Thursday, September 17, 2009

More on my classes

In case you were wondering what I'm studying.

Torts: In a productive society, a lot of interactions among people and groups happen, and out of those productive (and other) interactions, harms arise and need to be compensated. This is the basic idea behind torts. It's been so interesting thinking about fault based (e.g. battery, negligence) torts and what it means to be negligent or how to define an intended act and even more to think about no-fault torts, (e.g. strict liability, workman's comp). No fault lawsuits seemed pretty cruel to me, until I figured out what they are all about.

If you operate a business and, say, you store a nasty chemical and something freakish happens and it leaks and people get sick, you are probably held liable. Even if you weren't negligent--you did your due diligence. So you aren't held liable for negligence (and can't get punitive damages, which are the big ones). But, we figure it's better that the actor pay than the innocent who was harmed. It's considered a gamble you take when you engage in activity (in this case, money making activity). I like this concet.

Okay, I'll try to get briefer. Civil Procedure. This is the most technical of my classes, it's all the stuff between deciding you have a complaint to the judgment and potentially appeal. It's all the rules (except the rules of evidence, which are another class) for how a civil action works. There are millions of rules (technicalitlies, some would say) that govern the way we engage in civil action. What I enjoy most are finding out about why each rule exsits, what problems are trying to be solved, and, of course, how to strategically employ them.

Criminal Law. Lots about culpability. Also, we ask, why punish? Retributively? For utilitarian purposes (deterrence, rehabilitation, locking people up so they can't do more bad stuff)...anyway, a lot of big why questions, and then how questions that follow. Also, the stories and hypotheticals are really grisly.

Legislation and Regulation. This professor is the most "Socratic"; mostly he just constantly disagrees with you, no matter what you say. But he's very nice about it. This is the class that gets into judicial interpretation of statutes, which is a HUGE area of judicial practice, and among the most controversial. Textualism and Purposivism are the major theories we are dealing with. It's funny, everyone has opinions about this, but it's such a layered and loaded field. It's easy to opine on it until you get in to the nitty gritty details.

In this class, we just spent a day on the definition of a vegetable (tomatoes and whether they should be taxed...an old case) and on the definition of the word use (in a certain statute about using a gun to further a drug crime, someone traded his gun for drugs and ended up with a 30 year sentence because the court decided to read the statute literally). I finally get why Bill Clinton said "it depends what is is." He was a law professor for a time, after all.


To my conservative friends: you'll be happy to know that Harvard Law school is loaded with textualists (at least students). Hopefully the professors can do something about this... =)




Finally, there is Legal Research and Writing. That's the class where we learn to write legally (read: boringly) and how to use library resources and databases. Maybe not quite as exciting.

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