Don’t look now, but spring is right around the corner. Spring semester, that is. For 3Ls around the country, just a few classes stand between them and graduation into one of the worst legal job markets.
Ever since President Obama suggested that the third year of law school could be cut, we’ve heard a lot of law professors talk about how essential the third year of law school is. You can take clinics! You can become “practice ready”!
Sure, you can do those things. But it’s unlikely that you are going to take any course in your last semester of school that will help you get a job when you graduate. Why would you do that? You can be unemployed just as easily taking small, low-stress classes that won’t screw up your GPA on your way out of the door.
Every school has its own selection of ridiculous upper-class electives, but I’d like to focus on how the big boys do it. The Ivy League law schools have been setting the standard for legal education for generations. Their students (for the most part) have jobs waiting for them on the other side of graduation. I’ve put together a full course schedule for an Ivy-educated 3L. Please feel free to send this to any professor who thinks that the third year is too important to lose…
These are all real courses listed in publicly available course catalogs at Ivy League law schools this spring. Readers, please send me the most ridiculous electives offered at your law school (with links if available); if we get enough entries, we’ll do some kind of contest.
1. Becoming a Law Professor — Harvard Law School
There are many elements that go into becoming a law professor, but at the core of the process of moving from law student to law professor is scholarship. How do you choose your topic? How do you write an article? What will become your area of expertise? What have others written about this subject area, and how do you break new ground? How do you engage with fellow scholars in the midst of the writing process?
HLS is so big, you could make this entire list just based on Harvard Law courses. Still, everything you need to know about legal education is right here in this sentence: “[A]t the core of the process of moving from law student to law professor is scholarship.” Scholarship. NOT PRACTICE! Scholarship. For instance, writing or teaching about getting a job as a law professor is the kind of scholarship that might help you get a job as a law professor. Apparently, getting a job as a lawyer is not something law professors need to concern themselves with.
2. International Family Law — Columbia Law School
Not that long ago, “international family law” referred to a series of multilateral conventions basically concerned with conflicts of law questions. It could be studied as part of a course on family law or as part of a course on conflicts of law. But international family law has grown up and become a subject of its own. This is not merely a curricular development. Rather, it reflects and reinforces two of the most powerful trends of the last fifteen years: globalization and the spread of human rights. Globalization is transforming families. The global movement of capital, and the vast migrations of labor that have accompanied it, have torn families apart, created new families, and radically changed the meaning of “family.”
I think I know what this class is about.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… A Dark Lord of the Sith seeks to reestablish custody over children that he only recently learned were still alive. AT ISSUE: Does turning to the Dark Side constitute a constructive abdication of parental rights? Were the adoptions by Uncle Owen and House Organa valid under the laws of the Galactic Republic and, if so, do previously assigned parental rights survive the reorganization into the First Galactic Empire?
3. Biblical Law — Cornell Law School
Analysis of law and narrative in the Bible from the perspective of ancient law and legal history. Topics include the nature of the law codes (e.g., hypothetical formulation versus statutory law), legal issues in the narratives (e.g., law of adultery and women’s rights), law and morality (e.g., the Ten Commandments), law and religion (e.g., institutions guaranteed by the law but condemned by religious authority), the transformation of extralegal relations into legal ones (e.g., with the introduction of money), legal interpretation in antiquity (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount), social factors in legal development (e.g., shame and guilt), and aspects of criminal, family, and private law (e.g., an eye for an eye, incest rules, and unjust enrichment).
Who says the Ivy League is filled with godless heathens? You didn’t think Regent was the only law school that made the Bible part of the curriculum, did you?
In fairness, nothing will make you appreciate our nation of SECULAR laws and codes more than reading about the system of Draconian, crazy-pants law that is actually in the Bible. Everybody gets stoned. You can’t eat anything. I think werewolves have more rights than menstruating women. Moses, the first “law giver,” was a temperamental prick who destroyed God’s words because his friends had a party without him. That would be like Antonin Scalia lighting the Constitution on fire and screaming at Stephen Breyer, “If it’s alive, why can’t I hear it scream, Steve? WHY CAN’T I HEAR IT SCREAM?”
4. Capitalism Film Society — Yale Law School
Each week this class will review a film that deals with capitalism. Discussion will be held following the film. Each student will be required to submit a one-to-two page response paper discussing each film.
