Law in Contemporary Society

General Introduction

This course explores two questions it's important to begin asking in the second semester of law school:

  1. How can I be creative in law school?
  2. How can I be creative in thinking about the types of practice that will make the most fulfilling life for me in the law?

Unfortunately, there are no other courses that put these questions at the center of their inquiry.

Law school's first semester, as you now know, consists of intensive language-learning by immersion. At the end, all students are fully capable of conversational lawtalk. The second term, building on that new linguistic basis, begins the process of the student's legal acculturation. But because the mode of instruction and evaluation do not change, students are left to conclude that their creativity in the new culture is unimportant or impossible. Dissuaded from imagining at all, students are by definition not reinforced in imagining their own future paths as seekers for and creators of justice. Career counseling is conducted as a bureaucratic process, divorced from the "intellectual" activity of feeding on doctrinal regurgitation supplemented by the vitamins of professorial brilliance.

This course was designed long ago as a remedy. Created originally, in 1990, in a moment of curricular reform by my friend and colleague Mark Barenberg and me as the required course "Perspectives in Modern Legal Thought," it has been refined, reshaped and repeatedly reinvented by me more or less every spring since. Once curricular retrogression and fragmentation returned to fashion, it became the 1L Elective "Law in Contemporary Society." The purpose of this course is to put our preexisting creativity to work on the twin goals of succeeding in law school and building vibrant, fulfilling careers as lawyers. Over the 36 years I have been teaching here, too many of the more than 5000 students I have taught wound up unhappy in their lawyering. Too many wound up as canned meat bought by the crate for consumption in "Big Law" practice. Too many lost the chance to have the practices they would have loved, because no one helped them learn how to start one. This is the time in law school when you can learn how to think powerfully not only about law, but about lawyering.

We don't read cases. statues, or regulations here. We are caught sidling through the law reviews only when they have something to say to our purpose, which is almost never. But we do read the literature of psychology, anthropology, philosophy and history, and we read the literature of lawyering—for, by, and about lawyers—for the purpose of thinking and drawing out of the box. We write together, in the course wiki, which also contains all the reading. There's formal writing: two essays of not more than 1,000 words on topics you choose, in at least two drafts. There's informal writing: the journal each student keeps, that only you and I can read, in which we can write about your learning exclusively, one to one. There's in-between writing in which we discuss the readings and our own writings collectively, commenting and rewriting and re-commenting and "refactoring," to come to consensus about what our reading leads us to. There is no exam.

By looking around in this wiki as a guest you can get a pretty good idea of what it's like to be enrolled. If you look in the Index under Archived Material, you can find years of student writings, along with my comments and others comments on my comments and each successive version, for hundreds of essays reflecting the creative efforts other students made. I change readings on the fly from week to week, depending on how I think the conversation can next be improved by new voices; all the readings are available through the wiki so you don't need to buy anything. You can see in the PossibleReadingList some of what I expect we might read together, given what I've used in the last few years. You should read the EvaluationPolicy so you understand how you and I will deal with the Occupation Forces. I recorded an audio trailer for you. If you have any questions, please email me.

Note on Privacy

Without the anonymity of reading and strong privacy protection against spying on learning, freedom of thought is impossible and all civil freedom is in danger. Canvas, the system that delivers your other courses, spies on what you read and how you read it, measures your learning activity and analyzes it for whoever has power over the software. Google and Zoom and all the other helpful centralized platforms that "serve" you violate the sanctity of your privacy in learning. We surveil classrooms intensively, as though this were EngSoc under Big Brother in 1984 or the CCP's China of today. It must not be this way.

Therefore our classroom conversations are private. No recording is permitted there, ever. (If you want to depend on re-listening to class recordings for your learning, you should choose another elective.) All the technology that we use in this and my other courses is made of free software, assembled and controlled by me, mostly running on computers I built from loose parts with my own hands. It does not leak any information about your learning to any third party, including other organs of the university. What you want to make public is visible to the world. What you want to restrict to your classmates is so restricted. That which is for only you and me to know will not be seen ever by anyone, no matter how good their spying is.

Even if you think you don't care, you benefit from real educational privacy. Regrettably, no other teacher and no other courses in this fine establishment can under present conditions offer it to you.

Until we meet, stay well.


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r5 - 01 Nov 2023 - 10:47:58 - EbenMoglen
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