–From Jennifer Longo, University of Memphis School of Law, Date of event: Spring 2007
At the beginning of the year, my Torts professor made it known that we were not only allowed but encouraged to bring our friends and loved ones to class. Often, he would call on students who brought visitors so they could “impress” their guests. Realizing this might deter some from bringing visitors, he later informed us that if we didn’t want to be picked on for bringing a guest we should just let him know not to call on us. So after months of talking up his class, I finally managed to get my boyfriend of three years, who was in town for Valentine’s Day, to come to class.
On the day of the incident, I sent my professor an email to let him know that my boyfriend was coming to class, and that I didn’t feel any need to impress him so he really didn’t need to call on me. A number of students had brought their significant others to class without incident, so I naively thought it was safe. Well, “Tortman” kept his word and didn’t call on me, but the same didn’t go for my boyfriend.
Ironically, the topic for the day was spousal immunity. In the middle of the lecture, my boyfriend was introduced to the Socratic method firsthand when the professor asked him if he had any questions. He responded in the negative, but Tortman followed up anyway. He said he didn’t want to pry but, since the topic was spousal immunity, he had to ask, “Have you two discussed getting married?”
My boyfriend felt the same feeling that many law students feel when they are faced with a Socratic question to which they don’t have an answer. Stunned, he racked his brain for the correct response as the class erupted in laughter, and I turned bright red. After a prolonged response that felt like forever, my boyfriend responded “no comment.”
This wasn’t the first time that we had been embarrassed about the marriage question but this was the first time it was done in front of a class of seventy people. But I guess I should have been ready for such an event, especially since we had just finished studying assumption of risk.
Needless to say this will be a Valentine’s Day to remember. As for my boyfriend, I don’t think he’s a fan of the Socratic method.
McClurg note: As the perpetrating prof in this incident, I plead guilty to all charges.
–From Keaton Oberst, Texas Wesleyan School of Law, Date of event: Fall 2005
On the very first day of Torts, a student was reciting the facts of a case, and concluded that the defendant was found “guilty.”
“Really?” the professor asked, sounding intrigued. “He was found guilty.”
The student responded that the defendant was indeed guilty. Without warning, the professor threw himself against the wall in mock distress.
This surprising prompt allowed the student to realize her mistake in confusing civil and criminal justice. She corrected herself by saying the defendant was liable.
The professor responded, “Phew! I was worried there for a second!”
The class was amused and my colleague seemed quite embarrassed.
–From Melissa John, Northeastern University School of Law, Date of event: 2001
Having gone straight from college to law school, I didn’t even own a suit by the time first-year mock oral arguments came around. The weekend before I was scheduled, I hit Filene’s and bought a brand new “power suit.” I looked pretty sharp, felt pretty good, and come oral argument time, I was ready to blow them away.
As I put the suit on, I realized, in terror, that there in very obvious plain view was the shoplifting tag that the Filene’s clerk had left on my jacket! Not having any time to stop at a store to get it removed before the argument, I just went to school, hoping no one would notice. Wouldn’t you know, the first words out of my opponent’s mouth were: “Your Honor, opposing counsel is a common criminal and shoplifter, how can you believe anything this woman says?!”
Needless to say, that comment broke the ice, and I was able to make my argument with a lot less tension.
–From Rob Spring, Southern Illinois University School of Law, Date of event: Spring 2003
Spring semester of my first year: We had just finished writing an appellate brief and the first-year class was partnered up to compete in oral arguments. The week before we had a practice round before local lawyers and judges. I didn’t do too badly, my brief was pretty good and my partner was better than me.
My real argument was scheduled for the next week. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was sure my argument was set for a week from Thursday. It wasn’t. On Wednesday the week before, as I was walking out to my car ready to drive home, I happened to see one of the guys I was arguing against running towards the law building in a suit and holding a brief in his hand. A sudden flash of panic came over me.
Nah, it couldn’t be today. But I needed to make sure and went back to check the posted schedule on the professor’s door. Much to my horror, not only was I up on Wednesday, but I only had 5 minutes to prepare, and I didn’t even have a copy of my brief! I hadn’t prepared at all. All I could think of was that I was going to repeat Lawyering Skills again. I thought of just ditching and running to my car and heading home.
