15 years and standing

Havard Law to change its first year program of study; conservative wish-they'd-gone-to-Harvard naysaysers who whine and sneer about Georgetown's Section Three /Curriculum "B", established in 1991, can officially go suck a nut.


After reading this, I was curious if anyone could place Tamboli in DC this Sunday?

Although the combination of the Red Bull and the Kraft Sauces is kind of creepy.  Imagine drinking a carton of Red Bull and trying to figure out what to do with 4 jars of Kraft Mayo. . .yeah, the mind just kind of rebells, doesn't it?

Curriculum B

Recently, I've gotten a lot of hits from 0Ls posting on various message boards.  They're trying to figure out whether to take Section 3 (Curriculum B).  There are a lot of typical Section 3 Myths which are floating about (you must be PI Law, or have an advanced Phil/Poli.Sci degree to do well in the Section, you don't learn black letter law, etc.)  I've tried to dispel those ideas here and there, but, eh, there are always fear-mongers in the world.

I have a lot of posts in the archives on my impressions of Section 3 (go to the right hand bar and look for the Section 3 topic), but would be willing to respond to specific questions posted here. 

It's a complex choice, but, I think, a good one to be faced with.  Either way, GULC is a fantastic school with incredible opportunities - critically engage and you'll love it.

To any 0Ls who are reading this, best of luck with deciding,



Haircut, new shoes, new suit (snazzy), good looking resume on 32lb cotton bond, anecdotes lined up and ready to go (most stressful job moment - having dogs set on me when I worked for the US Bureau of the Census).

However, looking at my transcript, printed on the same bond paper, I recall one of Steve Mueske's favorite phrases, "There's only so many ways you can polish a turd."

Regardless, this should be interesting.

Off the Cuff Advice

Well, enough of poems for a brief moment.  Purr Se was wondering if I had any last minute advice for incoming Section 3 students.  Hmm.

As to nuts and bolts, you should probably assume that if it can be lost, the school will lose it.  Keep extra copies of anything you might have to provide (transcripts are requested by the oddest people), and certainly make a file of key documents and information.  You should double check to make sure your financial aid is in order, update your resume, etc.  I’ve blogged about most of this before.  I figure that most of the little things, like wearing comfortable clothing to school, will be something everyone fill quickly figure out for themselves.   

As to the work. . .the important thing to realize is that everyone has their own way of learning – and that this learning, your self-education, will sometimes have little to do with the actual grades you receive (and yes, most everyone is thinking about grades out of the gate).  Heading into law school, it’s important to realize that almost everyone will have a weak area or two and a strong area or two.  (And then there’s Scott Scheule: boxer, pipe smoker, ladies man.)  Don’t get freaked out.  Be honest about any nervousness you have and simply work to address it as the semester goes along.  So you don’t know some of the words the professors use – not a big deal – you’ll learn them. 

With that said, I’m a bit hesitant to give studying advice.   However, this is what I did/did not do.  I didn’t hi-light, let alone in multiple colors (I underlined in red pencil and wrote in the margins.)  I treated my legal research and writing class with contempt and put in minimal effort (I can honestly say that I think almost everyone hated the class, but realized the subject was important and so taught themselves in spite of the class).  I “briefed” 5 or 6 cases all year (although I jotted a handful of notes on most of them).  I went to all my classes regularly (missing perhaps 5 classes on the year?) and took detailed notes in class.  I used old outlines in some classes and modified/fleshed them in when the professor was speaking.  I didn’t use study groups during the year, but I talked over old exams with my classmates at the end of the semester.  I ended up in the middle of my class. 

In terms of not waiting for the professors to teach you (a wise move), I would advise everyone to learn both Lexis and Westlaw and put in some time bombing around on them.  It’s not only the programs you ought to learn, but the way they organize legal resources.  You need to have a really clear picture in your head of where you might begin looking for information.  At first it will seem overwhelming, but with time it becomes more manageable in the sense that you know where you ought *not* to look on your first path through your research.

Part of that first year overwhelming feeling is that at the very beginning you’ll be trying to learn several things at once: you’ll be learning about the institution you’re in, it’s various written and unwritten rules; then there’s the way the law is organized and presented; then there are the “big issues” that the law touches up on.  It gets much easier as you go.  Keep telling yourself that.   

I’d also advise that you consciously try to get the section to gel, socially, early on.  Have open group outings to affordable and nearby venues at convenient times (many of us ended up at Cap City post deadlines, rather than the “Irish” vomit bucket up the road).  Don’t form cliques.  Encourage information sharing and respect for others views, no matter how opposed to your own.  Be patient with people the first few weeks.  They’re going to be all hopped up on nerves and looking for some kind of solid social footing, but they’re also all smart and quirky individuals with fascinating lives and diverse interests.  Do what you can to encourage that individuality.  It’s important to keep in mind that these people will be your peers – you’ll see largely them day in, day out, for the next year.  They’re going to graduate with you, perhaps work in the same cities as you will.  They are (potentially) 100+ attorneys, working in a dizzying array of fields, which you might have access to in the future.  That’s pretty cool, and the price for cementing those bonds is simply not being an asshole.  That said, in any group there are going to be a few tools.  Let ‘em go their own way. 

