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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Are law students lazy?

Before I ask my surly question, I should apologize for my own laziness, having not posted anything for the last two months despite my status as a permanent blogger. (I confess that I do not know how Leiter, Volokh, etc, keep up with blogging while maintaining an active writing schedule. I now have tentatively adopted the assumption that all active bloggers who also publish prolifically have identical twins with identical names).

My excuse for being AWOL is that I've been busy doing my job -- that is, preparing seminar readings for my course on "Federalism: Law, Policy, History." The point of the course is to examine federal regimes through the lens of U.S. and foreign history, economics, political science, etc.

But here is the difficulty: I am told by multiple reliable sources that students rebel at seminar readings longer than 50 pages per week. To reduce historical readings to such a size requires me to write boiled-down versions of the historiography --say, a ten-page summary of Fehrenbacher's The Dred Scott Case. Hence, my absence from the blogosphere.

And hence, my question: Are my sources correct in assuming that a law student typically will tolerate only 50 pages per each weekly two-hour class session? My wife, a history faculty member at NYU, tells me that this is astonishing -- that history grad students normally read a 200-page book per week. My poli sci colleagues make a similar report. They are bemused by the fact that law students read so little -- especially if the material is essentially narrative history or fairly accessible political theory (e.g., Calhoun's Disquisition on Government).

Of course, my law sources might be incorrect that law students will not tolerate more than 50 pages. So here are my three questions: (1) Is this 50-page assessment of law students' reading tolerance correct? (2) Assuming that law students really have such limits, does this fact indicate a level of philistinism unique in post-graduate education? (3) To what should one attribute such sloth, given that these same students will soon be confronted with weekly reading loads (in the discovery mills of various law firms, for instance) that dwarf in size the 50 weekly pages that they now tolerate?

Posted by Rick Hills on August 10, 2008 at 11:47 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I'll answer your question if you'll answer mine.

My answer: I worked 90-100 hours/week in law school.

My question: Are all law professors arrogant and self-absorbed creatures of the ivory tower, or was I just unlucky?

Posted by: slominshield | Aug 18, 2008 12:05:04 AM

The posted suggestions that "many students who attend law school did not have reading-intensive high-school and college educations" and a "student in a Phd program has demonstrated and interest and commitment to a life of intellectual activity that many law students reject" are ridiculous. Very few students at top tier law schools were pre-law majors. They majored in philosophy, music, literature, history, etc. and excelled in those disciplines as undergraduates. There is no reason to believe that those folks could not have been successful as graduate students in the same fields. Moreover, speaking for myself and my circle of classmates, none of us who chose law school abandoned our love of the liberal and fine arts when we started reading casebooks.

Posted by: LawDog | Aug 11, 2008 10:34:01 PM

What a joke. Law school students actually giving two spits about reading after the first year is over? Only the droolers who think law professors actually matter, I wager. The rest of us just mail in the tuition checks and start planning our careers in law.

I doubt whether I did even 20% of the assigned reading during my last two years at a top five law school. Reading the outlines and nutshells was a far better way to learn the law, and I got to spend my life doing things I enjoyed rather than reading useless law school assignments.

Posted by: Spartee | Aug 11, 2008 10:06:10 PM

Ok, it's clear that the law students who are chiming in about the hardness of cases are total wimps. Let's compare a little bit. Last year, in my phd program, I participated in an impromptu "independent study" course where, for the beginning, we were going through Weibull's text in evolutionary game theory a chapter per week, and each week a student presented the material. I was actually taking that easy -- I took it for several credits, but others took it for something like one credit and squeezed it into an otherwise full courseload. Nobody complained (indeed, we sought it out), even though several of those chapters are over 50 pages, and it's all difficult math.