But I decided to bite the bullet and go down to the courtroom, where I was greeted by our opponents and my partner, who had a look of total disbelief on her face. All three of them in suits and dressed for success. I hadn’t shaved, and needed a haircut, and was wearing a faded blue teeshirt, a pair of Quicksilver shorts, and sandals.
Luckily my partner didn’t kill me and had a copy of my brief. After explaining myself to the court for my unprofessional attire, we were allowed to proceed. I was supposed to go first, but had to force my partner to go first while I tried to figure out what I was going to say to fill up 15 minutes. Luck was on my side. My brief had been pretty good to begin with, so improvising with it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. When my partner finished, I gulped and jumped right in. I greeted the court and surprisingly enough did well. Afterwards, we all had a really big laugh.
I was really lucky and I know it. I was lucky I had a good partner, that she had a copy of my brief with her, that I saw Robbie (my opponent) in a suit, and finally that my professor didn’t kick my ass right out of the court room when I showed up in shorts and a teeshirt.
–From Anna Scruggs, University of Michigan Law School, Date of event: Spring 2005
Today, by email, during our Friday afternoon Con Law class, a dance-off was declared to take place after class between the right side of the room and the left side of the room. Then, just as our prof ended the class, someone pulled out a boom-box and things got crazy.
Two guys from our side of the room jumped up on the tables and busted out their best/worst moves, prompting the other side to dance back. Then I, along with another right-side mate busted out our best. The whole time, our prof was laughing so hard (she didn’t know this was coming) that it looked like she was going to fall off the podium. There were people in sunglasses, people chair-dancing, on tables, just for the heck of it.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, instead of the left side returning fire, our prof (a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk) jumped down from the podium and started breaking it down! So in the end, we declared our prof the winner. Like we didn’t already think she was the best.
I still have no idea why there was a dance-off, but that’s the funniest thing we’ve ever had happen in our section. Exams come and go, but what I’m going to remember best is getting served by our professor. Maybe there will be a re-match.
–From Scott Holmes, Cumberland School of Law, Date of event: Spring 2004
In my Property class with Prof. Snoe in the Spring of 2004 he asked a classmate, “Do you notice that when you talk all the typing stops?” (Most students in the class use laptops for note taking.)
“Yes, sir,” the student replied.
“Why do you think that is?” asked Prof. Snoe.
“I guess because I am wrong,” the student answered.
Snoe quickly responded, “You should have more faith in yourself, Mr. ___. I am sure you are wrong.”
Prof. Snoe is still the master of the Socratic Method.
–From Anne Fitzpatrick, University of Michigan Law School, Date of event: Fall 2003.
McClurg note: My parody of law school, The Law School Trip, contains a fictional student’s class notes regarding the rule against perpetuities, with bastardized references such as “Alien Nation of Property???” and “Life in Bean???” Anne Fitzpatrick proves once again that fact is stranger than fiction with this real-life excerpt from her Contracts notes regarding the parol evidence rule:
Found in my notes for J.J. White’s Contracts class during my first week of law school: reference to “the pro-elevens rule (?)”
–From Alyssa Bender, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Date of event: Fall 2003
It was towards the end of the semester and we were in Contracts class. It was nearing the end of class, when our teacher said, “Okay, now I’m going to tell you about the final exam.” There was complete silence in the room, when I — not intending to — sighed and said, “Oh God.”
The room erupted in laughter, and everyone was looking at me. I was totally unaware that my sigh was heard or why everyone was laughing. Finally, the person next to me told me everyone heard me. I went beet red. The professor just went on telling us about the exam. Later, on the way out, people came up to me and told me: “Wow, you said exactly what I was thinking/feeling.”; and “What a great way to break that tension. Good job!” I was thoroughly mortified, and then I had to hear from everyone in my section come exam time: “Remember: no sighing during the exam!”
–From Francine Traiger-Poor, Massachusetts School of Law, Date of event: March 2001
We were in first-year torts and discussing slander. The Professor stated that one of the elements of slander was that the defamatory statement must be heard by “one third person.” A student raised her hand and told the Professor she didn’t understand.
The Professor went on to explain how if one third person didn’t hear the statement it wasn’t considered published and didn’t fulfill the elements. The student, still obviously confused, asked: “But I still don’t understand which 1/3 of the person has to hear it!”
–From Emily Durham, Valparaiso University School of Law, Date of event: Fall 2003
About two weeks into the fall semester, my fellow 1Ls had not quite figured out that cell phones were a major felony in class. Somewhere about halfway into our Criminal Law class, the FOURTH cell phone rings. It took all he had for our professor to stop class and say with a straight face, “Just put them on vibrate and play with yourselves.”