I’d argue that it’s much better to have a sense of community and camaraderie, than to start playing the zero sum game.  Don’t let the structure of law school socialize you into that game (it will try).  All the sudden people around you will start pretending the world is now somehow different, and that you’re playing a new game by new rules.  The debt might start to gnaw on you, and the lack of meaningful feedback from your professors certainly will.  You’ll look at the numbers, do the math and think – “if only I come out in the very tip top of my class, if only I cultivate the *right* friends, who will all study hard and exceed the rest of our classmates, then we all can be brilliant and successful together.”  I’ll leave it to you to figure out how likely that is.   The sad fact is that 70% of you will not be getting As, no matter what you got in the past.  (I’m most sad for the few who do take the bitter and defensive zero sum route and do get As – they’re probably not in for great lives.)

Two more pieces of advice (that float to mind):  the rumor mill is something awful, perhaps due to orientation and alcohol.  I tended to associate the more outrageous rumors with section other, but even within the section there were odd moments.  All the stuff you learned in undergrad/grad/whereever still applies – don’t tell stories, and just ask people if you’re curious about something or if you’re curious about them in general – the more direct asking, the better. 

The last is that you should not wait for things to happen.  If you’d like to do something, or see a service, or have an extra tutor, or see a change in the structure of the school, or reschedule classes, ask about it, then make it happen.  Generally there will be about 10-15 people in your section who will have a similar interest or concern.  It’s a “professional school” and you’re paying an assload of money – make sure you get what you pay for.


There are a number of 2Ls (and 3Ls) who are deeply interested in Section 3, and want to put together a kind of Section 3 alumni society, to become a shared resource for each other.  I’ll talk with a few people about putting together some kind of informal Section 3 legacy session, getting a bunch of different views on the first year experience, etc.  I’m sure there’ll be an interest among the 2Ls.  If you’re interested in such a thing, it might be best if you chat it up with your new section mates, try to agree on some kind of time that will work for the 1Ls, book a room, (not this upcoming week!) and we’ll see how many 2 and 3Ls we can drag into it.   Or just throw a dinner party.  I’ll be having a get-together in Sept. and shall pencil you in.

3-ing Out

Well, that’s a wrap.  Yesterday featured the last official class I’ll have in Section 3.  Whatever the exams bring, I have no regrets; it was a wonderful year full of stimulating professors and classmates.  I feel like quoting Bilbo at his party speech: "I don't know half of you half as well as I would like, and less than half of you half as well as you deserve."  I do wish the semester would continue on just a bit more – or perhaps I wish the summations of the courses, the panel presentations, and the cross-course examples came a bit earlier in the semester.  I tend to do better when I have a “big picture” statement which I can use to evaluate all the discrete cases/theories. 

For our very final class (Bargain, Exchange and Liability), Proto-Abe brought in a case of beer.  Our prof got one too but, alas, did not join us in drinking during class.  He dropped a minor bombshell (something he does for each final class) in that he extrapolated and applied a somewhat contentious legal theory (Duncan Kennedy’s piece on Paternalism) to race/gender relations.  I asked him about it afterward, specifically inquiring as to why he didn’t push his analysis further, and he said, “Well, I saw all the beer and figured you guys were just done for the year.”

In the evening a bunch of us snuck beers into the gym and watched the Section 3 volleyball team close out its undefeated season with two victories for the final volleyball crown.  We cheered them on with Sec. 3 call and response– such as “Set The: BaseLine” and “DunCan: KenNeDy.”  It’s really hard to work “indeterminacy” or “anti-paternalism” into a cheer.  But we tried.  We got some black looks from the “section other” black letter law volleyball opponents.  Or perhaps it was simply jealousy that they had no observers/cheerers.  Drunken law-volleyball cheers were simply not on my radar when I began classes here.

Over the summer, I’ll be working with 2 of the cheerers and one of the players in a nearby public defender’s office.  One of my fellow DC blawgers will also be in the office, which alone would be cause for celebration.  However, I think I need to overtly discuss the blawgability of the place with him before “outing” him/it here.  Regardless of that last detail, this should rock and I’ll be sending in my missives as I can. 