Cases? You gotta be kidding. Try dense theorems.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 11, 2008 9:52:08 PM

What I found in my tier one school is that the level of outrage with the reading correlates with one of two factors: 1) the credits of the class and 2) the number of cases for each block of reading. For the first, if I were taking a four credit course, fifty pages of reading per night might be unwelcome, but it was hardly outrageous. If, however, there was that same amount for three credits, it would be outrageous. For the second, if the professor expects his students to read everything and be knowledgeable about everything in a night's reading, then he should seriously consider cutting down the amount of cases in a block of reading. For instance, in my constitutional law class, for every fifty pages of reading, we would read four or five cases, which was fine. But for my criminal procedure class, we would read fifteen to twenty cases for every fifty pages, which was emphatically not fine. The level of concentration that it takes to be knowledgeable about that many cases is way too high to sustain on a twice-weekly basis. In that class, both me and my friends (all A/A- students, btw) just stopped briefing our cases because it the class became too much work (and unnecessarily so). Hope this helps.

Posted by: David | Aug 11, 2008 6:52:10 PM

One of my major disagrrements in the "global warming" debates is the focus on "is it happening?" and "did man cause it?" when the critical issue is the tacit acceptance of the undocumented fallacy that it is "bad". (Full disclosure: Yes, it is happening (or was) by definition, ever since the bottom of the last ice age and continuing until the start of the next ice age (which may have already occurred). No, man has not made a significant contribution to it. No, warm is not bad, warm is good. Way more people and other carbon-based forms die of cold than of heat.)

Similarly, here we see a tacit acceptance of the notion that "lazy" is "bad", that working your ass off (especially if pointlessly) is good. I can't actually speak much to the "Law" context, but I can tell you that I have written in the formal appraisals of programmers and operators (which are documentation backing conversations during the appraisal period) that "in situation X, Mr. Y was not lazy enough. What was needed in that situation, you may recall, was a rapid, sufficient response to the problem, instead of the time-consuming and excessively elegant solution that was offered too many hours later".

Posted by: Larry Sheldon | Aug 11, 2008 2:47:36 PM

Most PEOPLE are lazy, but should that really effect what is necessary to teach your course? Everyone talks about how hard law school is, etc., but in my experience the whole thing is a joke. I love having the occasional professor who doesn't dumb things down for the students. At some level I'm here because the JD is required, but, on the other hand, I need something to keep me interested, and if every professor made decisions on what (a bunch of 22 year olds) could handle without complaining, there is no way I'd be able to stand the boredom for three years.

Make it hard. The people who care will stick it out. Or if it is a required course, at least it will have a nice wide curve :)

Posted by: dizzle | Aug 11, 2008 2:01:02 PM

I have to side with Instapundit on this one. Law students, far more than students in other disciplines, are realists and efficient minimizers. After first semester, most law school students become aware that law school is a series of false rewards. Bust your hump 1st semester so you can....make law review and cite check hundreds of documents so you can...get a relatively high-paying job with no time for family or social life. I know in my section (in one of the top 50 law schools in the US, if you believe the rankings), we approached the top student in our class and asked to be emailed copies of briefs she created from reading cases, as well as her outline. What was in it for her? Anytime we were out eating dinner or drinking or partying, she paid for nothing, NOTHING. So, seven of us always picked up her tab, we reduced our studying time by about 90%, which allowed us to get clerking jobs to pay down our quicking blossoming loans. Win-win all around. Three cheers for market efficiency.

Posted by: Joseph | Aug 11, 2008 1:45:59 PM

"My wife, a history faculty member at NYU, tells me that this is astonishing -- that history grad students normally read a 200-page book per week. My poli sci colleagues make a similar report. They are bemused by the fact that law students read so little..."

Is that one 200-page book a week, total? That's it? That's nothing. Or is that a 200-page book in a seminar class, plus 12 cases in another class, plus 80 pages or text and cases in a third class, plus an appellate brief in a fourth class, et cetera...

