Thursday, October 8, 2009

Litigation: Not Just for Jerks (But It Helps)

The three best classes I've taken in the last three years:

3) Law and Literature
  • No mystery here: 25-page literature essay and no exam, plus it's the only class in which I got an A+. Or an A, for that matter. As if I needed confirmation that I'm in the wrong racket.
  • The workload was light: one or two short stories related to the practice of law and/or written by current or former legal practitioners. Authors ranged from Kafka to Atwood. My essay related to John Mortimer and the Rumpole series of serio-comic mysteries.
  • I worked hard in this class, but I thought that I might fall into the trap of focusing hard on the thing I like the most, to the detriment of my other classes, so I strove to maintain a balance and not put off other things in favour of this. And I got a good mark in this and mediocre-to-bad marks in everything else anyway.
2) Ethics of Criminal Justice
  • I'm not what you would call "ethical". (I would estimate that I've stolen 30GBs of music from the internet people in the last six weeks, not to mention numerous television shows and movies, most of which I haven't even listened to/watched. And I shoot defenseless creatures.) But this class was taught by a Toronto criminal law practitioner with a great deal of courtroom experience and a flair for hypothetical ethical dilemmas with no right answers.
    Q: "You've been forced to put your client on the stand (often a bad sign) and during cross-examination, he starts telling a story you've never heard before and that Your Friend is going to use to bury him. You're desperate to get him to shut his mouth. What do you do?"
    A: You can't do jack, of course, but my response, "Pull the fire alarm", made him laugh long and hard, which is why that particular question stayed with me. (... It was funnier in context.)
  • Now he was in the right racket: his audience of would-be criminal lawyers would leave filled with dread one week, inspired and galvanized the next.
  • The exam was a sprint: twelve questions in two hours, or one question per chapter of the textbook, with fifteen minutes to answer each question. I had sweated through my clothes by the end but I got a B+, which was (tied with) my best mark up to that point.
1) Trial Practice
  • This one is ongoing, but it already seems like the most rewarding course for someone who might like to litigate (next to Evidence, which is a prerequisite). Taught by a dozen current or recent practitioners, it takes students through the trial process from opening to closing, with classes devoted to direct examination, introducing exhibits, qualifying expert witnesses, and cross-examining and impeaching witnesses. One day we cross-examined police witnesses played by actual TPS officers.
  • It's pass/fail, which is too bad, because I think I might actually have gotten a good mark in it. But it wouldn't be fair, because in this class, unlike many classes, it's clear that there's a limit to what students can actually pick up -- some just have it and some don't. Which is fine: many, many people have no intention of litigating, and there are certainly other, arguably more effective (and definitely cheaper) ways of dispute resolution. But effective rhetoric, trial strategy and examination skills are definitely valuable assets even if you plan to do all your negotiating behind the scenes.
  • I'm once again falling into the favesies trap, devoting way too much time to a pass/fail course only because I prefer the material over reading substantive law. Systematically destroying someone using only his or her own words is the most gratifying thing you can do in law school. Better still, the witness is one of your peers, and if you really shut him/her down, he/she will applaud you at the end.


Lauren M. said...

My favorite class in law school was trial practice, and my second-favorite might be pre-trial litigation. I hate exams, and I hate reading - I excel when I'm on my feet, moment-to-moment.

Good post.

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