I wish I had the day to blawg on 3 and the close of classes, but today I must register for next year’s classes, clean up financial aid problems, deal with some kind of spam problem on my website’s server, and frantically update address/phone/email info for all the various offices that need such.  My desk is littered with paper – none of it outline stuff.  Not good – no time for a bike ride even.  Tomorrow I will make a grocery excuse to hit the pavement.

I’ll close with this clichéd observation – the first year of law school, section 3 or no, is what you make it.  Our professors have repeatedly told us that we’re pretty unusual in our solidarity; one cited our fundraiser (we did what we could – elaborate plans are sometimes just not possible here) for our fellow unfunded section-mate’s summer work, as remarkable and unusual.  But there’s no reason this kind of thing can’t happen in other sections or other schools.  I urge any prospective students reading the blawg to think about it - would you rather be in a cutthroat section with a few (perhaps) close friends, fighting against the whole class, mocking each other, creating a tiny study-group island, or would you rather be in a gregarious section that combines the talents of its members to make things happen?  If you prefer the second, build bridges often and early, encourage each class member's uniquiness, support their "non-law" selves and activites.  It's that simple.  The above is not to suggest that 3 didn’t have its political divisions, that the year went well for everyone (one of our mates is considering packing it in and not taking finals) or that everyone simply loves everybody else in the section, or that some people didn't isolate themselves.  There were the usual philosophic, political, and interpersonal tensions.  I think in the main though my classmates listened, tolerated each other’s differences, respected each other’s views, tried to change those views in a responsible way through dialogue, and genuinely, in the main, would like to see their classmates do well and be happy.  In short, my classmates are supportive adults and they act like it. 

Zero Sum Laude

I had wanted to post up something on the Zero Sum mentality in light of exams and law school in general – which I think is pretty silly, especially in a large law school with multiple curved sections.  I think that our section has been pretty good at resisting/undercutting this mentality thus far, and I’m happy to have played my small part in that.  The outline resource is a case in point – if a critical seed group decides to share information publicly, they raise the bar.  It’s now just not possible for an isolated person within the section (assuming there are such) to not have access to class notes/outlines, which levels out things like someone being sick and missing class, or dozing off and not taking good notes on any given day.  Given that one can only spend so much time studying and prepping for the exams, by providing resources which will probably raise the base level of knowledge a bit, I think we’re in some manner protesting against the artificiality of the curve.  The public posting of outlines discourages clique formation/information hoarding, which, unfortunately, can still be something of a problem.  Is it possible for a law school to design an educational/testing structure that encourages the sharing of information/ideas across the student body?   (Beyond the long-term argument that your classmates are your peers and your future contacts in the legal world, so you want them sharp and competent and sympathetic to whatever you might ask of them.  And that zero-summers just seem to be more stressed out/miserable than your average student - life in a "hostile" world does that I suppose.)

I understand why a grading curve makes sense for the law school as a financial institution (in the sense that, more or less, a law school is paid by firms to a) rate the meat, and b) impose a kind of slightly paranoid mindset that’s very receptive to structural authority/hierarchy.  But not even the law schools themselves pretend the current systems of grading (not evaluation) represent a “fair” way of measuring the student’s knowledge of their courses' content (both overt black letter law and rhetorical devices) against a neutral baseline.  And I'm not particularly interested in offering arguments to justify this or in helping the law schools make more money (There's a prof here who keeps telling us that they donate a large percentage of their law school income to charity.  I always thought this was tantamount to saying, "I only use the system to financially rape people to the point of my individual satiation.  I give all the surplus back.  Praise me.")

Anyway, personally, I’d like to see the curve dispensed with.  I think it encourages laziness in both professors and students.  (Actually there’s a lot of things I’d like to see changed about law school in general, but more on that later.)  I would hope that our professors, if faced with a brilliant class that “got” more of the material relative to other years or relative to an absolute scale would feel a deep and abiding sense of shame at handing out the exact same percentage of grades year after year.  Unfortunately, I think none of them, even the self-styled radicals, will do anything about it. 

There’s lots more to say about this but, alas, I’m whipped.  I'll probably add scattered bits as I go/if the mood strikes me.  Comments are open.  Thoughts?  Pros?  Cons?

Exhibit 6.4

As to why Section 3 rocks.

Non-3peeps might be interested in seeing that, yes, we do deal with the same black letter law. Prospectives might note that there *are* resources available to them (in addition to the applicable commercial study guides, insofar as they go);  you’re not going to sign up for 3 and be jettisoned into space.

And now back to work.  My outlines look like crap - a hodgepodge of verbatim notes, old outline fragments, and my own parenthetical side notes (which is why they're not up there.)  Thankfully though, we're not graded on the outline.


EJF funding was announced today, and I will be able to pursue my quixotic tilt against home grown human rights violations.  No need to go abroad really. 