Law students can read a lot pretty quickly. 200 pages a week is nothing, if it's YOUR ONLY CLASS. Unfortunately, it's not. Other teachers are all thinking the same thing you are! "This isn't much reading - surely they can do this in a week. What else do they have to do besides my class assignments? Are they being lazy?" Hell no! Well, maybe. But we're also trying to fit assignments from multiple classes into our schedule, prioritizing them, participating in law review and moot court, and more.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 11, 2008 1:30:49 PM

As a former law student, I have seen both sides of the spectrum. Some seminars required barely any reading, while a few could request 200+ pages of reading a week. From that experience, my opinion is that the question really is not about the students' "laziness". Instead, it is whether the law professor effectively utilizes the material he or she assigns. If a student is assigned 100 pages of reading per week, but quickly realizes that the professor is only addressing 40% of the material, then the student will likewise diminish their efforts. Fundamentally, a lazy seminar professor will make for lazy students, not vice versa.

Posted by: C. | Aug 11, 2008 1:00:19 PM

I didn't come from a History/English background like many of my law school peers. Instead, my background was Computer Science/Math.

As an undergraduate, I would frequently have a significant amount of material to cover in both classes, often requiring much more attention to detail than any of my legal studies. On top of those assignments, I'd have programming projects, labs, and even a full time job.

I found the amount of work assigned in law school to be a welcome change. My largest problem was giving my classes the time they deserved - it was incredibly easy for me to skim cases and extract enough material to discuss it if called upon. I wasn't reading at the level that some other comments mention. I certainly didn't brief anything after the fourth week of first year. If I were being really fancy, I'd note something in the margin. Review of the cases, except for a few very notable ones, was not a part of my exam preparation.

I see nothing wrong with 50 pages a week for a two hour seminar. Seminar classes are supposed to have a reasonable amount of material, and the students taking them should be at least somewhat more interested in the topic. Of course, I only had one seminar course (of the many I took - I love writing papers) that based any significant portion of my grade on class participation. Even in that class, as long as I could speak intelligently on the topic (National Security), I could "fly under the radar" even if I'd not opened the materials until class started.

Posted by: Mark | Aug 11, 2008 12:15:15 PM

I think too many professors make the same mistake/assumption: my students are only taking my course, and if it is not, well then, it is the most important. Therefore,their logic flows--they should have enough time and energy to read all I assign. Why not?

Posted by: Richard Allan | Aug 11, 2008 12:09:26 PM

I am a rising 2L, and I suggest that you're thinking about this all wrong. 50 pages of reading isn't too much per se. In my experience, students will do it. The important factor here is that 50 pages of reading when you can only reasonably cover 25 of them in class will result in revolt.

We law students are pragmatic and we have a habit of thinking that our time is the most valuable thing in the world. If you're assigning reading that you can't cover in class, we'll get angry, and your class goes on the back burner.

Posted by: Erin | Aug 11, 2008 12:06:03 PM

like he said up above, law students are not graduate students; they are professional students.

Ok, maybe 1-5% at the top dozen schools are graduate students and basically 0% at other schools are. rick's wife shouldn't be astonished. law students are purchasing a degree for economic reasons.

Posted by: lawlawlaw | Aug 11, 2008 11:49:10 AM

As an MA student in History taking a full load of nine credits (three classes), I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 pages a week. Now, I understand that there is a difference between reading history and historiography and reading law and legal theory. However, there is a common denominator, which makes both history and law difficult to read at times, that is bad writing. No matter how interesting be given topic or thesis is if it is not written well is difficult to read, and the author’s conclusion is lost.
In the year and a half I have studied, I have read few well-written books and articles, which has made my study of topics that I am interested in extremely difficult, and topics that I am not interested in nearly impossible. Well-written 250 pages a week is not difficult to get through. Poorly written to the point where the author does not make clear what he is arguing, 250 pages is difficult to digest. Thus, it is not the number of pages that makes the difference it is the quality of the writing.

Posted by: John Keegan | Aug 11, 2008 11:27:24 AM

Like Eric said in the comment above, laziness can be a virtue.

