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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

First Assignments

The first assignment I give in Civil Procedure is likely the first regular class assignment ever for the incoming 1Ls (one aspect of teaching an 8:30am Monday morning class!).  Although we spend most of the first class on an problem/discussion that works well, for the last few years I have also assigned Marshall v. Marshall, the Anna Nicole Smith decision in the Supreme Court.  It has become dated and a bit pathetic, given the outcome, so I'm looking for suggestions for a snazzy Civ Pro case to start the course. 

I used Marshall v. Marshall for a couple of reasons:

  • It shows the messiness of cases and multiplicity of issues (sometimes missing from heavily excerpted casebook versions).  The suggestion is that the course will provide a chance to unravel the threads one by one. 

  • It had a celebrity/good story hook.  This may seem like a sad bid to convince students that Civ Pro is snazzy, fun and probably the most important law school class (all true, by the way), but I want to at least convey that these issues are hotly contested and that stories about, say, elderly billionaire oil man and feuds over money are often resolved on procedural grounds.


Posted by Verity Winship on August 5, 2009 at 12:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink


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I'd be interested to hear how old-school goes: Pennoyer v. Neff has great characters and backstory (and also visuals, which I use in powerpoint). But I remember having a hard time with it as a student and my students struggle with it, so I've moved to teaching "Anatomy of a Lawsuit" first. That used to be relatively straightforward, although Twombly/Iqbal may have changed that....

Tim - I sympathize. I was called on first in two of my classes on my first day of law school. I'm not sure whether it was the W or the "Verity" that caught their attention.

Posted by: Verity Winship | Aug 7, 2009 8:52:47 AM

Eons ago, my Civil Procedure class, taught by Abe Chayes, started with Sibbach v. Wilson, 312 U.S. 1 -- presumably to demonstrate that no one really understands what "procedure" means.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Aug 6, 2009 11:23:58 PM

I am teaching Civ Pro for the first time this year, and I'm starting old school: Pennoyer. Instead of having the students read a recent sexy case, I'm attempting to bring sexy back to Pennoyer. We'll see if that works.

Posted by: VSR | Aug 6, 2009 9:38:24 PM

Capron v. Van Norden works if you have a good story to go with it.

Like having a group of attorneys from Skokie show up with a contracts dispute in the Northern District of Illinois, representing all Illinois residents, and saying "Judge, we don't know why we're in your courtroom but we're really honored to be here."

Then-Judge Mark Filip had that story when he taught my Civ Pro II class.

Or, you could go with an audio file of Easterbrook and Posner on the 7th Circuit, ripping a new one into some hapless attorney who messed up something taught in civ pro, and let this be a lesson to everyone of why it's important to get it right. But that might be too terrifying and hard to follow. Perhaps during the review before the final exam.

Posted by: ALB | Aug 6, 2009 12:00:18 PM

I've used the Heath Ledger litigation regarding his life insurance proceeds. I don't believe there are reported decisions in the case, but there are some good pleadings involving removal to federal court.

Posted by: civpro rules! | Aug 6, 2009 9:53:19 AM

I'm not sure it's snazzy, but you could start with Iqbal. Should Iqbal get to drag Ashcroft and Mueller into court? I imagine it could generate some interesting discussion, particularly if you modify the facts to reverse the political valences.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Aug 6, 2009 1:16:13 AM

Key v. Robertson, 2009 WL 1684412 (E.D.Va. June 5, 2009).

Posted by: Michelle | Aug 5, 2009 10:39:03 PM

Who cares?

Just be sure to call on the person at the end of the alphabet, as my civ pro prof did to me ("mindful of the scriptural admonition that the last shall be first ..."). No, there were no other Zinneckers in the room. Bummer. I've been scarred for life, but my therapist says I've shown noticeable improvement in recent years.

Posted by: Tim Zinnecker | Aug 5, 2009 9:08:52 PM

How about the Chrysler section 363 sale ruling?

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 5, 2009 5:40:12 PM

How about one of the Yahoo! v. LICRA opinions? Procedurally wild, and while there are no celebrities, a good story hook involving a complex (and still evolving) procedural landscape. Bonus points for introducing your students to the coolness of Civ Pro and Conflicts of Law in one fell swoop.

Posted by: RES | Aug 5, 2009 1:33:07 PM

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