Rockstar, SisterSchool and I have been fooling around with the initial numbers.  Of the 82 initial awards announced, 30 went to 3peeps (as in 1L Section 3 students).  The list was populated with names I was happy to see - friends doing cool shit around the world.  Cairo, Mozambique, Costa Rica, Ghana, Venezuela.  And, more locally, at least six Public Defenders.  “Section Other” also makes a fine showing, with, interestingly, a number of "honorary 3peeps" in attendance.

This elation is tempered by 8 or so 3peeps who did not receive funding.  Already plans are being hatched to rectify this.  How I love my mates. 

Now, a celebratory beer, briefing (ack!) and some Boston Ska to set the mood – Steady Ernest’s “Rock Steady.”   

More Rumblings in the Blawgosphere

Re: law school reform.  Yea! 

AI's getting into the act (he's been in the act a long time actually - so have so many of the Blawgers). He hasn't taken up the Stick yet though.  Last time I let him play with the cool kids.  Speaking of cool kids, Monica, up at Northeastern has also left a comment in AI's post. 

Elsewhere, Purr Se (GULC 0L) has gotten some imput from In Limine (GULC Sec 1) and Swanno (GULC Sec 3).

While I love the fact that info and opinions are spreading about the internet, and that people are taking ownership of their legal education by questioning it's structures and assumptions, I'd invite anyone interested in these issues to check out lawschoolcanbedifferent.org and to especially consider posting on the Bulletin Board.  Perhaps the BB won't be used and these issues will achieve a critical mass on their own - which'd be great.  But I'm hoping the BB can act as a neutral host for law students discussing their concerns with their educational experiences, that it can gather some voices and ideas together. 

Kissing and Telling

I grow laggard in my blawging.


Swan and I had a meeting with one of the Deans on Thursday regarding the Section 3 critique.  It was quite refreshing. 

There’s always (always) a tension between open reportage and alluding to things.  In this case I feel constrained and will not communicate many of the specifics of our conversation with her. 

I can say that there’s a great feeling of compassion and energy about her, and that she has what I consider to be an appropriately broad and balanced perspective.  She not only informed us of a number of applicable threads we could follow up, but seemed really to take our own suggestions seriously, in the spirit in which they were given.  It was, oddly, or not oddly, a loyalty inspiring moment. 

I think I feel far easier with my emotional reaction to this kind of meeting than I would have even only a few years ago.  I’d have feared co-option, seized on the 10% divergence in opinion, made that a locus to define my own stance.   I grow old.  Thank god.


I also did some informal Section 3 ambassadorial work yesterday for (yet another) prospective student who was thinking about public interest work, wandered onto campus, and wanted to know about Georgetown.  She was surprised that Curriculum B existed and was very curious about it.  I keep wondering how many of these types are out there.  I keep wondering if I’d have gone back in ‘98 instead of ‘04. . .

Minor Rumblings in the Blawgosphere

My early afternoon was occupied with a bike ride and a response to some posts over at ProperWinston which I was referred to this morning.  PW is, as far as I can tell, a 2L who has been through Curriculum B.  Based on a quick skim through the blog (which I’ve linked to on the sidebar under “GULC” but do not read regularly) he?, Grant?, appears to be somewhat conservative?  or perhaps of a largely libertarian bent?   or is a Marxist?  He’s certainly enamored of the history of western philosophy (which has its own problems).  It’s difficult to characterize his blawging personality without more reading, which I’ve really no inclination to do at this moment.  However, a few of the points and criticisms he makes about the program (not the critique) are interesting and should be considered in future discussions of Section 3.

I’d like to respond to two of his posts here.   

The first post is Do-Gooders

I’d characterize the post as largely high-handedly paternalistic: “Deep down they aren't bad people, just mildly confused and highly ignorant about jurisprudential matters.”  Beg pardon – do you even know any of us?   Overall, it’s also amusing, especially considering PW is reacting to a kind of mushy first-shot manifesto that was sent out to stir up discussion.  I was pretty pleased with the manifesto at the time, and it fulfilled its end, considering that it jumpstarted the current multi-pronged and politically varied critique group.  Most of PW’s arguments in this post aren’t worth taking seriously.

For the record though, I wouldn’t characterize Section 3 as “a CLS curriculum,” although it does employ Crit methods of analysis.  Nor would I say that the section reads nothing but feminist legal theory and critical race theory (or that we only wish to read such), or that in general we’re ignorant of jurisprudential matters.   I feel absurd even typing this out. 

The second post is Field of Dreams, or The Legacy of CLS

Again, PW has apparently confused a first-shot manifesto with an academic critique of the curriculum, and he then mightily engages the individual shrubs in the forest. 

