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At a recent law school speaking engagement, I was struck by two things: rotten fruit (I really need to get rid of some of those old Clinton jokes), and the realization that law school really hasn’t changed much in the dozen years since I graduated. Sure, the technology has evolved. After all, when I was in law school, students actually took notes by hand and-get this-we had books in our libraries. Yet, at its core, law school is the same as it ever was. This means that all those industrious young people studying for the bar and about to enter practice may be in for some nasty surprises. Today’s law students learn the same cases that I studied-and they were not new cases even back then. After all, most of these cases involve a railroad. And as we all know, railroads haven’t been the primary mode of transportation in America for quite some time. In fact, in my decade of law practice, I never once came across a railroad issue, nor did the very large firm I worked for have a single railroad attorney on the payroll. Somehow, we managed without one. The simple truth of the matter is that law school curriculums are as outdated as my father-in-law’s wardrobe. Take, for example, the most dreaded of all law school subjects, property law. Most of the cases in a “modern” property textbook date back hundreds of years ago to a time when most property was owned by just a handful of overweight and balding white men (well, I guess some things haven’t changed that much after all). Back then, large, rural estates were common and as a result, disputes over boundaries arose frequently. The laws that sprang from this environment made sense at that time, but they seem completely irrelevant to the issues facing most 21st century Americans; much like most of the legislation out of Congress. Consider adverse possession. Despite the confusing way in which this concept was described by our law professors, adverse possession is really quite simple. In essence, if you sneak onto your neighbor’s property and live there for 30 to 40 years, you own it. This may have made sense when estates were large and trespassers might go unnoticed. However, like many Americans, I live in a tract house. As a result, there isn’t much of a chance that someone will acquire my home by adverse possession. After all, if I return home to find a family camped out in my postage-stamp-sized backyard, it won’t take me 30 to 40 years to call the police-more like 30 to 40 seconds. Legal antiquities Property law isn’t the only course that centers on the highly improbable. My criminal law textbook contained two cases involving defendants (claiming self-defense) who had eaten their victims in an effort to ward off starvation. Now, I can’t imagine that this was ever a pressing issue in America, but certainly now that 60% of all adult Americans are overweight, there can’t be too many defendants today using this rather creative defense. This summer, tens of thousands of the best and brightest law graduates in the country will be in for a rude awakening when they sit for bar exams that were actually written within the last 50 years. They will even be more shocked when they began practicing law. They are unlikely to encounter clients who own mills, drive horse-drawn carriages and have babies past the age of 80 (remember all of the hoopla about that fertile octogenarian lady?). Of course, I understand the importance of acquiring a historical context of the law. Yet I wonder if the standard law school curriculum could be updated just a little bit. Certainly, something significant has occurred in the law since the days when people sat around the fireside chatting about entailments. After all, could you imagine if your family doctor was trained with a medical school curriculum that was similarly outdated? Would you want to visit a doctor who spent her medical school days learning proper leeching techniques? What about the anesthesiologist who learned how to administer a whiskey drip in medical school? Would you consider such a person to be a learned professional? Unless you happen to belong to my HMO, the answer is probably no. For years, the old saying has been, “Whatever does not change, dies . . . or teaches law school.” I think it’s time to change this saying. After all, law schools seem to have little trouble updating their tuitions on an annual basis, so why not update the curriculum as well? If a law school graduate must sell a kidney on eBay to repay his school loans, then perhaps, in return, he should get a legal education that actually prepares him to practice law in the 21st century. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m running late for my dialysis appointment. Sean Carter is a practicing humorist at law who comments on law-related news on his Web site, lawpsided.com, and at speaking events. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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