Like Helmut von Moltke found, the bright and lazy individuals tend to be the most effective. Details about this phenomenon here:

Posted by: Exurban Jon | Aug 11, 2008 11:11:01 AM

I've been hiring, and telling people to hire, what I call "creatively lazy" people for years. Wanting to do less work in order to get the job done is a positive characteristic. Flat out laziness is a bad thing. Trying to be more efficient in order to do less work not only pays off fo the person involved directly, but it means more productivity for everyone who comes after.

Posted by: Eric Ivers | Aug 11, 2008 10:57:02 AM

Um, "most law students could not handle 50 pages of Habermas"- most law students? I would suggest that that statement applies to most sane humans. It is not Habermas' impenetrability, it is that his theories are dreck.

I went through law school in the evenings, so I found the weight of the reading to be heavy on top of my regular job. At the time, of course, I was frantically compliant to survive. Looking back, relative to what you need to know and understand, I could have skipped a lot of reading and concentrated on summaries.

Posted by: Kurmudge | Aug 11, 2008 10:32:17 AM


You pull all-nighters for 50 pages a week?

I choose the wrong academic career . . .

Posted by: rrr | Aug 11, 2008 10:23:40 AM

To clarify further, there are two aspects to the "how dense is the reading?" issue. First, there is the "how hard are the ideas to understand, on a some sort of per-paragraph basis." I'll cheerfully admit that some fields, including some forms of philosphy are harder than history in this regard.

I'm not actually sure that's true of law. But, second, I really do think that law teachers require closer attention to smaller details than history grad teachers do. I agree with Paul Gowder that this is less intense after the first year, but it still differs greatly from history grad school, at least in my experience.

Prison Rodeo: re letting God sort them out, I think it's fair to tell students how you expect them to read. I just about died in my first few weeks of history grad school, trying to read like a law student. And that way of reading wasn't better for learning history, it was worse.

Bruce Boyden: Thanks for also admitting what I suspect is a common trick, um, technique among history grad students. That, and reading book reviews.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 11, 2008 10:16:10 AM

Of course, it's important to remember that most graduate programs in the social sciences are not remotely like history. In the seminars I teach in political science (and the same is true in economics, sociology, etc.), I'm likely to assign 3-4 things like (http://ssrn.com/abstract=1160927) most every week, and rarely to assign books at all. The notion that this is somehow "less dense" than legal reading is laughable.

That said, Rick: Why do you *care* of the reading is too much? In my own Ph.D. program, that's just a means of separating the serious students from the also-rans.

Assign 'em all, and let God sort them out.

Posted by: Prison Rodeo | Aug 11, 2008 9:25:32 AM

Matt's point is key -- there is an unacknowledged issue about disciplinarity here. History might not be the best benchmark. I did a humanities PhD before law school and, although I was not in history, I took a couple of seminars in the history department, and the reading loads for those courses were much larger in terms of page numbers than in my home discipline, but the expected level of focus and detail in the reading was much less. (No offense intended to the historians! I liked those courses best and found them more intellectually rewarding than those in my home department.)

Posted by: Just a lawyer | Aug 11, 2008 1:06:01 AM

I also did some graduate work in history, and I'll just say: ditto what Joseph Slater said. I also did the first-paragraph-of-every-chapter-first-sentence-of-every-paragraph method. Law school reading is generally closer reading.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Aug 11, 2008 12:50:36 AM

As indicated by other posters, it's not about the length of reading as measured in pages. It's about the amount of time the reading will take, on a per-credit basis. 50 pages of cases might be a lot. 50 pages of histories written about the context of Dred Scott might fly by. 50 pages of economics and philosophy might be absolutely brutal. (To piggyback of Matt's point, it should be clear that most law students could not handle 50 pages of Habermas.)

Posted by: 3L | Aug 10, 2008 11:05:46 PM

Am I the only person here who doesn't remember law school as requiring a particular attention to detail?

