February 12, 2014
In Defense of Class Rules
Posted by Christine Hurt

I was pointed to an article on ATL last weekend, and you can tell from the name of the post the substance of it:  A Law Professor's Detailed, Ridiculous, Condescending "Local Rules" for Class.  The author, Joe Patrice, has posted the course description/syllabus from a professor at Santa Clara who teaches legal analysis, research and writing.  The professor, Ray Bernstein, has designed his syllabus to read like "local rules" for his class.  He has identified writing issues that students have, like not Bluebooking, having typos, not analyzing professor feedback via Word "Track Changes" but merely clicking "accept all" to the mark up, lateness, and more.  For each of these areas of concern, the professor has created a consequence, generally having work handed back, or reduction in grade.  Apparently this is just too crazy for words.

A few rants:

1.  I taught LRW for 5 years, 4 as a director.  Many professors run their LRW classes in this way (no, not at NYU where Joe went -- maybe he had that slacker David Zaring for a professor or used a silly textbook written by me).  The idea, which doesn't seem that hard to grasp, is that students need to learn that many courts have picayune rules with draconian consequences.  I don't, however, think Prof. Bernstein's rules or consequences are unreasonable at all.  I have seen syllabi where lateness equals a zero.  Moreover, go read some local rules.  The Delaware Chancery Court even has supplemental guidelines to the rules.  Importantly, many law students have not done a lot of writing in their educational career, and most have not butted up against actual real-world rules.  I think Prof. Bernstein is doing them a service.

2.  Joe believes that students don't need this transition, this law practice boot camp.  He thinks that students can pivot between the laissez-faire world of law school and the crazy, rule-infested world of law practice without condescending professors pointing out that "the practice of law is hard."  OK, maybe.  Professionalism is rarely innate.  Some students have acquired this skill by the time they get to law school and may be able to turn it on and off depending on the arena.  I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on how widespread this is.

3.  It seems like ATL and other blogs like to rant about law schools not teaching practical courses, not preparing law students for law practice, and generally just taking in tuition and offering not much in return.  Here is a professor who is trying to provide a service and run his class like a courtroom, and we will mock him for that?  I won't.  My former Dean Nancy Rapoport doesn't seem inclined to do so, either.

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