A Professor On The Con-Law List Serves Opines On The “Wikipedia Version” Of Law Students

May 4th, 2012

I’ve noticed in the past two years that the students seem less able to dig out details from cases and the problem is exacerbated in a code course like copyright.  There have always been some who could not do it and it is one of the things we teach them to do, but there seems to be more difficulty with the last two classes on this attention to detail and close reading.  It is as though sound-bite law or at best the wikipedia version (summary of key points, no attention to nuance or fine (and sometimes even coarse) distinctions) satisfies them and they think that is good enough. Even those who start to “get it” have more trouble than in past years.

The part of class that I always disliked the most was going through the monotonous recitation of facts. The worst was when a professor would call on student after student after student to glean one small fact from the case that no one noticed, using so much class time, and losing everyone’s attention. And finally, when that fact was discussed (either by the professor, or one student who re-read the case and found it during the cold-calling), the payoff was slight. I tend to prefer discussing the facts myself, and then analyzing or applying the materials with the students.

I recognize remembering facts is important, but I don’t know if it is as nearly as important as it once was. For example, if I can’t remember the facts about that case with the wheat and the commerce clause, with about 2 seconds of searching I can find the facts. You could not do that in the past. I would rather focus on stuff you can’t find with 2 seconds of searching.

I am positive that I am in the vast minority of profs here.

Update: Another prof writes in:

Superficiality does not work for law, generally, including the topics discussed on this list, yet current cultural practices prize the 140-character tweet, the sound bite, the one-sentence retort, and other forms of shallow thinking. Today’s law students have been immersed in that sort of environment for enough time that their brains are far more comfortable dealing with generalities than with the sort of precise analytical digging that law faculty are trying to teach them to do . . . A generation of which rigorousness has not been demanded is coming of age. It’s not pretty. And it causes me (and, I suppose, others) to worry about the future of law.

I suppose this all assumes that the way law has been practiced for decades is the way it should be practiced in the future. I suspect that is not the case.

I suspect this thread will be lively.