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December 16, 2003

Professorial Quotes

Studying for finals means going through my notes, which are excessively detailed. The excess makes it hard to sift through for what's important, so in the future I won't be taking notes like this, but the benefit of so much detail is that I captured a few choice comments from my professors. The best two are from Prof Torts, who, for the sake of context, is a graduate of the U of Chicago law school (bastion of the law and economics school of thought), a former Scalia clerk, and a dedicated proponent of Judge Learned Hand's "BPL" cost-benefit analysis—Prof Torts seems to think we should apply the BPL to every situation possible. He even went so far as to spend an entire class period arguing that HMOs should be allowed to dictate (a.k.a., "withhold") medical treatment on the basis of the BPL, and to introduce cost/benefit evidence as a defense when patients die and the HMO doctors get sued for malpractice. Doesn't that sound like a great idea?

So anyway, here's what Prof Torts says about tort law generally:

Tort law is social engineering. It's like the common law version of the big bad government agency trying to regulate your conduct but without all that bad administrative overhead.

Ah yes, government is mischief. Is it true that the more money you have, the more you loathe the government?

Now here's ProfTorts on government today and how politicians feel about the BPL:

Both left and right now accept that cost/benefit analysis must be undertaken, even when it's hard to find numbers. When it's hard, we just have to proceed as best we can. Inside the beltway cost/benefit analysis is increasingly reigning supreme.

I'd like to make an argument that this goes beyond "bare non-disclosure" of information to the contrary and borders on fraudelent misrepresentation, but I'm done with contracts for the semester and we've both got better things to do. Oh, but speaking of contracts, ProfContracts was a bit lighter, if not more encouraging:

"Legal research is boring and takes a lot of time, but it's a lot different when you're being paid by the hour. That really changes everything."

This is a great example of the kinds of jokes 4 out of 5 of my professors made all semester—jokes about the shortcomings in the law or the practice of law, with punchlines about how those shortcomings don't matter because, well, what matters is money! Ha ha ha! That's so funny! Not.

Approx. 500 new recruits begin studying law at GW each fall. A certain percentage are almost certainly going to law school because they'd like to make the world a better place somehow, not just for themselves, but for other people, as well. These 500 students then spend the next three years sitting in lectures punctuated by jokes suggesting the legal world sucks and the one thing that makes it palatable is cash. Many of these jokes also involve admissions that the law is patently unfair in some way; the punchline? "You don't have to worry about that because you'll still get paid!" So, after three years, how many of those 500 law students do you think will have given up on making a positive contribution to society? Why should they care about anything other than making money when their profs keep telling them that money is what really matters? Yay!

But one of my professors did not make jokes about scrupulous lawyers making money from injustice, and that was Prof CrimLaw. Instead, he told us to look for those places where the law seems unjust, or where society doesn't seem to be working as well as it could, and to ask questions and to try to come up with answers. On the last day of class, Prof CrimLaw made some self-deprecating comments about how law professors like to hear the sounds of their own voices, then he gave us some "wise words" to think about, including this semi-joke:

Statistically, law students have a better chance of becoming criminal defendants than criminal lawyers.

Gee, why would that be? And if it's not actually true (it probably isn't), why would it even sound plausible? See mini-rant, above.

ProfCrim went on to advise and encourage us to take CrimPro, since it's important and will teach us the kinds of things people expect you to know when they hear you're a lawyer. And he finished with a call for us to take seriously what we learned this semester. A rough paraphrase (at the time we were discussing the insanity defense and had just finished readings about the case of John Hinckley shooting Ronald Reagan):

I hope you appreciate the complexity of the issues we've covered this semester. The government has an awesome power to hurt people, or stigmatize them, or punish them, and that's something you need to take seriously. When and how should it use that power? I never felt more proud to be an American than the day John Hinckley was acquitted. That someone could shoot the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world and be acquitted was a testament to ideals of justice and the strength of our criminal justice system. Some people say cases are stories; if that's true, then you, as lawyers, may get to decide what the morals of these stories are. Remember that.

My transcription doesn't adequately capture what he said, but you get the idea. ProfCrim was joking when he said he had some "wise words" for us, but those don't sound like so much of a joke to me. The main point is how starkly these sentiments contrast with those of ProfTorts and ProfContracts. I'll certainly be taking a closer look at a career in CrimLaw, but first I guess I better try to pass the final exam...

Posted 07:19 AM | Comments (5) | law general law school

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