In 1L year, perhaps, because one is not used to reading cases. But by 2L and certainly 3L year, one ought to be able to read cases at blazing speed.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 10, 2008 8:20:09 PM

As others have said, it all depends on the type of reading, what it's for, and how it has to be dealt with. In a philosophy grad seminar you might spend a week on just a few pages. It's not because philosophy grad students are lazy, certainly not more so than history classes, but because the reading has to be gone over much more carefully. Readings might go much higher than 50 pages, but not if it has to be read very carefully. My impression is that's just not so in history- the same sort of care for each paragraph or even each line doesn't have to be devoted. Law is usually somewhat less deeply focused than philosophy but more so than history so it's perfectly plausible to go over less material, assuming you're not mostly looking at historical material that you want read in a general way, rather than with a close eye to particular arguments or details.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 10, 2008 7:35:37 PM

I have a PhD in history and a JD, so I'll chime in. Fist, yes it's true that, at least in most cases, history grad students are more interested in and excited by reading history than law students are about reading law.

But at least as importantly, history grad students and law students really do read different types of texts with different purposes. Law students might reasonably expect to be called on and quizzed about some seemingly not-terribly-significant detail in the facts, or about any part of the analysis or legal rule. Grad students typically aren't quizzed about names and dates in class; they talk about the book's thesis and argument, its use of sources, and its place in the relevant historiography. Sure, students also discuss facts they learned, but the teacher typically doesn't quiz them comprehensively on the facts.

When I was in grad school, I sometimes read books by reading the intro and conclusion to each chapter, and skimming topic sentences. Don't get me wrong: I thought grad school was, generally speaking, a more intellectually rewarding experience than law school. But nobody could read that way in law school and survive.

My recommendation: tell your students *explicitly* that they shouldn't be reading these longer assignments in the way that they are reading cases.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 10, 2008 4:14:16 PM

I went to graduate school in history before entering law school. My second year of grad school, when I was taking maybe 12 hours of classes, writing my M.A. thesis, and teaching, I read about as many pages in a month as I was asked to the entire first year of law school.

There might be something to the notion that law school requires deeper reading than grad school in the humanities or social sciences does, but why this be the case? I can think of the following theories:

First, in law school you are generally reading actual appellate decisions; that is, primary sources--and boring ones, at that, because the fun details always get lost. In grad school you are usually reading articles and monographs, often quite interesting ones. And whereas a historian or anthropologist is explicitly arguing a thesis, an appellate judge just doesn't write that way. Sometimes you have to read the case over and over to understand that a new rule is being propounded or that there's some tiny distinction between this case and that one. If it's a nineteenth-century case, you are tripping over demurrers, rules nisi, and assignments of error, and generally trying to keep the parties straight. If it's Cardozo or one of the other great stylists of the bench, you have to try to extract the actual meaning from the precious writing. Etc.

Second, you need to read enough to participate in class, which is supposed to be a bigger issue in law school. I guess that depends on the instructor and classroom environment. If you can hide behind your laptop, flip through the casebook, get the professor to give away the answers, etc., then preparing is not such a big deal. Also, I would not underestimate the level of embarrassment possible in a grad school colloquium, particularly because if you present yourself as a doofus to your advisor or other important folks (basically, any professor that might be on your committee or has a vote on fellowships) too many times you are done for. A law student who makes an ass of himself in Torts may never see that professor again, and anyway can pull out a good grade on the anonymously-graded exam. And there are plenty of scary professors in just about any university's arts & sciences faculty!

Third, and relatedly, the nature of discussions in grad school makes it very easy to adopt a certain critical posture and score points by quibbling with the reading. This seems harder in law school, because even if the judge made a mistake or failed to make a clever insight, it's precedent. (I despise this posture, by the way, and am glad to see so little of it now.)

Fourth, I suppose these are my own biases showing, but many students who attend law school did not have reading-intensive high-school and college educations, so reading 50 pages is a very big deal to them. They just don't have the habit and don't realize they can do it.