First off, I don’t think anyone is arguing that the Alternative Curriculum is revolutionary in the sense that it has already transformed American legal culture or practice (or society in general).  Please.  However Curriculum B is, relatively speaking, a revolutionary pedagogical approach for first year legal studies, incorporating, as it does, large amounts of legal philosophy and critiquing traditional lines of argumentation from a variety of perspectives.  In some ways the critique group is simply employing the tools that the Curriculum B has given us, asking just what it is we’re in, and what kind of alternative formulations can exist.  We’ve already seen some of our suggestions and ideas having a tangible effect.  For example, one of the prongs involves revisiting the Legal Justice reader and suggesting texts for next year – something that PW ought to have an interest in.  Personally, I’d like to hear PW’s assessment of American Legal Realism and the particular spin on it he thinks that Curriculum B imparts.

I agree with PW that praxis is the only way to effect change (duh).  However, because we must pass through the gates of law school in order to practice law, I do think an open-eyed assessment of law school is nothing to dismiss.  We spend three years in law school, learning not only doctrine, but how to frame discussions on legal issues.  Thus, I find statements like, “legal education has no role to play in praxis” to be profoundly naïve. 

It’s important to remember that the critique of Curriculum B is not the *only* thing we’re up to as students – thus it’s not a question of either “organizing the workers” (which I’m happy to report some of us are) or critiquing, questioning, and trying to improve the structure we find ourselves in.  It’s also important to remember that one need not agree lockstep with every single critique advanced by one’s fellows – there can be significant areas of reform which cross political and philosophical borders.

Section 3 Critique Website

Well, we're up and running at:

Section 3, Curriculum B, and lawschoolcanbdifferent.org

Anyone is welcome to use the discussion board, and we're eager to field questions.  We'll be adding to the website regularly.

Small Section 3 Tidbit

Another point that came up about Section 3 recently, one which a  peep suggested I mention on the blawg, so I will.  (From what I understand this isn’t all that common, but I can’t believe it’s confined to our section.)  Section 3 classes openly discuss argumentative strategies.  Instead of “learning to think like a lawyer” by osmosis, we’re openly drilled in arguments and counter-arguments – we discuss their limits and ramifications. 

As an example, one of our profs, Gary Peller, who teaches Bargain, Exchange, and Liability, quite overtly offers the following “three level view”: 

  • The first level is “the rule,” i.e., straight up black letter law/the holding of the case (which is generally at least somewhat malleable of course). 
  • The second level is “the rationale” for the rule, i.e., the various kinds of arguments you can marshal to push that black letter law one way or another, to expand or limit the holding, (econ, social policy, administrative issues, institutional competence, etc.).<>
  • The third level is the deeper “world view” that each legal philosophy rests on, plus critiques of that philosophy.  An example would be the Classical Legal Thought/Lochner-era courts holding that pro-labor statutes violated “freedom to contract” as grounded in the basic view that the common law existed to act as a shield against the state by preserving the freedom and liberty of the individual.  (Think about how this arises from the history of common law in England and ties into the politics of the early 1900s/the threat of communism/fascism.)  We could also say that in this view, judges were thought to enforce neutral, baseline, background rules which are just the natural rules of the game.  Free and competent individuals can engage within this field.  The critique of this view would be a kind of Coasian analysis that there is no possibility of “neutrality” – that one interest or right will always be chosen or privileged over another.  By ruling that pro-labor statutes were unconstitutional, the courts were privileging ownership interests over labor interests, defining the “neutral baseline” in a way that favored a certain class.  It follows that common law rules are really policy judgments, or an exercise of state power (i.e, regulation) favoring a particular type of economic theory.  Thus the public/private act/omission distinction vanishes in a puff of smoke.  Check out Miller v. Schoene, 276 U.S. 272 (1928).

Peller normally takes us through each level for every case/point of law we encounter.  Some discussions move faster than others, but there’s not a lot of ball hiding.  At times we practice applying those level two arguments (The court is the correct body to make this decision/This decision should be left to the legislature) in specific cases.  I’m not sure how much of this kind of overt analysis/discussion takes place in other sections/schools.    


As an aside, I’m hoping we get some other 3 peeps blawging about 3.  My take on what’s going on is just a single (and probably odd) perspective. 

Why you might consider Curriculum B

This is for Hanah (congrats!) and any other prospectives who might be reading – it’s an unorganized morning ramble, so please a) forgive the structure and b) write in with questions.  There’s a group of current Curriculum B/Section 3 students who are going to do some outreach to new/interested students – if you’d like to be on this list, please e-mail me at scoplaw@yahoo.com.

Well then.  Law School in general seems to be a somewhat dehumanizing experience.  While Curriculum B/Section 3 is still law school, in that it does not eradicate all of the concerns in the Kennedy article, it will probably give you a good shot of getting through the first year without losing your soul/mind. 

