Stupid Law Professor Tricks


I'm currently sitting in evidence. The professor, probably the scariest I've had since coming here, just got done giving one of the on-call students a thorough tongue-lashing for getting an answer wrong.

The question concerned Federal Rule of Evidence 407, which excludes evidence of subsequent remedial measures for purpose of proving liability. For instance, suppose I own an apartment building. The lightbulb goes out in the stairwell. One of the tenants slips, falls, and sues. I have my building manager change the lightbulb. The Federal Rules of Evidence prevent the tenant from introducing evidence of the lightbulb change. The Rules are this way for policy reasons; if I knew that changing the lightbulb would be taken as proof of my guilt, I'd be tempted not to change the lightbulb and leave the dangerous condition. You can make all sorts of arguments about whether things work out this way in real life, but there it is.

As usual with rules, there are all sorts of exceptions (only applies to proving liability, not to impeaching testimony, only applies to subsequent remedial action, doesn't apply to third party actions, etc.) The professor gave a hypothetical from the book. The hypo turned around whether Rule 407 applied for a strict liability action. The student confidently stated that it does not. The professor spent several minutes brow-beating the student. "You come to me with your fancy Columbia law degree and you give me a bullshit answer like that?!" etc.

Turns out, the student's answer was right... 6 months ago. Between when the book was published and today's class, Congress amended the Rules of Evidence to make Rule 407 apply to strict liability crimes. After embarrasing the student for a while, the professor lectured the class on the importance of always checking the latest version of the rules on-line before coming to class, because you can't trust the materials he assigned to be entirely up-to-date.

I could say this isn't fair, but that isn't a very interesting point. We're in the wrong universe for fair. It's just to comment that I've never seen a professor go so far out of his way to embarrass a student before; usually they can fulfill their need for schadenfreude in the normal course of interrogating students about cases.

Also, this particular session is terrible for my nerves. One of the on-call students is named Molten Boron. The professor keeps calling on him, which makes my head snap up and my stomach knot instantly even though I know it's not me. This is why I hate other people who have my name. Stupid other Molten Borons.


Good lord, what a harsh way to run a class! I can't imagine a prof treating a student that way, particularly when the student was correct (at least according to the textbook). Is that really the state of law schools these days? You have to check the latest legislation online to make sure that what's in your book is still true? Wow... tough times for sure!

Eh. I would say that checking statutes against the casebook goes well beyond Due Diligence for most classes. I would also say that, while a lot of professors enjoy terrorizing students, this professor's at the extreme end of the spectrum in that regard. Law School does involve a lot of anal-retentive studying and is, by and large, silly, but I wouldn't say this is the norm at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 20, 2006 4:26 PM.

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