Posted by: Bama 1L | Aug 10, 2008 2:03:58 PM

As others have mentioned, not all reading is the same. With no disrespect to history or poly sci grad students, many of their readings simply aren't as dense as legal reading. That is compounded by the fact that a lot of legal writing is just horrible. I'm talking mostly cases, but damn, being on law review dispelled any notion that I had that professors were necessarily good writers.

Another key factor is that law students, in my experience, are keenly aware of what time is worth. Most seminars at my school were 2 credit hours. So, if I'm taking four courses... two 4 credit hour courses, one 3 hour, and one 2 hour, guess which are getting my priority? I know lawyers aren't supposed to be math whizzes, but c'mon, law students understand the impact of a B or C in a 2 hour course, versus a 4 hour course.

Personally, I'm bemused that history and poly sci students are bemused at law students, since most of them end seem to end up in law school when they discover the dearth jobs in history and poly sci!

Posted by: Dave! | Aug 10, 2008 1:56:44 PM

Professor Rick Hill of NYU Law, if I were your student reading this blog (which would be very possible given the open forum), I would be extremely disheartened that my professor thought me lazy, when all along I've been pulling all-nighters to get the reading done. However, reading through your blog, you do appear to put a great deal of effort into teaching, and therefore I'll assume that you're blowing off steam and didn't realize that anyone but fellow professors would be reading this blog.

As such, to answer your question, if a law student is taking 15 credits per semester, at approximately 15 hours of class per week, and is required to read 50 pages of material for every two hours of class each week, you're not only asking students to attend class for 15 hours per week (which adding in transition time between classes approaches 40% of the average person's typical full-time work week), but you're also asking your students to read 375 pages of often dry case law, brief it, and outline each and every week... Not to mention that most law schools start the fall semester at least 2 weeks before the History and PoliSci grad programs start, cut the winter break down by 1/2 from what your wife/colleagues and their students receive, and end finals around mid-May (when again, your wife/colleagues would also be ending their semesters).

Believe me, I lost a 5-year long relationship due to my lack of free time this past year. (But hey, if he can't stick by me through this, he won't stick by through worse, eh?) In fact, the well-worn T-shirt I'm presently wearing as I write this reads "Eat. Sleep. Brief. Repeat."

If you're as interested in getting your students involved in the material as you seem to be, look up Dr. Daniel Breen (JD and PhD of History, and professor of Politics, History, and Law). Dr. Breen is very possibly the most brilliant professor currently living, and everyone who has taken a course with him agrees. I've attached the link to student comments about him, which I guarantee you and any other professor looking for inspiration will find enlightening. See the link below.


Anyway, since your students are my competition and 90% of the lawyers get 10% of the business, please feel free to load on more reading. Perhaps a few more will break before making it to the bar.

Good luck, and do look up Dr. Breen.

- Collins

Posted by: Collins | Aug 10, 2008 1:43:23 PM

I don't think that it's necessarily true that 50 pages a week is a maximum, but I think more than that and you'll start weeding out students. Is that a bad thing? Well, if the seminar is discussion-style and you expect students to contribute, then it could be. I'm a 3L and my bachelor's degree was in History. I agree that the reading load is pretty light compared to the humanities, but think about it. You're getting people from all majors, including math and science, who aren't used to reading very much at all. Also, they have four other classes to read for. Personally, I do all my assignments and read fairly scholarly work "for fun," but that's because my brain functions in a different way than others'. I love to read. I don't think this is true of most law students - in fact I was shocked to realize just how many don't read the assignments, or read only parts, and hate it. I think for a seminar, if the reading is interesting, you may be able to get away with a lot more than 50 pages and have students read. I've had seminars where there were 100 pages a week assigned, but it was much more interesting than reading cases. If someone's in a seminar, they're normally there because they're interested in the topic. As an international studies person, who has no desire in practicing, Torts cases bored me to tears but give me 200 pages on human rights and I'm a happy fish. It all depends on the people.