To qualify my statements, I’ve some difficulty contrasting B/3 to the standard first year curriculum as I’ve never been through the standard curriculum.  However, we do study the same controlling cases, and I do talk with people in the standard sections and occasionally debate points with them, so I can offer some kind of anecdotal contrast.  Please bear in mind that I’m a non-traditional student (early 30s) who comes from a humanities/lit background.  I didn’t have a strong poli-sci, legal philosophy, or American history background, but I’m more of a fox than a hedgehog and am politically engaged with a decent grasp of contemporary issues.

From my perspective, the most valuable thing that B/3 provides is philosophical and historical context which broadens our perspective on legal issues embodied in discrete cases.  Even if the interdisciplinary nature of the section is at times not what I ideally hope it could be, our readings/classes invite a different kind of debate/discussion among our section members than you see in the other sections, one which I think is of higher quality.  B/3 conversations often probe alternate legal formations – what could have been held in a case, and what the implications of that holding would have been.  This in turn leads to an examination of the pressures that drive individual holdings.  One of our professors once joked, “I just want to pause and make sure that you guys know there’s black letter law here – that the judges actually made a single holding on these cases.”  A lot of our conversation gets cut short on these issues (largely reasons of time) – but at least we have it. 

Frankly, I’ve seen several regular section students lost on “big picture” issues, holding the most incredibly dogmatic views on the law, as though the law were a) merely a set of rules to learn/apply, or b) a kind of hermetic, non-political entity.  I like to imagine that B/3 is a bit more critical, a bit more open-eyed than the other sections.

While Swanno, Scott, and I disagree on the political valence of the curriculum (there’s a lot of friendly disagreement in B/3), I’d say it’s leftist, though our few staunch conservatives/libertarians seem to do well enough, as do our deeply religious class members.  However, from my perspective, it’s not an openly radical left.  The professors (at least the ones who have been posed this question) are concerned that the B/3 will be populated by leftist types who have never really had their perspectives challenged – so they want to familiarize the students with counter arguments.  Often, instead of strongly presenting conservative/rightist thought, this challenge takes the form of a kind of broad philosophical, erm, gutting – every argument swirls away into the void of (moral) relativism, the difficulty of aggregating true preferences, the blurring of public/private, feasance/non-feasance, and unexpected consequences (of judicial decisions which then have to be corrected by the legislatures or by later judgments). 

On one hand this approach is important for personal growth and a balanced understanding of your own political and ethical stance.  On the other it’s grindingly paternalistic.  Many people find this approach frustrating – as though their value system is not being taken seriously, or is being torn apart.  I have a great deal of sympathy for that perspective.  I’m not sure if B is “worse” in this way than other curriculums – the challenge to your beliefs is overt and marshaled, giving it a certain kind of intensity, but that very challenge provides an opportunity for affirmation, resistance, and validation.  I suspect if you’re left leaning, you’ll at least have a sense of community afforded by fellow students with similar frustrations.  (As an aside, a lot of this is old hat for me – I’ve had my value system challenged repeatedly and often by learning in a rather caustic undergraduate environment and living in a very conservative region.  While I see the value in perspective-challenging for others, it seems largely a waste of time to me at points.  But that’s a personal frustration, one I think that many non-trads might experience anywhere.) 

To segue back to the “type” of class we are, mostly I think we’re people who crave a broad approach.  It’s also interesting to note the seemingly high percentage of artistic types among us.  We have several accomplished musicians, writers, actors, comics, etc.  We seem to be a bit older than average, certainly more Public Interest Law oriented than the other sections.  (Sometimes at PI events, it’s like a small B/3 party.)  Relatively speaking, we’re a pretty cohesive and friendly bunch – at least to the point where people from other sections comment on this often.  I think a few people made an effort early on to bridge any small cliques that might be forming in our section.  So while we have “groups” of people that largely associate with each other (largely based around study groups I think), there’s a kind of openness to the section – lots of note sharing, group excursions, dinner parties, open section parties, etc.  We’re certainly not a hippie commune, and there are people who are just flat out personally irked by other people in the section, but that’s pretty normal anywhere I think.  And we have a few complete tools – again, pretty normal.

We’re also a bit rebellious/pushy.  We leaned on the administration until we got our lone second semester Friday class switched to a Monday so that we’d have 3 day weekends.  Nothing like going out on Thursday and sleeping in on Friday.

I’m sure sectional character will vary from year to year.  But there’s no reason committed B/3ers from next year couldn’t cultivate a similarly helpful and mature atmosphere.   

Our year is trying to leave a legacy for future years by creating a stronger institutional memory for B/3, a B/3 alumni association, stronger avenues for feedback and student input for readings, class structure, etc.  It’s a work in progress you can join - something pretty unusual in legal education.

