof Fed Courts said that this book was the “bible” of Fed Courts, which is too bad because that probably contributes to the subject continuing to seem much more complicated than it needs to be (at least for the neophyte). Or maybe not. So far I've appreciated the book's organization, but what's maddening is the authors' habit of posing everything possible as a series of questions rather than trying to clearly explain different schools of thought on controversial issues. I mean, I realize that much of the subject matter is open to debate (i.e., Can Congress completely eliminate federal appellate jurisdiction over any one type of case or controversy?), but as far as I'm concerned, presenting such issues as a series of questions is just not the most helpful way to help people understand them. Oh, and in addition to being arcane, bloated, and unnecessarily obtuse, the book and supplement together cost me $107.75, and that's just freaking ridiculous! Finally, JCA of Sua Sponte turned 30 last week. I don't get over to visit Sua Sponte much, but it was one of the first blawgs I ever read, so I owe JCA a debt of gratitude for being part of the inspiration for ai. (ai also continues to receive a substantial number of referrals from Sua Sponte, which surprises me since it seems to me the tone and substance of our posts is rather different. Maybe it isn't, or maybe that would be why people read both?) But, and so, happy (late) birthday, JCA! May year 30 bring you health, wealth, and a continued accumulation of wisdom and good fortune!

Posted January 23, 2005 11:21 AM | 2L meta-blogging

I feel so honored to be mentioned once, let alone more than once by you. I read your blog long before I ever started mine, and I'm seriously stunned (in a happy way) that you actually read my blog, let alone point people to it. I was as shocked as anyone how let down I felt by my grades. Not so much the letter itself, but the fact that I just worked so hard only to be told by one professor, "Well, everyone did really well and were all within a few points of each other, but someone has to be in the bottom 25%." Oh. Anyway, I'm already looking forward to lunch again this summer...or maybe a beer, this time I'll know where I'm going, I swear!

Posted by: energy spatula at January 23, 2005 03:39 PM

Erwin Chemerinsky has a great hornbook for Fed Courts, if you or anyone else needs one. (Federal Jurisdiction, currently in 4th Edition.) It conveniently summarizes the cases and the different schools of thought on each issue. Chemerinsky's also an awesome Guild lawyer.

We're actually using it as the text in my class. In addition, the prof gives us the cites, and we have to look up the cases ourselves to read them. That part sucks, but Chemerinsky's awesome.

Posted by: monica at January 23, 2005 07:04 PM

E.S.: Definitely lunch, drinks, etc. this summer, if you're not too busy w/all your cabana boys. Oh, and if I actually get a job in D.C. area this summer, which isn't looking great at the moment, but it's still early, right?

Monica: Thanks for the tip! I went to the bookstore and I only had to read about one page of the Chemerinsky to see it was much more clear and straightforward, so I'm now the proud owner of a copy. Sure, that brings my total books bill to a whopping $550 this semester, but hey, easy come, easy go. Or something like that.

Posted by: ambimb at January 24, 2005 09:25 PM

yeah, and you can always sell it on later. :)

Posted by: monica at January 26, 2005 06:27 AM

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