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A Civil Procedure Curriculum Challenge

I read with great interest Jon Siegel’s recent post on curricular reform and the thirty or so comments it generated. I don’t really disagree with his main point that law school is mostly about “acquiring the ability to acquire skills and knowledge.” But at the same time, I don’t spend that much time on personal jurisdiction and Erie in my civil procedure class and wanted to use this post to explain why.

I started teaching civil procedure during my time at Brooklyn Law School where civil procedure was a two semester five credit course. When I got to Loyola, civ pro was a two semester six credit course. Two years ago we moved to a one semester four credit course as part of a general reform of the first year curriculum. So I have now taught the course in just about every possible permutation.

I currently spend the first 2/3 of the course on the litigation process and about the remaining 1/3 on personal jurisdiction and Erie. I am probably in the minority on this and it’s hard to find a casebook that is set up the way I prefer.

I do it this way because of my belief that only a detailed study of the litigation process reflected in the FRCP can convey a deep understanding of the American civil justice system and its strengths and weaknesses. For better or worse, we have a system that (until very recently) has deemphasized pleadings and uses discovery to lay the groundwork for settlement or summary judgment for those cases that make it into the system and is increasing reliant on ADR for those cases that don’t. Of late, the Supreme Court has seemingly raised the bar on pleadings in Twombley and Iqbal and reinvigorated motions to dismiss as a more meaningful part of the litigation process. One cannot understand what we do, how we do it, why the rest of the world thinks we are crazy, what is changing, and what needs to be changed without a large amount of class time, which of necessity limits the amount of time devoted to personal jurisdiction and Erie.

All this is driven by my view of in most litigation the law is easy, but the facts are hard. Discovery is where the facts come in. If you don’t understand how parties marshal, present, and protect facts from their files, from the real world, and from the other side through discovery then the students leave civ pro (and possibly law school) without any real clue how our civil justice system works. Read More