Wednesday, September 6, 2006
I saw a woman running for the train this morning. She was wearing shoes that could be characterized as per se dangerous instruments under NY Law; that is:they had a blade longer than four inches. Watching her go down the hill and then navigate the tracks (we have outdoor trains in my neighborhood and you have to cross the tracks to get into town), reminded me of first year law students and case briefing. Granted, I hadn't had any coffee yet and the relationship between the shoes and case briefing was tenuous to begin with, but I'll try to get this analogy working in any event.
First year law students are struggling to brief all of their cases at this time of year, I think, mainly because we told them to. In a way, we are like those fashion magazines that say, "be like us, look good, here's the way..." We did explain why briefing was important at orientation or shortly thereafter. But like this morning's fashion victim, I think they are doing it because everyone else is (or at least they say they are) and frankly it looks good. However, like the per se dangerous shoes, case briefing is really uncomfortable at the beginning, especially when you have to hit the ground running (as 1Ls do). Case briefing is not an intuitive exercise and when the benefits of doing it right are still not obvious, then it becomes quite onerous.
Eventually, our students will learn less awkward ways of getting the information they need from cases and putting it down on paper (or screen). Until then, this week's (and maybe, next) case briefs will be awkward: too long and incorrectly framing the issue and/or rules and holdings. Yet, like so many things in law, practice will make, not perfect, but certainly better. Heck, I know some women who cannot wear flat shoes anymore because they have grown so accustomed to wearing heels.
The bottom line: over time, our students will learn to do case briefs as easily as lacing up a pair of sneakers. Which they should wear, especially if they need to run for the train. (ezs)