Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Crash survives week one ...

I survived the first week of law school and still have time to write about it.

I do find, during the week, that attending class, reading, sleeping and occasionally eating consume most of the hours in the day. However—either because the experience is novel or, hopefully, because I have found what I really love to do—the long hours in the library don’t seem too painful.  I was never dreading law school (I did, after all, choose to attend), but I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at just how interesting I find the reading, and, especially, how much I love the feeling that the way I think is gradually being transformed each time I go to class.  During undergraduate, I always found myself watching the clock during 50 minute lecture classes, so I was surprised when I found myself slightly disappointed that my first two hour torts class had ended.

Another thing that has taken me by surprise is just how wrong my expectations about my Civ Pro class have been proven already.  My assumption that Civ Pro would be the most “black letter law” course on my schedule has been blown out of the water.  In fact, at least in the first week, it is has been by far my most theory-laden course.  Now, rather than worrying about how I will see beyond the details and find some principle to grasp on to, I find myself struggling to keep the concrete elements of the system in mind.

The class is staring with a discussion of procedural due process.  We are examining who deserves due process, how much process is due, and what we can we learn about our system of government from the ways we answer these questions.  In approaching these questions we have read a few cases to be sure, but we have also read journal articles, a federalist paper or two, and stories about individuals who have faced the system.  At times-- for example when we discussed an article about the psychological impact the civil system has on different categories of people-- I felt like I was right back in philosophy class.

I trust that my teacher knows where he is going, and I am excited that this is the approach we are taking.  I think it is both interesting and important to look at these fundamental questions. In fact, it seems like I got exactly what I was hoping for.

The one difficulty I am having with jumping immediately into this theoretic approach is that, in a Socratic environment, it is sometimes difficult for me to distinguish between when the discussion is about due process as it is applied, and when an outside point is being brought in.  I think this difficulty is largely due to the fact that we, as 1L’s who are very new to the law, do always not have the language or the analytical tools to make those distinctions clearly.   This problem is not completely unique to my Civ Pro class. In all of my courses, I have found myself struggling and watched some of my classmates struggle to keep straight when policy arguments are relevant to the discussion and when they are outside the scope of the question. It seems that the extra layer of theory that the Civ Pro readings have introduced has made navigating that distinction even more challenging.

But perhaps this is as it should be.  As I read more judicial opinions, I am beginning to think that the relationship between the law and policy is neither simple nor clear.  I am sure the mental exercise of trying to navigate through all of these layers will prove useful. Further,  I am hoping that these big  picture ideas will stick with me and keep me interested if the class should ever turn closer to that “black letter law” I was initially dreading.  --Crash

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