–From Paula Cardoza, Indiana University School of Law, Date of event: 1979
I call this one “Realistic Expectations.” It was the end of the first semester of our first year, and we were petrified and clueless as we approached final exams. One professor told us that he would put one of his past exams and a sample “A” answer on reserve. Without missing a beat, a voice from the back of the room called out, “Could you put a sample ‘C’ answer on reserve, too?”
–From Debra Reece, University of Arkansas School of Law at Little Rock, Date of event: Fall 2000
Okay, here’s my funny law school moment. I’ll leave out the poor guy’s name. We were in property class, discussing wills, etc. One of my classmates was having a little trouble getting down the vernacular. He particularly had trouble with mortgagor vs. mortgagee. So he was always careful to check to see if he was on the right track when new words were introduced.
After spending some weeks with exercises that referred to a “grantor” and “grantee,” we had a problem with a testator in it. He was a bit confused, so he asked, “If the grantor leaves stuff to his grantees, does that mean the testator leaves stuff to his testes?”
We roared. It took him several seconds before he realized what he’d said, and our professor was rendered speechless. Several times in our first-year orientation, we heard, “Don’t worry about saying something stupid in class. No one will ever remember what you said.”
Not true. We will never let him live that one down.
–From Ming Chi, University of Hawaii School of Law, Date of event: Fall 2002
While in Contracts we had a case about a woman who sued a man who had promised to pay for some of the child-raising costs for a baby born as a result of a one-night stand between them. However, the man took a paternity test and found out he wasn’t the father, so he refused to pay. Our professor was leading our class in discussion and I mumbled something about this case being something straight out of Jerry Springer. Our professor caught wind of my words and then proceeded to ask the class who mentioned Jerry.
I nervously raised my hand and she asked me to elaborate. Well, I let the class have it … ranting about how this slutty woman was sleeping around with multiple men and how unfair it was to make the man pay for child support even though she had given the kid up for adoption after three years.
The professor looked really confused and was trying hard to see how my ranting related to our discussion. It was then that my friend Becky, who sat next to me, tapped me on the shoulder and told me, “I think she thought you said jury.”
The class roared in laughter after I explained myself, and I think I was excused from all other class discussion that day for Contracts.
–From Tom O’Neil, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, Date of event: 1992
In my first year of law school, my dear friend Deacon was on the hot seat in Criminal Law one day. The professor was grilling Deacon about the viability of a fetus as it relates to murder. In one of his answers, Deacon made a very intelligent and medical-sounding response.
The professor, apparently taken aback with the student’s elevated tone, asked “Are you a doctor?” to which Deacon responded, “No, but I played one on TV.” While the class thoroughly enjoyed his answer, the professor completely missed the joke and continued the discussion on homicide …
–From Chris Krankemann, Regent University School of Law, Date of event: Fall 1998
Every law school I bet has its zealots for Constitutional law. You know, the ones who live to talk about it and never shut up in class. The ones who think that they are smarter than the nine justices on the Supreme Court.
Well, I was not one of those people, nor were my close friends in law school. So for my small group of friends to escape the misery of Con Law we decided to create a new form of entertainment called CON LAW BINGO. Perhaps someone else thought of this first, but we had never heard of it.
Every day before class, we held a draft in order to pick students (zealots) who surely were likely to open their mouths during class. Every player drafted nine people, to create a 3 x 3 card of zealots, but no zealot could be on more than one card. Strategy was everything!
Then it was just the basic rules of bingo. Once three zealots in a row spoke out in class, the player had to raise his/her hand in class and make some sort of comment regarding the class. But to win, the player had to incorporate the word “BINGO” in his comment to the class.
By the end of the semester, almost the entire class was entering into their own bingo groups and playing CON LAW BINGO.
However, eventually the professor became suspicious since the word “BINGO” was mysteriously being worked into the discussion 2 or 3 times every class. He eventually discovered our little game and scolded us for not taking Constitutional Law seriously enough.
–From Rita Weeks, Boston University School of Law, Date of event: 2002
We had 20 minutes left in our 2 hour constitutional law class, and everyone was bored stiff. The professor was irritated at the lack of participation and enthusiasm, but most students were either already asleep or online on their laptops.
