Hep Catalogs

Originally appeared in the August 1998 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Hep Catalogs

BY ANDREW J. McCLURG

With all the fuss over law school rankings, the question arises as to exactly what causes a school to get highly ranked. Experts have identified two principal factors: 1. Being Harvard. 2. Having a really good catalog.

Since lower-ranked schools are not Harvard, they need to work on better catalogs. I got one in the mail the other day that was so slick I thought it came from J. Crew and accidentally enrolled in a global studies program while trying to order the dean’s chino shorts. To compete in the modern marketplace, it’s important for law schools to invest in hip, student friendly catalogs.

Here are some suggestions:

Message from the Dean. Most law school catalogs begin with a message from the dean. These messages can be unbelievably boring (except for the one my dean wrote), jammed with platitudes (truly moving sentiments, sir) and suffer from chronic repetition of the word “tradition” (23 times really isn’t so bad, dean). Today’s applicants want a dean who can communicate openly and honestly about their academic concerns. Here’s a sample:

“Waz-up? It’s me, your Deanster, the Deanzilla of deans, MC Heavy D Dean, but you can call me Jeff. We all go by first names here because we see student satisfaction as our primary mission, way above teaching law.

“I, like, gotta keep this short ’cause I’m on my way to teach my Constitutional Law class. Today we’re studying the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Hurl-a-rama? No way, dudes. We’ll be jammin’ to a techno-laser show while we’re learning it.

“Paper Chase, Schmaper Chase, let’s talk Melrose Place …”

Curriculum. High-ranked schools offer lots of boutique courses addressing important issues in legal education: globalism, multi-culturalism, post-modernism, basically anything you can stick an ism on. This makes your catalog look dull if all you have are relics like Property and Income Tax. New courses cost a lot. Save money by dressing up the names of the old ones, making sure to include the proper buzz words.

For example, Income Tax has more panache as “Global Deconstructionism of Multi-Cultural Payors In A Post-Modern Society.” If you really want to be on the cutting edge, be daring. Go beyond global, beyond post-modern. Rename Civil Procedure “Deep Space Pennoyerism In A Neo-Neffist Universe.”

Faculty. Applicants are very interested a school’s faculty. If your faculty lacks outstanding academic credentials, make up for it by emphasizing their other qualities. Example: “Professor Hal Weenicker, B.A., J.D., Brickyard University, tidy appearance, punctual, likes movies, walking and cats, never killed anybody.”

Academic Calendar. Most law school catalogs include an academic calendar, but many make the mistake of emphasizing negatives like tuition due dates and exam periods. Gain ground on the elite schools by fashioning a calender that appeals to young applicants:

Monday: Sleep In Late; Contracts; Rest Period; Lunch; Nap-time; Enfeoffment Mud Wrestling; Slumber Party at Dean’s.

Tuesday: Civil Procedure Coffee and Danish Drop-In; Jerry Springerism Alternative Dispute Resolution (prerequisite: proof of insurance); Lunch; Criminal Law Lecture Series: “The Defense of Mental Incapacity” (at Vino’s Bar).

Wednesday through Friday: Torts Snowboarding Trip and Review Session.

Saturday: “Casebook Recycling Day” to benefit Environmental Law Club.

Sunday: Student-Faculty boxing.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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