Friday, October 12, 2007

A Must Read from Time Magazine

Click here to read a new article from Time Magazine titled "Inside the Incredibly Shrinking Role of the Supreme Court.  And Why John Roberts is OK with That."--Counseller 

October 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Policy? I'm here to learn the law

And so it begins, the inevitable questions about why policy matters.  In my class we have completed PJ, SMJ, Venue, Erie and an introduction to pleadings.  In my wrap-up earlier this week setting the stage for our section on Pleading I must have mentioned "policy" considerations a few too many times for the comfort of my student's ---some of whom are still in search of "the right answer."  Of course if one is searching for "the right answer" law school isn't exactly the place to be, but students who have nonetheless decided to stick it out in search of that "right answer" will find policy arguments extremely troubling--- in fact they may even disregard such fluffy ambiguities in favor of clear cut rules.  Our challenge is to steer them away from that inclination without giving away too much. 

Reference to policy is necessarily incorporated into a student's analytical framework, and as professors we do them a disservice by giving short shrift to policy concerns especially because our students are already disinclined to spend much time thinking about policy --- at least in an ordered fashion.  They may understand that policy matters, but they don't know how to integrate policy in an organized analytical fashion.  When analyzing the "procedural-substantive" dichotomy for example, students may recognize that they must make some inquiry into policy concerns because judges necessarily will, but they are not sure how to frame or place such arguments.  We know that it is important though, consider what Justice Rutledge tells us dissenting in Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co.

"The real question [facing a judge] is not whether [a procedural-substantive division] shall be made, but how it shall be made, whether mechanically by reference to whether the state courts' doors are open or closed, or by a consideration of the policies which close them and their relation to accommodating the policy of the Erie rule with Congress' power to govern the incidents of litigation in diversity suits."

In fact while we as Professors may find and our students certainly will find solitude in technical legal rules, rules which would foreclose the subjective trip through "policy land."  Those trips through policy land though, are a necessary outgrowth of our judicial system, federalism, and the analytical framework established by Erie.  We know this much from Justice Frankfurter's opinion in Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. York.

Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins was not an endeavor to formulate scientific legal terminology.  It expressed a policy that touches vitally the proper distribution of judicial power between State and federal courts...The nub of the policy that underlies Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins is that for the same transaction the accident of a suit by a non-resident litigant in federal court instead of in State court a block away, should not lead to a substantially different result....[Erie] has been applied with an eye alert to essentials in avoiding disregard of State law in diversity cases in the federal courts.  A policy so important to our federalism must be kept free from entanglements with analytical or terminological niceties. 

We as professors "get" that policy is important, it gives nuance to seemingly rigid rules and provides students an opportunity to fully develop their analysis and to engage in broad versus narrow interpretation.  The fact that we get it though, may come only from the fact that we recognize the big picture.  The tension we face is wanting to make sure that students will grasp the material on their own. We hope that they will take the time to struggle to learn what factors, rules and policies are at play and where those factors and arguments carry the greatest weight, while on the other hand not wanting to leave them out their on their own to such a degree that they never "see the light." 

When it comes to policy, I believe it is critical to explain to student's the role it plays and how and where it integrates into their analytical framework.  They are buried with cases, rules and doctrine and only a select few will ever scratch the surface on how to make policy arguments.  The upshot of course is that policy can be argued and analyzed in so many different ways, that we're not giving away too much by telling them where in their analysis to integrate policy arguments, we're simply aiding them in understanding where policy is helpful or in some cases necessary. 

Byrd provides us with an interesting way to illustrate this point for our students.  Rather than focusing on outcome determinativeness the Byrd court first discussed whether a state rule assigning decisions to judges was a rule that was “bound up with” the definition of state-created “rights and obligations."  An inquiry into how "bound up" a rule is with state-created rights and state-created obligations, must make reference to elements of policy.  How much reference to policy and how weighty policy concerns may be will depend on the rights, obligations, and rules at hand.  So we find in this simple example that merely telling students that policy considerations are appropriate or perhaps necessary for their "bound up" analysis will go a long way toward ensuring they understand the importance and propriety of policy arguments while still allowing you as an instructor to "hide the ball" and keep them thinking. 

