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Monday, March 17, 2014

The 1L Canon

From time to time, I like to remind my 1L students that they’re becoming part of a distinct professional community, with shared experiences and a common culture.  For instance, the general stresses and struggles that students encounter throughout their 1L year have been similarly experienced by countless generations of lawyers.  The 1L experience thus becomes a common cultural touchpoint that they’ll share with any other lawyer they meet.

So occasionally during my 1L Torts class, I’ll tell my students something like: “This is one of those classic 1L cases that anyone who’s been to law school in the last 30 years will remember.  If you ever need to make small talk with a random lawyer and all else fails, you can always chat about this case.”  I say this in reference to at least two cases during the semester: Palsgraf (of course) and Vosburg v. Putney (the famous “eggshell skull” case).

This made me think about other cases that might be included within the “1L canon”—that is, 1L cases that are both so memorable and commonly taught that they become part of the shared cultural background of anyone (or nearly anyone) who’s gone through law school.  Just to be clear, I’m not talking about cases that are ubiquitous merely because they stand for significant propositions; everyone presumably reads Erie and International Shoe as a 1L, but I don’t imagine that many people have striking memories of covering these cases in law school.  I’m talking about commonly read cases that stand out as memorable for some reason.  This may be because of colorful facts (like the exploding package in Palsgraf), but it can be for other reasons as well; for example, I’d guess that many of us harbor some not-so-fond memories of struggling through Pennoyer as newly minted 1Ls.

Another way of framing the question: if you tell a random lawyer sitting next to you on a plane that you teach Civil Procedure (or Torts, Contracts, etc.), what case(s) would they most likely bring up?  Palsgraf and Pennoyer seem to me obvious inclusions; I’d throw Vosburg in there too, although I’m not sure how ubiquitous it is.  Any other nominees for cases within the “1L canon”?

Posted by David Han on March 17, 2014 at 04:19 PM | Permalink


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Pennoyer v Neff

Posted by: David Levine | Mar 19, 2014 12:37:09 AM

While I tend to agree that if there is a canonical case in the criminal law context, then it is probably Dudley & Stephens, I think it interesting that there isn't a more American and doctrinally central case. If it's Dudley, it's because of its facts (cannibalism) rather than it's doctrinal power or legal reasoning (the necessity defense, and certainly this variant of it, seem marginal to many of our criminal law concerns). Does this say something about criminal law pedagogy? Or the criminal law itself? Or am I underselling Dudley (necessity gets at something important about responsibility)?

Posted by: Eric Miller | Mar 18, 2014 11:42:41 PM

I'm not sure that it's in the canon, but I'm trying to get it there:
Murphy vs. Steeplechase Amusement Co - The Flopper case: "the timorous may stay at home"

Posted by: Chris Buccafusco | Mar 18, 2014 6:39:45 PM

Scott Dodson

Posted by: Erie | Mar 18, 2014 1:06:43 PM


Posted by: Scott Dodson | Mar 18, 2014 12:38:35 PM

Goldberg v. Kelly

Posted by: Yalie | Mar 18, 2014 9:42:00 AM

Ploof v. Putnam and Garratt v. Daily in Torts

Posted by: Derek Black | Mar 18, 2014 9:10:18 AM

Wickard. =-)

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 18, 2014 8:39:51 AM

In re Polemis

Posted by: AB | Mar 18, 2014 2:07:57 AM

Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company! I loved that case so much, I actually bought myself a smoke ball: http://www.carbolicsmokeball.com/carbolic-smoke-ball-pen-holder.html#.Uyexsf0-gTF

Posted by: 3.s. eLiot | Mar 17, 2014 10:42:10 PM

McCulloch v. Maryland: when necessary doesn't really mean necessary

Posted by: TS | Mar 17, 2014 6:35:39 PM

In contracts, the "two ships Peerless" case for sure, though in teaching that case I typically find that the students have enormous difficulty puzzling out what the report of the proceedings actually says or signifies. And of course Hadley v. Baxendale, the famous case of the broken mill shaft. Again, an old English case that blows students' first-semester 1L's minds, and not always in a good way, though usually memorably.

Posted by: jason yackee | Mar 17, 2014 5:53:41 PM

Pierson v. Post!! (in my Helmholz voice)

Posted by: Franita Tolson | Mar 17, 2014 5:31:38 PM

Pierson v. Post - the great fox case.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Mar 17, 2014 5:12:46 PM

Dudley & Stephens

Posted by: Anon | Mar 17, 2014 4:41:22 PM

Hawkins v. McGee -- the hairy hand case in contracts

Posted by: anon | Mar 17, 2014 4:26:29 PM

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