Bricks on the Brain

UM Law

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Elementary School

I recently had a very brief exchange of views with the Lawfool about a course that is taught to UM 1L's called 'Elements'.

Exactly what Elements is, and what it is intended to accomplish often vexes 1L's to the same extent as the question, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" A number of observations come to mind.

First, after the 1L rite of passage, interest in resolving that question fades exponentially. Elements becomes just another class in a long string of questionably useful classes, and it quickly fades into the hazy mush of memories that make up the 1L experience. The students who once adamantly protested the need for Elements and advocated its demise find other things to occupy themselves with, easily finding new gross injustices within legal education to complain about.

But secondly, many students change their views over time, and as some 3Ls reminisce they often articulate new found appreciation for the Elements experience. Often you hear that the student now feels that if they could do it again, they could easily coast into A. They now see how simple the class really was, childs-play almost, and the only barrier to success in the class was themselves.

My own opinion is that three courses in particular are vital for every student to take: Elements, LRW, and Lit Skills. The reason I think they are each vital is because only by taking those classes will the student be exposed to his own strengths and weaknesses. As a whole, they let a student know if his strengths lie in analysis and argument of law, or analysis and argument of facts. Few people are good at both.

In my view, almost all substantive exams at UM are primarily tests of the student's ability to remember black letter law and then argue facts. Unfortunately for many students, they don't realize this until its too late to improve their GPA. On the other hand, Elements and the LRW memo and brief test the student's ability to analyse and argue law without the aid of third party study guides and hornbooks. Lit Skills tests the student's ability to communicate and make a presentation, an entirely different animal altogether.

Lastly, Elements is a quaint tradition that binds generations of UM Law alumni, giving every job-seeking student an ice-breaker when faced with an interview with an ex-Cane.


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