Federalism: Coming Soon To A Theater Near You
posted by Dan Filler
‘Tis the season for law school orientation. First years are brought in for several days of immersion in both “law” and “school”. For the first of many times, students are told about the three branches of government, the structure of court systems, and the relationship of states to the federal government. I figure that about 10% of this material will stick. That’s fine, however, since these themes surface again and again in most first year courses.
Orientation is also time to talk a little about the law school experience. We expose students to a bit of the Socratic Method, whatever that means in a law school circa 2006. We tell them that everyone makes mistakes in class, and that these errors are an essential part of the pedagogy. We urge students to tend to those ultra-competitive instincts. We remind them to prepare for class and, maybe, to brief cases. Naturally, there’s also a bit of the dog and pony show, as various clubs and organizations make their pitch for a few of those precious spare 1L hours.
In many cases, orientation focues on legal ethics. At Drexel this year, we showed students The Smartest Guy In The Room – a documentary about the fall of Enron – and had them ruminate over the meaning of it all.
But does orientation matter? That’s a question I’ve never fully resolved. In two or three or four days, we essentially provide trailers of the law school experience. Federalism Coming Soon To A Theater Near You. Perhaps the biggest value of orientation is exposure to the language of law. People walk away knowing what the legislative branch is. (I know – people used to learn this in high school. And some still do!) But I’m not sure whether students would do any worse if they showed up for class Monday morning, bright and early, completely flummoxed by Pennoyer v. Neff.
Perhaps the ethics piece is the big one. But here again, the cynic in me rises up. Somehow I doubt that the deceitful 1L will behave differently as a result of an hour of ethics “training.” Nor can we expect most students to walk out with a clear understanding of what attorneys may or may not do. Indeed, I don’t want them to think of these professional rules as any more fixed than the other rules we teach. After all, the duty of zealous advocacy is in tension with many other apsects of legal ethics. And if zealousness is disappearing as an ethical priority, is that a good thing? And what of the view that these rules are merely guild protection, an effective way of resisting state regulation?
Can we do without orientation? I’d love to hear others’ views – particularly the perspectives of current law students.