Posted by: Judith | Aug 10, 2008 1:04:47 PM

Grad students don't typically take 15 credits/semester, do they? And what Jim said rings true. Law profs think law school is a scholarly endeavor, and for them it may have been. For the vast majority of students, it's merely a competition-limiting hoop they have to jump through to get admitted to the bar.

Posted by: Milo | Aug 10, 2008 1:01:08 PM

Like all good things in law school, you are part right and part wrong, and as a current law student, I am happy to give you my two cents. It isn’t that students will balk at 50-pages worth of just any material. The question is how difficult is the material that is being assigned, and how long will it take to prepare it for class. For example, if a professor assigns 50-pages of a particularly esoteric SCOTUS opinion, it can take hours to effectively prepare that piece for class. You can compare this to the “discovery mills” where you can probably read 50-pages of irrelevant e-mails in minutes. If a student is taking 14 credits in a semester, a 2 credit course should only take up 1/7th of their preparation time.

Additionally, I think it is unfair to compare the reading of graduate students in the Arts & Sciences to those of law students. Arts & Sciences graduate students, as far as I can tell, are not required to read with the depth that law students are. In a law class, perhaps not a seminar, you not only have to read the material but you have to digest and to prepare it so that when a professor calls on you for a recitation or feedback, you will not be thumbing through your book hoping to find the correct page with that miniscule fact on it. In other graduate schools they merely want to encourage discussion of the topic in the classroom, which means that they don’t have to know every detail off the top of their head. Since the expectation is merely to participate in a rolling class discussion, you can breeze through an entire book and participate sufficiently. Whereas, if a law student were to be asked to prepare a book, they would need to take copious notes that will lead them to the information in the source book they need.

If you would like to assign a book a week, I would recommend telling your class that they aren’t required to know the material with any particular depth. Of course, in doing that you are also not likely to get the kind of deep analysis one might expect from a law class.

Posted by: Josh S. | Aug 10, 2008 12:24:57 PM

I think the disconnect here is the implicit assumption that a law school student is similar to a history grad student. Law school in format (large classes), style (lecture), and structure (4 to 5 different subjects a semester) is just glorified undergraduate education. A student in a Phd program has demonstrated and interest and commitment to a life of intellectual activity that many law students reject. While law professors buy into the academic lifestyle, most law students go to law school for the practical goal of becoming a lawyer. Nothing at all wrong with that, but we should not be surprised that they, as a group, are less interested in scholarly readings than other students in a post-undergraduate environment.

Posted by: jim fischer | Aug 10, 2008 12:23:30 PM

Hi Rick. Welcome back!
My sense is that any norm of 50 pages of reading for a two hour seminar meeting applies only if they were expected to read several cases amounting to 50 pages of reading. Reading cases closely does take a lot more time than reading narrative history or Calhoun's disquisition. But to assume that they won't read more than 50 pages of anything is mistaken, I believe. My own experience as a law student undermines that, as does my few years of seminar teaching. Typically, I assign for my seminar on punitive damages one unedited SCT case (which might be 20-30 pages of Westlaw) and one longish law review article, which can be up to 100 pages or so. I do tell them for the law review articles that they need not pay too much attention to the footnotes.

I think that if you are not assigning cases, then about a 100-150 pages of reading is permissible if it's the kind of reading that moves quickly. I generally think students should not be forced to prep much more than 2 hours for each hour of class, so 4 hours of reading would probably counsel a cap of 200 pages or so, depending on how easy it is. But I also assume that cases take about an hour for every 15 pages or so. Obviously your mileage may vary!

One thing that I've found helpful and important in seminars to keep them in the game vis-a-vis reading is to require that they post on the TWEN site a question they had about the reading and an answer to someone else's question about the reading, all in advance of the class. That way you can determine what's giving students trouble and also ensuring that they've had to (pretend to) read actively.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 10, 2008 12:07:09 PM

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