Law Professors, Law Schools, Legal Research, Ridiculousness

A Law Professor’s Detailed, Ridiculous, Condescending ‘Local Rules’ For Class

“Playing Lecture Bingo gets 20 minutes in the corner”

The actual practice of law is much more rigorous than law school. Law school is basically college with lucrative summer jobs and crippling debt. Drinking every day, last-minute cramming, and generally winging it on exams are not out of place. That said, continuing the college-honed approach to my class work in no way conflicted with my understanding of proper professional behavior. I could slap together a paper for “Law and Super Mario Bros.”[1] or whatever seminar I was in and immediately shift gears to drafting well-researched and meticulously prepared memos for partners for my summer gig.

So while ATL is on record as a proponent of encouraging law schools to offer more concrete professional training, it’s not necessary to make class run like a day in the office of the worst partner or in the courtroom of a judicial diva.

That’s why, even though justified as an effort to train students to succeed in the persnickety world of trial practice, we really don’t need this professor’s three-and-a-half pages of single-spaced rules drenched in condescension….

Professor Ray Bernstein

The offender is Professor Ray Bernstein of Santa Clara Law. He teaches LARAW, which is Santa Clara’s preferred nomenclature for Legal Analysis, Research and Writing. This is just for Legal Writing?!? NYU didn’t even bother grading Legal Writing (called “Lawyering” in my day), much less encourage instructors to draft “Local Rules.” Indeed, as you look through all the myriad ways Professor Bernstein is willing to ding a whole letter grade, remember that he went to Yale Law — a school that doesn’t even bother with real grades. Is he saying that Yale students are too good for grades, but that Santa Clara students need draconian grading policies just to adhere to basic standards of good writing?[2]

Let’s take a look at Professor Bernstein’s policies:

Welcome to the start of your practice in trial court. Judges are notoriously touchy about disrespect. Lawyers get sent to jail to contemplate their contempt of court. Here, “contempt of class” will be met with a reduced grade and a reduced likelihood of getting a favorable reference for employment. My policies and rules are intended to make my expectations clear, to put you on notice of what employers will expect from you, and therefore to make it more likely that you will impress prospective employers.

Again, this is a noble goal. However, most students are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time and don’t need school to pretend it’s a courtroom to get that there’s a difference. And if there’s such a thing of contempt of law school, I think I’m going to advise the ATL staff to steer clear of Santa Clara.

So what kinds of rules do we have?

Local Rule 1. Proofreading.
(a) No document with more than ten mechanical errors (spelling, typing, grammar, missing words, formatting, quoting, or Bluebooking) will be filed in this course. Other than the blind-graded exam, documents violating this rule will be returned to you without further feedback, for resubmission in compliance with L.R. 1. I will set a specific deadline for resubmission.

It’s a legal writing class, so this makes some sense. That said, it’s also a class — so give them some feedback on their Bluebooking, for heaven’s sake.

And no one likes mechanical errors, but as an exercise in simulating the “real world” of practice, it’s worth noting that judges don’t rule contrary to an accurate substantive argument because the Bluebooking wasn’t up to snuff. For better or worse, the “real world” is a pass/fail world, not one where hundreds of “points” for typos and email formatting are deducted once a motion clears a low bar of appropriate formatting.

(vi) You could lose two whole grades in the course by clicking “accept all changes” and turning in a document that includes my plaintive comments in the text — e.g., “unclear, ambiguous, what does that even mean?” The first is for being lazy in accepting changes without considering them, and the second is for failing to read the document before filing it.

Yeah, that’s harsh, but just clicking “accept all changes” and never reading it again deserves a penalty of some kind.

Here’s what he has to say about timeliness:

(c) All assignments must be turned in by the deadline specified in the course plan chart, unless:
(i) I announce a change in the deadline to the class,
(ii) I instruct you to remedy a Rule violation, and issue a new deadline for your compliance,
(iii) you give me advance notice of a delay and I consent, or
(iv) you file with me a successful motion for a specific amount of extra time, supported by a declaration showing good cause for granting more time. “Good cause” is something unexpected, beyond the ordinary press of modern life. Tip: It is easier to submit papers on time than to write (or win) motions to get more time.

This is why people hate lawyers. This does not need to have multiple caveat clauses.

“It is easier to submit papers on time than to write (or win) motions to get more time.” This is just bad practice advice. If you’re the defendant in the assignment, you should get points for endlessly filing to stall the case. Then how are you going to bill the client for the extra week you need to make some junior associate try to track down a marginally valuable (yet easily distinguishable) case from a far-flung state lower appellate division?

(b) When in class, you may not disturb me or your classmates with irrelevant computer or phone activities.
(c) Examples of violations: watching videos, checking Facebook, texting, playing games, doing anything related to your phone, or walking in late yet talking loudly while getting settled.

L.R. 4.1 Penalties for violation:
(i) For each violation of L.R. 4, points will be deducted from the 200 “professionalism” points available this term. (That is the same value as your revised CF2 memo.)
(ii) I dislike public shaming, but to encourage professional behavior, when I observe impermissible conduct I will announce a reminder about the problem. I will also note the student(s) involved, and later email notice of how many points were lost.

I’m returning this for unclear writing and a typo. He meant to write, “I love public shaming, and to help you understand the prevalence of self-important people in the practice of law, when I observe conduct that suggests I’m not engaging the class I will announce a reminder about the problem.”

Comment: My Local Rules may seem harsh or ridiculous, but they are intended to give everyone notice of some basic expectations and the consequences of not meeting them.

Yes, they are harsh and ridiculous.

Again, I do applaud his motivation if not his methodology. The problem is you can teach a profession without creating a hybrid-simulation of the worst aspects of that professional culture. As law schools consider their strategy for providing students with more professional experience, keep in mind that there’s something to be said for substance over style.

More practice clinics and internships and less time indefinitely detained for “law school contempt.”

If you want to read all of the “Local Rules” for Professor Bernstein’s class, they’re available on the next page, so click below…

[1] “Admiralty and the Mushroom Kingdom: The Application of the Reverse-Erie Doctrine to World 2-2.”
[2] Yes.

(hidden for your protection)

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