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April 20, 2005

First Last Time?

It's hard to believe, but about eight hours from now I will never have another 2L class. I can't exactly say I'm sad about that. It's hard to believe, but there it is.

On Monday I was sitting in a line at the Financial Aid office talking w/some of the other people in the line about the whole process and one of them said, “well, at least this is the last time we have to apply for financial aid.” The 2Ls nodded and agreed that that was a good thing. Then, a few seconds later, the woman who had first made the comment seemed to realize what she'd just said. “This is my first last time!” she exclaimed.

And it's true, sort of. Technically, there are lots of “first last times” in law school: Your first last time to have a first class, your first last time to apply in the first place, etc. Still, it's nice to think I will never have to apply for law school financial aid again. I think. I mean, I might have to apply for a bar loan, but that's different. I will never have another 2L class. I will never have to wonder if I'm going to get a GW summer grant. What else? I'm sure there are more “last times” coming, and I look forward to them.

For now, it's that bittersweet time when it's thrilling to be done with classes, yet almost sad at the same time. I was especially sad to see Fed Courts and Crim Pro end yesterday. Both of them were great (if maddeningly difficult at times) classes taught by absolutely superb professors, and both of those professors offered parting words of advice at the end of the last class.

Prof Fed. Courts had two tips, which I paraphrase as follows:

  • True power lies in the ability to achieve a purpose. When you graduate from law school, you have power and privilege. You can help people, give a voice to people who would otherwise not be heard, to effect social change. I encourage you to think about how you want to use this power. Don't just make money; think about how you can use this power.
  • Don't ever stop being a student.
Excellent advice, I thought.

What Prof CrimPro had to say was also very memorable. He joked that one of the few ways he has to measure his success is in how confused he makes students about what they “really” think, so he judged the class successful b/c many students over the semester had come to him to say things like, “I thought I wanted to be a public defender but I don't know if I can defend these guilty people,” or “I thought I wanted to be a prosecutor but I don't know if I can prosecute these innocent people.”

But his overall message was that we, as lawyers (or future lawyers) are the guardians of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. “Be careful with our rights,” he said. And to paraphrase, he said: “What we have covered in this class are the rights that make us most free, those that define what it means to live in a free society. Some of them, and the debates about them, may be difficult to understand. Why should we protect the clearly guilty? But those of us who have faced power, and in its face felt lonely, or weak, or scared, perhaps we can understand. Imagine what it means to be suspected and prosecuted for a crime. Imagine United States v. You. W/out you the Bill of Rights is just a bunch of words on paper. With you, there's a chance that U.S. citizens can be both free and safe. Be careful, be brave, good luck.”

See, I told you these professors rocked.

Posted April 20, 2005 09:03 AM | 2L

Your professors sound more like political advocates than law professors. But I guess that's why you like them.

Posted by: Kate at April 20, 2005 10:57 AM

chill out to some manchester sound! came across these guys on mp3blogs. if you ever pine for that manchester sound, these guys are pretty cool:

hope all is well with your ending 2L year ... if you and L are in the area for a vacation, please give a call, we'd love to treat you guys to a day in a2.

Posted by: jose at April 20, 2005 04:13 PM

Kate: All law professors (all teachers, for that matter) are political advocates. Only a very few would not readily admit this, I think.

Jose: Thanks for the tunes. I'm checking them out now...

Posted by: ambimb at April 20, 2005 11:08 PM

Ambimb: Sad that you think that. Good professors present arguments and let you choose the politics; bad professors present politics and let you choose the arguments.

Posted by: Kate at April 21, 2005 08:10 AM

Kate: That's an interesting formulation of good and bad professors, but it doesn't seem to account for the fact that professors have to choose what to present, whether you think they are presenting politics or arguments. No professor can introduce students to every perspective on the topic she teaches; the professor becomes a political advocate in that selection process.

Even the choice to try to be "balanced" or "objective" or "apolitical" -- all of these are political choices with political ramifications for students, don't you think? For example, if a professor decides to present arguments and let students choose the politics (as you put it), that's a political choice on the professor's part.

And just for the record, neither of the professors discussed in the above post were overtly political one way or another. At times each might share his/her perspective on a controversial issue, but in the next sentence he/she would be encouraging students with opposing views to challenge that position. I feel pretty sure I know where Prof. Fed Courts stands on several of the issues we discussed, but I don't feel compelled to agree with her because she thoroughly covered alternative perspectives and their merits. I still have no real idea where Prof CrimPro stands on most controversial issues, primarily because I don't think he subscribes to anything like an orthodox position on anything.

I have a feeling you would like Prof CrimPro in particular because he gives lots of arguments. I think one of the things he likes most about teaching is teasing out a student's real opinions on some issue, then putting the student on the spot with a fact pattern that makes those opinions look foolish, or coldhearted, or indefensible in some way. Lots of arguments.

I suppose you could say that Prof CrimPro gives lots of arguments, but he doesn't *let* students choose their politics, he *forces* them to choose. He does a good job giving the impression that he doesn't really care what position you take, so long as you can defend it intelligently. Thus, Prof CrimPro's political advocacy is not on one side or another, but he advocates a politics of critical thinking and conviction. That's one reason he's a great professor.

Posted by: ambimb at April 21, 2005 09:09 AM

man, if those statements are all you need to negatively label a professor a "political advocate," then i don't know what kind of law professor you would like. every law professor wraps up the class in the last session, and they almost always do it with statements like that. they're trying to inspire us, and sometimes it works.

Posted by: monica at April 21, 2005 12:54 PM

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