Thursday, November 19, 2009

Learning the Law Through Stories

Foundation Press has just published their 30th Law Stories book.  The idea behind these books is to learn the stories behind the cases you study in law school.  It is a good approach.  As I mentioned a few days ago, I rented Scottsboro: An American Tragedy after studying Powell v. Alabama in my Criminal Procedure class.  I also finished reading Gideon's Trumpet which gives the background story behind Gideon v. Wainright, the landmark Supreme Court case which established the right of all indigent criminal defendants to have an attorney appointed to them if they could not afford one on their own.  (The development of this case stemmed from the holdings in Powell.)  Learning the context of the cases and the stories behind the people involved serve two useful functions:

1) Providing historical context for the cases involved and how they relate to previous rulings makes understanding their importance much easier than studying the cases in isolation to their broader context.

2) Hearing more about the human elements of the cases -- learning what happened before and after the cases were decided -- appeals to our natural inclination towards storytelling.  This makes the cases become more alive and meaningful.  It makes the connection between impersonal law and personal lives, making the law much more memorable.

I first heard about the Law Stories series while taking Antitrust.  I purchased Antitrust Stories and got one of the best grades I've received in law school in that class.  (Interning at the Federal Trade Commission at the time didn't hurt either.)  I regret not having read through this series in my other classes.  (I currently have Criminal Procedure Stories and Tax Stories checked out from our library and have been reading about a few cases from them.)  To be fair, a large reason I have not been able to read more of these books while taking the related classes is because the sheer volume of reading in law school is so intense.  With a few exceptions (such as the Scottsboro movie and reading Gideon's Trumpet), whenever I find myself with a rare moment of spare time, the last thing I want to look at is something related to law.

If I ever teach law in some capacity, I definitely plan on using these books as part of my teaching arsenal.  I agree with Paul Caron -- studying fewer cases more in-depth would be a better way to learn the law.  Instead of trying to force students drink from a fire-hose, why not make sure they are drinking deeply instead?

I know far too many lawyers, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and several friends who graduated from Harvard Law, who say they didn't learn much law in law school.  Maybe this approach could help change that?

Here is a list with links to the 30 books currently in the series.  Also, a paper by Paul Caron (author of Tax Stories, the first book in this series) extolling the virtues of learning law through stories.

Read my previous post on the series.

My one request is that they please come out with these books in a Kindle format.  My back is killing me from all the law books I have to carry and my bookshelf is getting full...

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