Debunking the course selection myths


IN PREPARATION FOR COURSE selection, I thought I’d help debunk some common myths for 1Ls and 2Ls paging through the registration bulletin and desperately seeking guidance as far as what classes to choose.

1. The more words in the course name, the more interesting the class.

I know you’ve heard this one. Everyone always says to look for the classes with the long names. Forget “Copyright” (1 word) – what you really want to take are “Citizenship, Multiculturalism, Identity and Human Rights” (6 words), “Contemporary Islamic Legal Thought: Law, State, and World Order” (9 words), “Comparative Corporate Law and Governance: Germany, Switzerland, the U.S., and the U.K.” (12 words), and “Human Rights, State Sovereignty, and Persecution: Issues in Forced Migration and Refugee Protection” (27 words).

2. Legal research classes are awesome.

Compare these excerpts from descriptions of two different courses:

(A) “The emphasis will be placed on understanding the role of race, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status, gender, language, immigrant status, and other important student characteristics in the development of education policy and practice.”

(B) “Emphasis will be placed on contemporary developments, such as the new Lexis headnotes feature.”

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

3. The sequence in which you rank your choices actually matters.

A lot of students are under the mistaken impression that they will get most of the courses they want, because their rank-ordered sequencing of classes will be optimized in the system to at least give them a chance to get what they want. In fact, our rank-orders matter only for statistical purposes and have no effect on the actual assignments the registrar’s system makes. But, it does enable us to discover fun facts like no one in the history of the law school has ever ranked “Accounting” as anything higher than their 23rd choice.

4. All of the professional responsibility classes are the same.

(A) “The casebook will be Kaufman and Wilkins, Problems in Professional Responsibility (4th ed., 2002). Students should also have one of the Professional Responsibility standards handbooks, such as the current Dzienkowski edition”

(B) “The materials will be Kaufman and Wilkins, Problems in Professional Responsibility for a Changing Profession(4th ed. 2002) and Professional Responsibility Standards, Rules & Statutes (Dzienkowski ed. latest ed.).”

(C) “We will use Kaufman and Wilkins, Problems in Professional Responsibility for a Changing Profession(4th ed. 2002) and Selected Standards on Professional Responsibility (Morgan & Rotunda latest edition).”

See, that third one is hugely different. Apparently Mr. Dzienkowski did something to make professor C want to use a competitor’s statute book. Or maybe the professor just couldn’t remember how to spell his name.

5. If you want to get into a seminar, rank it first.

This is a myth because everyone knows you won’t get into a seminar no matter where you rank it. They’re all limited to three students, and those three students are the children of the people who work in the Registrar’s office. Don’t even try. Yes, they attempt to level the playing field by limiting everyone to signing up for one seminar in pre-registration, but when there are 1100 students bidding for classes, that really doesn’t help. I’m not getting into Law and Literature, you’re not getting in Law and Literature. The professor teaching it can barely get into Law and Literature. Stop kidding yourself. You don’t have to leave the space open in your schedule.

6. Take everything in the bundle, plus Evidence, Admin Law, and Accounting.

Because every lawyer should know Tax. Because every lawyer should know about Corporations. Well, why the heck shouldn’t every lawyer know Pottery? If you’ve gone through OCI, you surely noticed how boring all of the lawyers you encountered were. These people are boring because they took all of these required classes. They didn’t take Art Law. I mean, they wanted to, but they couldn’t get in (see #5). So they took the stuff everyone “recommends” and became dry, boring people without interests outside the law. Cross-register. Drop out. Become a sculptor. Don’t take Evidence. (I don’t mean to pick on Evidence. You can substitute anything in it’s place. Don’t want to make any Evidence professors mad at me. They know how to kill me and not get caught. Evidence. Get it? Yeah, me neither.)

7. The best classes meet on Friday afternoons.

Everyone’s always trying to get Friday afternoon classes, but don’t fall into that trap. You don’t want to choose classes just based on when they meet. You want to choose them based on what the grade distribution will look like and whether or not there’s a final exam. Don’t be part of the herd racing to take Friday afternoon classes. It won’t be worth it.

8. Take classes you’ll need for the Bar Exam.

Because everyone fails the bar exam unless they’ve taken all the relevant classes. Come on. Everyone here is smart enough to learn Evidence (sorry to keep picking on Evidence) from a book, or, if we take Bar/Bri, from a sixteen-hour videotape we’ll watch in a high school classroom with fifty other students whose firms are paying thousands of dollars for us to watch TV for six weeks. You don’t need to worry about the bar exam when choosing classes. You only need to worry about the bar exam after you fail it the first three times and your firm is about to crucify you (an appropriate metaphor for me to use on Easter, right? I was hoping to get the word ‘crucify’ in here somewhere).

9. No one should graduate from law school without taking classes from the worst professors at the law school.

That’s what everyone always says. “You’ll love the worst professors – no matter what they teach it’s always… horrible.” A bad professor can ruin an interesting topic. A good professor can make a boring topic come alive. But, as it seems, most professors split the electorate. “He’s great,” “She’s terrible,” “He’s boring,” “She’s fascinating,” might be the four comments you hear about the average transgendered professor. So how can you tell? Well, back to the conventional wisdom: listen to the people whose opinions you trust the least. And always follow the course evaluations, since they help distinguish between professors so very well with the sharp distinctions: “Oh, she got a 4.62 – that sucks. Especially compared to the 4.63 the other guy got.” If our grades were on the same curve the course evaluations were on, we’d all be graduating magna cum laude and have Supreme Court clerkships.

10. Follow your heart.

This is a myth. If we followed our heart, we’d be in cooking school / art school / writing the Great American Novel. Follow your brain. It’s what got us here. Look, few if any classes here are terrible, and it’s impossible to really know what the great ones are because they’re different for everyone. We can’t go right, but we can’t really go wrong. I choose based on the free promotional materials each professor sends to us to induce us to sign up for his or her class. What? You didn’t get Prof. Tribe’s yo-yo?

Good luck with course selection. We need it.

Jeremy Blachman’s column appears weekly. He also posts commentary here.

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