Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Casebook and Exams

I might as well go on and continue to complain about how absolutely ridiculous law school can be.

Today's Topic: The Casebook and Exams

Where to start. In law school we do not have "textbooks" (e.g., something that explains the material outright). We have "casebooks." The casebook is supposed to be a way for people to think for themselves and it is supposed to mimic the real life research methods of lawers. It consists of edited down cases placed one after another. From these cases (which come from all over the country) you are supposed to put everything together in your head so you can answer the legal issues presented by the exam.

But casebook writers realized that they could not just put cases in the book. To teach an entire area of law would require too many cases. Instead, they came up with the idea of putting "notes" after the cases. These notes are supposed to fill in the blanks, ask questions etc.

So what we have now is a big disorganized piece of shit. Some casebooks have as many notes as they do cases. What do I call this? A textbook in denial. I hate the textbook in denial. It is a terrible way to present information.

To give an example, we read 640 pages in constitutional law this year. The notes are absolutely backbreaking. Sometimes the notes can be over twenty pages long and list case after case with their respective dissents and concurrences.

But this is what makes it ridiculous: my conlaw exam is only 3 hours (and the only grade for the year)! If one types roughly 60 words a minute, that is about 10,000 words. Of course, you need a lot of time to think and read the exam, so you can assume it is between 6,000 and 8,000. Why is so much information presented that can't be used? Is it for my edification? I am all about learning the history of constitutional law, but If I need to brush up on conlaw (or anything else for that matter) a casebook is the LAST place I or anyone else would go. And is this really the best time to introduce the dissent in U.S. v. **** from 1810 which was overruled in 1811 when a law student has 10-13 other credits and other bloated casebooks to deal with ?

What is the point? Is it there to throw too much information in our faces to see who can sort out what is important?

I want to do well in this class and read every note and case. But as I prepare I have to ask myself with every paragraph "am I realistically going to be able to use this?"

And then these idiots wonder why students rely so much on commercial outlines.

One of my professors said something interesting the other day that helps me make sense of all of this. His exam is extremely long and we only have three hours to do it. He told us that the reason why the time limit is so short is because the longer he makes it, the closer together the scores will be. I though this shed a lot of light on law school and its methods. We are all very close in intelligence, and some of this stuff just isn't that complicated, therefore the school has to make things as artificially complicated as possible so they can sort us out by grades. That is fine, but it means that the real difference between an A and a B+ (or worse) in that class is a person's speed (and general test taking ability). So that person gets the A, but does it really mean he is smarter or in any way better off than the person who gets the B+?

To give an example, I took an exam today and was very careful with time. 7 minutes a question. The girl next to me didn't finish. I will almost definitely get a higher grade then her unless I completely messed up. But should I have a higher grade then her just because I timed myself better? Does it mean that I will be a better lawyer? Does it mean that I know more about the subject than her?

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