Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why civpro is hard, and important

Civil Procedure
I’m hoping my colleagues will forgive me for saying that Procedure is the most important course in lawschool. Almost everyone who enters lawschool has ideas about when or whether a person should be able to recover because of a tort like negligence or libel, or because of a breach of contract, or because of a violation of civil liberties, but almost nobody comes to lawschool with any sense of what a system of procedure looks like or ought to look like. From the beginnings of Procedure, which involves pleadings (complaint and answer) to the end of procedure, which involves looking at appeals and res judicata (the finality of judgments), the details of our procedural system come as news to students. In the beginning, Procedure is almost counterintuitive, but by the end of the course everyone acquires a new set of intuitions, and there’s no going back. Show me a student who has taken about half a semester of Procedure, and I’ll show you a student who has left innocence behind. If you are that student, it is still possible that you’ll decide not to become a lawyer (although you probably won’t decide that), but even if you abandon the road to becoming a lawyer, you have already crossed the Rubicon and you will never see the world with the same eyes again. You have looked at questions that you didn’t even know to ask, and now you’ll always see them, and you’ll have lots of answers for your nonlawyer friends when you talk about well-known cases at parties or other social occasions. You are not who you were when you started lawschool.



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