The syllabus for this class isn’t online, so it’s fair to guess that they’ll be looking at your classic collection of “capitalist” films. Wall Street. The Social Network. Something where Michael Moore bloviates for 90 minutes where he is both correct and insufferable at the same time. If they’re smart, they’ll show Trading Places — which pretty much teaches you everything you need to know about capitalism, the stock market, the lives of wealthy white people, and just how much racial progress we’ve made in a generation. When Trading Places came out 30 years ago, you could make a whole movie centered around the “absurd” premise of a black man running an investment bank. Things get better.
But since we’re at the liberal spider hole that is Yale Law, can we discuss this:
You guys know that the Smurfs is a cartoon about the Klan, right? Think about it: It’s a homogenous community where everybody is the same color. They all wear poofy white hats and are led by a man in a red hat. There’s one girl, who is blonde, of course. And they’re mortal enemy is Gargamel, who is clearly an Anti-Semitic Jewish caricature that Walt Disney would be proud of. And he, of course, has a black cat. If you are going to do a whole law school class about hidden messages in films, The Smurfs should be patient zero.
5. Ethnoracial Identity in Anthropology Language & Law — Cornell Law School
This course examines the role that both law and language, as mutually constitutive mediating systems, occupy in constructing ethnoracial identity in the United States. We approach the law from a critical anthropological perspective, as a signifying and significant sociocultural system rather than as an abstract collection of rules, norms, and procedures, to examine how legal processes and discourses contribute to processes of cultural production and reproduction that contribute to the creation and maintenance of differential power relations. Course material draws on anthropological, linguistic, and critical race theory as well as ethnographic and legal material to guide and document our analyses.
I don’t even have a joke here. I assume this is a course about how “the law” keeps the Ethnoracial man down. But I’m not sure if that signifies anything that is socioculturally significant.
6. Self-Serenity & Vulnerability: East and West — Harvard Law School
This course is a comparative inquiry into certain forms of moral consciousness and their metaphysical assumptions in the high cultures of Eurasia. We organize discussion around a broad background concern as well as a focused foreground theme. The background concern is the meaning or meaninglessness of human life: comparison of some of the ways in which philosophy, religion, and art in the West and in the East have dealt with the fear that our lives and the world itself may be meaningless. The foreground theme is the contrast between two answers to the question — how should I live my life? One answer, valuing serenity achieved through disengagement from illusion and vain striving, is: stay out of trouble. Another answer, prizing the acceptance of vulnerability for the sake of self-construction and self-transformation is: look for trouble. The second answer has come to play a major part in the moral and political projects that command attention throughout the world today. We seek to understand this second answer and to assess it in the light of speculative ideas that have been prominent in Western and Eastern thought. Conversely, we use our chosen theme to explore how Western and Eastern speculation have dealt with the limits of insight into what matters most. To these ends, we consider exemplary writings from several traditions: modern European, ancient Greek, Chinese, South Asian.
Again, you can make an entire list like this just from Harvard Law courses. I left off the HLS class in “Poverty Law,” which I can only assume is a study on laws that affect people who graduate from non-peer institutions. HLS Dean Martha Minow teaches something called “Law and Rhetoric” — strangely, that’s probably the only law school class that would have really helped me with my current job.
But a class for lawyers about how “vulnerability” will help them in their lives is freaking priceless. The thought of HLS lawyers achieving “serenity” through “disengagement from illusion and vain striving”? Come on, illusion and vain striving is how they got to Harvard Law in the first place!
I also just like any attempt to get would-be lawyers to engage in moral questions about their profession and their role in society. Notice how they don’t teach any of that crap during 1L year? No, first year is all about making you “think like a lawyer,” which is another way of saying that they’re teaching you how to detach emotional and moral concerns from the logical assessment of the situation. That’s law school. But once you get to third year, sure, read some Chinese philosophers and accept your human vulnerability.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d probably take this class. I’d probably take all these classes. School is fun. It’s intellectually rich and engaging and delightfully removed from the skills and focus needed to succeed in the real world. I love school, I wish I could go back. Just don’t let people tell you that the tail end of law school is necessary in order to be a functional attorney. It’s fun — especially for the people who collect your tuition dollars — but there’s a reason the bar exam doesn’t test your abilities to apply Biblical law to divorce proceedings involving different ethnoraces in a serene environment.
In any event, happy spring semester. And don’t forget to send us descriptions and links for the weirdest and funniest electives offered at your law school.