This example highlights the critical point I discussed in a previous point.  The value of taking an "analytical framework" approach--- that is at the end of each section, to spend some time wrapping up what was covered and to challenge students to develop their analytical framework as each section is completed.  Doing so will ensure they tie off material as it is completed, integrate nuanced analytical methods such as policy where necessary, and prepares them for the material to be covered in the next section.  Encouraging an "analytical framework" approach forces students to frame each issue and topic in a manner which will allow them to "see the big picture" at the end of the course. 


October 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ABA Journal Takes the "Pulse of the Legal Profession"

We posted here in May about U.S. News & World Report naming attorney as one of the "most overrated" careers.  One of the primary reasons given for the designation was a disconnect between what students believe attorneys do and what attorneys actually do.  Now we have a new source to help students become more informed about the legal profession and the impact it may have on their lives. In this month's edition of the ABA Journal, Stephanie Francis Ward publishes the results of a survey of 800 lawyers on "what they think about their lives, their careers and the state of the profession."  Read the results in "Pulse of the Legal Profession" by clicking here

One of the survey's findings was of particular interest to me.  According to the results, while most lawyers feel intellectually stimulated by their work, only 40% would recommend a legal career to another.  Why so low?  One possible explanation offered in the ABA Journal piece is that many students end up in law school "without really wanting to be a lawyer."  Do you agree?--Counseller

October 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Laptops in the Classroom

Click here to listen to NPR's April interview with David Cole (Georgetown Law School) about his decision to banish laptops from the classroom.  This week NPR followed up on this issue by interviewing Daniel Coyne (Chicago-Kent College of Law) about his treatment of laptops in the classroom.  Click here to listen.  Do laptops cause problems in the law school classroom?  If so, what are the problems and what, if anything, should law professors do about them? --Counseller         

October 11, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chambers v. God Pleadings

We posted here and here about Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers' lawsuit against God and about God's response.  You can download the petition and a couple of the answers filed on God's behalf by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.--Counseller

Download Chambers_v. God Pleadings.pdf

October 10, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Prof. Hartnett on the FRCP Restyling Amendments

Click the link at the bottom of this post to listen to an interview with Prof. Edward Harnett, the Richard J. Hughes Professor for Constitutional and Public Law and Service at Seton Hall University School of Law, about his article Against (Mere) Restyling, published in the Notre Dame Law Review last year.  The article is timely because the restyling amendments take effect on December 1 unless Congress intervenes.  It was Prof. Hartnett's article that helped convince us to oppose the amendments so we were especially pleased he agreed to talk to us.  Many thanks to Prof. Hartnett for a great interview.  The abstract for Against (Mere) Restyling is below.--Counseller

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have been completely rewritten. Unless the Supreme Court balks or the Congress intervenes, the bench and bar will be using the new restyled version of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in a little more than a year.

As have other procedural reformers before them, the restylists seek to make procedural rules simpler, clearer, more accessible, and easier to understand. Yet the restylists have set themselves a goal that is at once insufficiently ambitious and overly difficult. Unlike prior reformers, they do not seek to create a better procedure. Unlike those who brought us the original Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, they do not seek to supersede reexisting statutory procedures. To the contrary, the restylists attempt to completely rewrite the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure while leaving the law of procedure the same as it was before their reform.

This task is nearly impossible, as this Essay illustrates with some examples drawn from the changes made to the proposed restyled rules in response to public comment. In addition, the goal of preserving existing meaning is at war with the goal of clarity and simplicity. Rather than confront this dilemma head on, the proposed restyled rules add an additional layer of ambiguity, and do so in a way that brings to the fore the interpretive battle that rages between those who follow the plain meaning of the text and those who seek the lawmakers' purpose in legislative history. Finally, although the restylists have attempted to prevent their handiwork from superseding statutory procedures, their method of doing so rests on a view of the supersession provision of the Rules Enabling Act that is almost certainly wrong.

For these reasons, the proposed restyled Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should not be approved.

Download hartnett_restyling_interview.MP3

****Update:  You can find all of our restyling posts summarized here.  


October 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)