A strange, faint noise came from the back of the room that got my attention. It sounded like a little bell ringing –– the type a dog or cat would have on its collar. Curious, I turned and looked behind me, but didn’t see anything, so I turned back around. My friend, Jeremy, who sits next to me, said ““There is a dog behind you!”” Of course, I figured he was teasing me about my extreme love for dogs, so I rolled my eyes, but he said, “No really, there is a dog behind you.”
Looking behind me again, I saw a tiny little white fluffy dog that couldn’t have weighed more than 4 pounds. The dog was just quietly walking around, from the back of the room to the front of the room. I almost started laughing, and Jeremy and a few other students around us were trying not to laugh as well.
The professor heard the commotion and turned to our side of the room and asked if there was a problem. Of course, none of us said a thing, which made her even more irritated. The dog was right by my feet at this point, and I wanted to pick it up and give it back to the girl who sat a few rows behind me, who was obviously the dog’s owner as she was trying to discreetly coax the dog back towards her, but I figured if the prof saw me holding a dog she would have my head.
We tried to stay quiet, but the tiny dog made its way to the front of the room, where it peed on the floor!
When the professor finally saw it, she was less than thrilled, but the whole class couldn’t help but laugh and talk about it. In her commanding classroom manner, she announced, “Well, I guess the shit hasn’t hit the fan, but the urine has!”
She then harshly reminded us that along with cell phones and food, animals were items that we are not allowed to bring to her class.
–From Jim Redeker, Washburn University School of Law, Date of event: Fall 1995
We were first year students and most of us were still deathly afraid of not being prepared for class. One of my classmates, a real “gunner,” lamented to a professor that he was ALWAYS prepared for class, but that none of his professors would call on him. His classmates were treated to hassle free classes for the next week as every professor had this student answer every question in every class.
On Monday, the student seemed quite pleased with all of the attention he was getting. On Tuesday, he was not so thoroughly prepared and he heard about it. On Wednesday, he was prepared for all of his classes again. By Thursday, his lack of sleep was starting to become evident. By Friday, he was pleading with his professors to stop calling on him.
–From Jenna Solari, University of Georgia School of Law, Date of event: Spring 1998
A simple, yet funny, classroom exchange took place between Professor Robert Brussack and first-year civil procedure student Chris Hoofnagle during my second semester of law school (Spring 1998). Having one semester under our belts, we had begun to figure out the Socratic method. Professor Brussack posed a complicated question to Chris, who gave a long-winded but intelligent sounding answer. The room was silent for a few seconds after Chris finished speaking, until Chris finally shrugged and said, “Well, that was my best guess. I’m sorry it was wrong.” Professor Brussack replied, “How do you know it was wrong?” With the utmost sincerity Chris responded, “Because you’re smiling.”
–From K. Christopher Branch, Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Date of event: circa 1988
At our school, we had chalkboards that slid up and down so that when both were in the down position, you could only see the first board and not the second. In the middle of a first-year Property class, the professor ran out of space on the first board and pushed it up revealing the second, on which someone had stuck a huge bumper sticker from a welding school that said, “WHY NOT TRY WELDING?” Everyone lost it, and the professor lost the class for the rest of the day.
Another day, we locked the prof out of the classroom. We thought it was funny until he walked away and made us come back on a Saturday to make it up. Guess he had the last laugh.
–From McClurg, University of Florida College of Law, Date of event: circa 1978
I decided to add a couple of my own stories from law school in the hope that you—the loyal website visitor—will be stimulated to send in your own story.
What’s scarier than the first day of law school Orientation? We were packed like matches into an auditorium at the University of Florida, sitting in alphabetical order. Speaker after speaker took the podium, but the only thing I remember them stressing was the lack of bathroom facilities in the law school. I’m sure they talked about other things, but that’s what seemed to stand out. The way people went on and on about it, it appeared to be the most important issue in legal education.
After the speeches, we were divided into groups. A third-year student took us on a tour of the law school. We traipsed in single file down hallways, through classrooms and finally into the library, where in a narrow aisle between the stacks a large puddle on the floor blocked our passage.
Everyone, including our 3L tour guide, stood stymied staring at the puddle until the guy behind me deadpanned, “I guess they weren’t joking about the bathrooms.”
In the stress of the circumstances, this struck me as hilarious. I turned and introduced myself to James H. “Mac” McCarty, Jr., who to this day is one of my best friends.