Now – to the outcome-oriented questions most prospective law students have:

I very much doubt B/3 will adversely impact your legal career.  It may well give you a huge leg up.  The school tracked alumni for 6 years and found they did at least as well as alumni from other sections (in terms of jobs, clerkships, etc.)   Employers don’t really care about your first year if you do very well in your second year classes.  I’m not sure how B/3 correlates with job satisfaction, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion it would be pretty high.  Anecdotal evidence:  the editorial board of the Law Review here is predominantly Section 3 alumni.  B/3s do well in mock trial, moot court, etc.  It’s not like you’re “missing” something by going the B/3 route. 

I suspect it’s a bit higher than average, but completely manageable.  I do the majority of my reading (many do all the readings, I slide some of that time into reviewing notes/arguments a bit more than most) and, at the end of my first semester, am in the middle of my class.  I still have time to go out at least once a weekend.  I write a lot.  I blog.  I have side poetry projects I work on.  I bike at least every other day.  I’m maxed out, but I’m fine – getting plenty of sleep and exercise.  Granted, I don’t have a TV.  Also, I’m not dating anyone, if I were, I’d have to scale back here and there.

Bottom line: you’ll have enough time for your own life, but on average probably a bit less time than some of the other students here.  It largely depends on who you are and what you want.  If you’re gunning for all As, in any section, you’ll spend more time on your studies.  Personally, while the As and the tip-top-track route would be cool, it’s not worth the psychic damage that putting my life completely on hold for 3 years would cause. Then again, I’m sure there are some people here who could take that route on 4 hrs a day – I’m just not one of those. 

Study Materials:
While there aren’t specific commercial study materials for B/3, there are plenty of old outlines (freely shared – our year will be posting many for each class on the web) and (duh) the black letter law in the country is still the same.  For the Torts element in Bargain, Exchange, and Liability, I use Emanuel’s standard Torts.  (Which is not to suggest you can skip lectures or anything.  There’s no way in hell you could get the B.E.L. perspective from Emanuel’s, which is just an aid to current black letter law.)

Let me re-emphasize this – we study the same law, the same cases, just from a different perspective.  We might go through less squibs, but really, who wants a lot of case reading anyway?  I’d rather work off an outline and do some long term thinking than get squibbed to death hunting for black letter law in a casebook.

In sum:

Drawbacks – more reading, personally challenging on an ethical/political level, a bit of conversational isolation/confusion/prejudice from other sections.

Advantages – cautiously leftist, varied readings, more thinking/rhetoric, ethical/political self-examination required, broad perspective, self-selection resulting in relatively more community than other sections, B/3 as a flexible work-in-progress. 

Section 3

Please note I may add to this post over the next few days - if so I will note it here in the first sentence.

Regular readers (such as they are) by now have no doubt noticed that I don’t blog overly much about law school itself.  This is due to several factors: the mundane nature of the daily law school experience; the relative expertise of other blawgers on matters topical and political; the desire maintain my classmates relatively anonymous status.  Hence few stories on what so-and-so said in class, my own reflections on tort doctrine, or on political matters.   

However, I thought I’d break form post up something further about Section 3, specifically about the current critique that’s being built my members of my class.  What follows is all anecdotal.  I may have mixed fact and fiction, but as a thumbnail sketch, it’s probably not too far off – however, I’d urge that no one take this as a kind of ‘official’ history of Section 3/Curriculum B.   There’s actually not a lot of public information out there on this (excepting a 1992 Toledo Law Review article), and a lot of this is scattered elsewhere in my blawg.

Section 3 (107 students) is the only 1L section at GULC (out of 5, including the evening students) which follows the alternative Curriculum B.  The other sections follow a first-year J.D. curriculum that’s pretty much standard across the rest of the law schools (CivPro, ConLaw, Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal Justice, Legal Research and Writing, plus one elective). These traditional subjects are based on 19th century common law pleading categories.

Apparently, Curriculum B began about 15 years ago. In 1990, a group of Georgetown Law professors took a time off from teaching with the aid of a Department of Education Grant to formulate an alternative first-year curriculum.  They wanted the program to retain black-letter law elements of the standard curriculum, but at the same time take a more updated approach to teaching which emphasized interdisciplinary or cross-doctrinal elements of the law, i.e., addressed “the emergence of the regulatory state,” mapped the erosion of “doctrinal boundaries” (say between tort, contract, and property), and acknowledged influence of other disciplines, economics, poli-sci, philosophy, psychology, etc.

The program was also supposed to be heavy on theory as opposed to case reading.  Black letter law was supposed to be self-consciously critiqued as it was presented with attention paid to its historical placement within the various schools of American jurisprudential thought.  At the same time, students would read primary documents that inform current legal debates (a fav. of mine for example, Robert L. Hale, Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State, 38 Political Science Quarterly (1923), 470-478.) 

