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Lawyering

This is my first week of law school. I have now been living in New York city (The City) for five days.

I live in D’Agostino hall, in an apartment that is both far smaller than my last residence and less unpleasant than I had imagined. I have acquired a foam pad for my tragically thin and obscenely uncomfortable mattress*. I have learned to shut my blinds so the law students studying in Vanderbilt Hall (directly across the street) don’t have to see me when I’m changing. In the purple “NYU Law Alumni Welcome You!” bag I received on Wednesday, as the first part of the orientation “festivities”, I found some chocolates, a soft-and-squeezable gavel (for when I feel the need to crush something law-related in my fist, I guess), and a set of earplugs which has already come in handy multiple times, thanks to the (quite talented) saxophonist who nightly performs outside my window.

We 450 “1Ls” (we few, we happy few!) haven’t yet begun any of our actual classes. Those begin next Wednesday, and will all be taught by legends in their fields. Just to give you an idea of the great brains that will be lecturing me (in an anonymous crowd of fifty or so, of course–it’s not like I’m special here), my schedule includes:

-Civil Procedure with Samuel Issacharoff,

-Criminal Law with Erin Murphy, and

-Contracts with Richard Epstein**

So, you know, that’s something to get excited about.

For the moment, though, my days begin with morning lectures in the grand auditorium on the subject of “what is a law class like?” and “how do I study for finals?” and “please please don’t do anything stupid or illegal because all of your prospective future employers will find out and, in law school, we don’t report your behavior to your parents but we do report you to the ABA.”

Also, we 1Ls have started a class called Lawyering: a stress- free pass/fail class of only about thirty people, devoted to teaching the rudiments of legal analysis and note-taking and maybe representing a client in a law-type situation. Most of class is taken up with role playing. On the first day of class, on Thursday, we divided into groups acting as plaintiff, defendant, and judge, and responded in character to the following scenario:

Town X has a lovely park. In response to a recent tragic accident, the town passed a law that no vehicles are to be allowed in the park, subject to a $200 fine. Now, on a recent summer afternoon, Angelina Jolie was spending a day with her family near the park, when an angry Jennifer Aniston leapt from the nearby bushes and rushed toward them with unknown intent. The whole Pitt-Jolie clan mounted a set of motorized bicycles, which they had on hand, and fled in all directions. Jolie motored into the park, where she was cited by the park ranger. Jolie now contests the fine.

Astute readers will recognize this scenario from the standard law-prep book Getting to Maybe, which pretty much every new law student has read months before arriving at school◊. The celebrity appearances are, I think, entirely attributable to professorial ingenuity.

The question, of course, hinges on how the court will define the term “vehicle” from the statute. And, as in so many instances of linguistic interpretation, attempts to answer always lead into confusion. Subsequent exercises go on to elaborate this point, ie. what if Jolie is instead a crippled woman riding a motorized wheelchair? What if she’s a fireperson in a firetruck, rushing to extinguish a flaming tree? What if she’s an artist who wants a license to erect a public work of art commemorating the town’s great love of Nascar, in the form of an old (and locked) Indy-500 car mounted on a pedestal?

This is not what law teachers are referring to when they describe the “Socratic Method”, but it is socratic-style teaching in the truest sense. Speaking of ordinary language philosophy, Stanley Cavell says in “Must We Mean What We Say”: “Socrates gets his antagonists to withdraw their definitions not because they do not know what their words mean, but because they do know what they (their words) mean and therefore know that Socrates has led them into paradox” (MWMWWS, 39).

These paradoxes are, apparently, the stuff that litigation is made of, and NYU’s class of 2015 will be prepared to answer them. Or, at least, to make strong arguments for either side in exchange for a percentage of any damages awarded to the victor.

*said mattress, I should note, is an extra-long twin: a size I swore I’d never again occupy after I left the dorms of my undergraduate university. I feel less adult.

**Maybe it’s not saying much, but this is the first time I’ll have ever had a professor with their own wikipedia page. Clearly, we’re dealing with big shots here.

◊The course textbook tells me this scenario was actually originated by H.L.A. Hart in 1958, so apparently it’s been around for a while now.

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