December 2013 Bar Bulletin
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December 2013 Bar Bulletin

"Why, When I Was in Law School ..."


[This month, we continue with John Rupp's story of his days at the University of Washington School of Law and "old" Condon Hall in the 1930s.]

Second of a Series

Let us get back to the law school. And be of good cheer. I do not intend to take you course-by-course through the full three years.

Practically all the instruction was by "the case method". You went to the University Book Store and bought the assigned case book, e.g., "Cases and Materials on The Law of Contract". Man, were those things expensive! There seemed to be a publishers' rule, too, that case books had to weigh at least three pounds, be bound in a blue material something like the bindings of Corpus Juris Secundum, and be frequently superseded by a new edition. You lamented if the case book were new, because it cost more than a used one.

There were, however, two countervailing good characteristics of a new book: (1) It was not likely to be immediately superseded, so you had a good chance of selling it back to the Book Store; and (2) A new book was not marked up by previous owners, those barbarians who seem unable to read anything without underlining it with a pen and who, no doubt, move their lips while reading or point to each word. Some jackasses would underline nearly everything on a page. There are still people who do that, only now they use something called a "highlighter". Bad cess to them!1

You read the cases assigned and they were discussed in class. A student would be called on to tell us about the case. Usually he would give just the facts and the holding, and then the professor would ask Socratic questions and lead the discussion. If the student were very sure of himself, or a confirmed chatterbox, or a fool, he would add to his recitation some of his own ideas about what the law should be. This was meat for the rest of us, and especially tasty meat for the tiger that lurks in any professor.

I suppose that there are geniuses who get through any school without ever "cracking a book", but I never knew any such people, and I sure as hell didn't know anyone like that in law school. We studied. It seemed that getting ready for a one-hour class needed about two hours of preparation. You read a case. Then you wrote an abstract of it - the facts and the holding and the reasons given - in your notebook. Most notebooks were about three inches thick, covered in canvas. The abstract was called a "brief", and some called studying "briefing".

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