Lastly, as all the courses would be radically revisited (instead of merely adding a new course or two to the existing first year curriculum) the professors would make a concerted effort to coordinate their lectures so that certain topics would be taught concurrently (for example nuisance would be examined on a certain week in multiple (appropriate) classes).

The program was seen as offering an alternative vision of first year legal studies.  It was hoped at the time that it might act as a catalyst for other law schools.  Other alternative curriculums had been tried: Columbia in the 20s, more recently Stanford and Harvard.  But these failed due to a combination of academic pressure to preserve the status quo and professorial drift.

GULC’s Curriculum B began as a single section (3) in the 1991-92 academic year.  Initially Curriculum B was marked by intense student engagement and the formation of various student caucuses, including: The Vision of a New Curriculum Caucus, The Race and Ethnicity Caucus, The Personal Responsibility Caucus, The Gender Caucus, and, of course, the Non-Caucus Caucus.  The program sparked a lot of debate and outside speakers were brought into speak on how the still malleable curriculum might be shaped.  Richard Epstein apparently told his audience of Section 3 students that they weren’t actually getting a legal education and the best thing they could do would be to drop out in shame and apply elsewhere. 

The school tracked Section 3 graduates for six years and found they did very well in second and third year classes, and had no trouble finding employment.  After that, the Curriculum was more or less static – some changes were made in class structure, professors left, new professors came on board, some classes became more standard, then were (or are being) re-radicalized, the program drifted, as programs do.

There’s more to say about the intervening years – but it’s largely about what didn’t happen.  Curriculum B was never exported to another section, nor was it adopted beyond Georgetown.  The classes stayed the largely same, with three of them still taught by original professors.  The basic class structure – large classes, (some) Socratic method, case reading, single end-of-year issue spotter exams, lack of personalized feedback, seem uncomfortably dated in a way that undercuts some of the basic premises of Curriculum B.


Although Curriculum B is politically stable within GULC, it’s oddly treated as somewhat of a dirty little secret, to the extent that often 2Ls and 3Ls here don’t have a solid understanding of just what Section 3 is or how it differs from the regular curriculum beyond, “more reading, more theory.”  Personally, had I known in depth what Curriculum B entailed, GULC would have been my first (not second) choice for law school. 

As a fairly radical innovation in the deeply conservative world of legal education, official references to Curriculum B such as those on the GULC website are always careful to point out that we cover “the same subject matter offered in more traditional curriculums” but that we simply approach it from a “different perspective that emphasizes the sources of law in history, philosophy, and political theory, as well as the influence of other fields, including economics.” 

From one of our school’s web pages:

“The "B" curriculum, available to one section of full time students, requires seven courses different in emphasis from those in the "A" curriculum: Bargain, Exchange, and Liability; Democracy and Coercion; Government Processes; Legal Justice Seminar; Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis; Legal Process; and Property in Time. The "B" section emphasizes the sources of law in history, philosophy, political theory, and economics. It also seeks to reflect the increasingly public nature of contemporary law.”

You can see this does not do a very good job of "selling" the curriculum to prospective students or potentially exciting factulty (and students) elsewhere.

Some of the classes have a clear corollary to the standard curriculums, with Legal Practice = Legal Research and Writing being perhaps the closest to a traditional class.  Some are recognizable but radical; Bargain, Exchange, and Liability is more or less contracts and torts taught at the same time so as to emphasize the similarities, differences, and blurring of the two, and while Democracy and Coercion is concerned with issues of constitutional law (collectivity v. self-determinacy), it’s chock full of theoretical readings and organized around Kantian/Utilitarian poles.  On the other hand, Legal Justice (sort of a history of American jurisprudential theory) has no real corollary to the traditional curriculum.  Neither does Government Processes, a course that’s concerned with (as far as I can yet tell) how society uses various legal instruments to deal with social problems;  it draws on admin law, criminal law, environmental law, statutory analysis.


Questions for a later post:

15 years later, how radical is Curriculum B? How well has it met its philosophical/educational/pedagogic goals? Should overarching structure be continued in whole or in part during the second or third year?

What’s the future?   Should B rest on it’s laurels?  Should it impact the “standard” curriculum here at GULC?  Elsewhere?  Why aren’t other schools using this as a model?

Required Reading

There's going to be some shaking, rattling, and rolling going on here over the next few weeks, largely centered on the oft-alluded to but little blawged about Section 3 discussion/characterization/critique.  I know a lot of blawgers have expressed frustration with their law school experience, especially those of you who are coming from the left, or, while centrist, entered law school with the idea that something about the legal system ought to be changed.

For those of you interested in the subject of law school reform, I'd like to begin by referring you to this piece by Duncan Kennedy which rather cogently identifies many of the problems in the contemporary law school experience.