Tuesday, February 20, 2007
What topic do you cover first in Civil Procedure?
This is an issue I’ve struggled with since leaving practice for teaching a few years back. On the first day of class, I tell my students that learning Civil Procedure is difficult because the topics are interrelated. A student can’t fully appreciate the importance of forum choice without understanding its effect on the law to be applied to the case. On the other hand, sometimes I think a primer on the traditional approach to choice of law might help students unravel Pennoyer v. Neff.
The problem, of course, is that we have to start somewhere. We have to pick our poison. For better or worse, my poison is territorial jurisdiction. I spend the first two class days providing the students with an overview of the litigation process—my “anatomy of a lawsuit” lecture. Then I assign Pennoyer and watch panic fill their eyes. My students are smart, but Pennoyer makes them feel as though they are reading Greek.
Oddly enough, I suppose that’s why I begin with Pennoyer—it makes a powerful impression. Pennoyer teaches students that law school is damned hard and different from anything they’ve done before. Pennoyer won’t tolerate a student simply taking what he wants from it and leaving the rest. It requires a struggle—a fitting metaphor for law school in the first week.
Then again, starting with territorial jurisdiction has its downsides. I’ve discussed this issue with other CivPro Profs, and many of them advocated starting with pleading (or even judgments) rather than Pennoyer. Thoughts?