Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thin Line Between Love and Hate

I have spent much of the past several days grading exams. The old joke is that law profs teach for free but get paid to grade--and it seems apt at this time of year. Now, before anyone takes me to task for being a whiny professor, let me say that I do not hate grading, and I take it very seriously. But that does not mean it is the most fun part of the job.

But it's certainly better than taking exams. Which gets me, at least tangentially, to a recent question posed by reader Shell of Shelley's Case. In a comment to a recent post, Shell asked: "I am curious as to what your least favorite and most favorite subjects were during law school."

Talk about flashing me back.

Favorites would include the following, in no particular order. This is a list of favorites, mind you, and not a list of courses that were necessarily most beneficial, either in a generalist practitioner sense or in the sense of being useful courses for specializing in a particular area of law. Come to think if it, those are good subjects for future blog posts in the spring, when course selection decisions are being made by law students nationwide.

But back to the question at hand--some of my favorites, in no particular order.
  • American Legal History. This course can be excellent for history lovers, and also for getting a broader perspective on the evolution of law in general and American legal developments in particular.
  • Administrative Law. This may be evidence of a character defect on my part, since many people do not like taking this class. Part of it was the prof I had (Gary Lawson, who is now at Boston U.), and part perhaps because I had very, very low expectations going in. But it was also just a fascinating course in many ways, and one I love teaching now.
  • Contracts. Perhaps this is more evidence of a character defect. But I loved the story of the rise and fall of formal contract theory, and how economic thought had influenced the law in this area. And it's another course I enjoy teaching.
  • Law and Economics. This is not a bar course, but the Law and Econ movement has had such a huge impact on the law in recent decades that I think students ignore it at their peril. And I was an economics major (undergrad and masters), so it was right up my alley. For those who think economic theory is not relevant to "real world" lawyering, can you say "policy argument"?
  • Civil Procedure. I honestly think I liked this course not so much for the subject as I did for the professor, Marty Redish, who was absolutely superb.
  • Property. Clearly I am a geek, since I seem to be mentioning far too many 1L courses. But I loved the evolution of the law in this area too.

Least Favorite courses: Actually, only 1 really comes to mind. The grand prize goes to:

  • Bankruptcy. Argh. I am not sure what it was about this course that I did not like, but I did not like it, Sam I Am. It had economic theory in spades, which I do generally like, and it was business-oriented, which should have made it interesting to me. It was also not my first experience with code courses, so that doesn't explain it. And the profs (there were 2, and they team-taught) were fine--I actually took them again for another course. But this course was just no fun at all. Far and away my least fun course.

All in all, part of what this list shows is that I actually enjoyed law school for the most part. And that the courses that have stuck with me over the years and influenced my thinking about the law were a combination of core (1L and bar) courses and other courses, and sometimes not the courses I would have expected. Which perhaps suggests (a) that the core courses are core courses for a reason, and (b) that students should not just blindly take what others tell them to take (i.e., the "bar courses" or the "fun courses.") But again, more on the subject of course selection in a later post.

And now, back to grading.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Bowman,

Interesting post. Glad to see a fellow fan of the Law and Economics movement. If you have not heard of it already, may I recommend a pair of books both by Richard Florida (Now at George Mason, I think) The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class. The former identifies a new core of the economy that "successful" cities have buit themselves around and the later the global competition for talent as the defining economic issue of the modern world economy. Though I feel this school of thought has not reached the area of the law, yet, I feel that it is becoming a significant part of public policy, and soon should be an important part of the Neo-Law and Economics movement.

Just curious, any books that you would recommend? Do you have a winter reading list other than exams?

shell said...

Administrative Law? Interesting. I have not heard of anyone else who is a big fan of Admin. I did meet one person who actually enjoys Civil Procedure.

I have to say this semester my favorite classes are those involving health law -- probably because they involve constitutional issues. To think that just eight months ago, I was terrified of Constitutional Law.

Next semester I will be taking mostly bar classes. Two of my classes will involve procedural rules. I am wondering if there is there a strategy for studying procedural courses, statute-based courses, and common law courses. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Is the title to this post a reference to the excellent Persuaders song, or to the terrible Martin Lawrence movie?

Anonymous said...

I know you like to write about increases in first year salaries, CNN.com reported today that first-year associates' pay will go up 6.2 percent at big firms and 7.9 percent at midsized ones in 2007.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Bowman--I attend your school, but I have never taken any of your courses. I was wondering what the grading process is like. How many times do you read a paper/exam? Do you think professors follow points systems or do they engage in holistic grading schemes?

brown vette yellow vinyl said...

What kind of character flaw does one who enjoys Contracts suffer from? If this is true it must be contageous...was I born with it or did I catch it from you Prof. Bowman?

Gregory W. Bowman said...

There's a lot to respond to here; thanks to everyone who has posted comments.

To Anonymous #1: Thanks for suggesting Prof. Florida's books. They are relevant to my current research, and I am reading them now. Sadly, my winter reading list consisted of exams and research, but I hope to get back to a few personal books soon, including Team of Rivals (halfway through it right now).

Shell: As for strategies for studying code courses, versus common law or procedural courses, I don't really think there is a universal strategy or approach that works. It is going to really depend on the professor and how s/he teaches. I'd talk to people who have had those profs before and get a sense of how they teach and what they will be looking for.

Anonymous #4: I read exams very carefully. That means usually reading them twice (including this past semester). As for how profs grade--using point systems/grading sheets/rubrics versus "holistic grading"--that is up to the professor. I currently use point systems, which include discretionary points for particularly cogent, thorough or original answers.

Interestingly--and anecdotally--a senior professor I know (not at my school) once graded his exams TWICE: first using a grading sheet, and then using a holistic approach ("this one is an A, this one is a C+, etc.). This was of course anonymous grading. And he found that the grade distributions were nearly identical. Which suggests that the value of a points-based approach is to make it easier to explain and illustrate to students what they did right/wrong and how it affected their overall score. Which is a big benefit, in my view, and a big reason why I currently grade exams that way.