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Reality bites. No one would dispute that a gap the size of the Grand Canyon lies between your experience in law school and your experience as a practicing attorney. Our job as educators is to help law students develop a solid foundation in legal reasoning and to teach you to work your way in and out of a series of hypothetical situations that — trust me — could exist only in the hothouse setting of the legal academy. Law professors in your doctrinal courses simply are not prepared to provide practical training. That task is gladly left to skills courses, clinical instructors, and summer placements. I question this division of labor. Why not shut the case book on occasion and take a look at an actual legal document? It is even possible — egads — to do some legal drafting in a substantive course. My experience has been that most students love to read and write a simple contract instead of merely hearing one described in a judicial decision. It’s the real thing. Here are some suggestions for students who crave a little realism to balance classroom abstractions. For some of these ideas, you will need your professor’s cooperation, but you can do much of this on your own: 1. Torts. Ask your professor to bring in a complaint or ask if someone in the class can get hold of one. In California, we have the option of using California Judicial Council forms or drafting our own documents from scratch on pleading paper. Both are interesting and instructive. How much or how little does the plaintiff allege in the complaint? How are statutory causes of action incorporated along with common law causes? Can you discern the elements of the alleged torts or statutory violations in the language of the complaint? 2. Contracts. Get a shipping order from a Federal Express supply box or from the counter at your local Mailboxes Etc. store. Is this a binding contract? What are the comparative rights and obligations of the shipper? The customer? Alternatively, find a copy of a stationery store lease agreement. How does the boilerplate language fit with the legal principles in your case book? What terms are left to the parties to iron out? Are statutory references included? How would you determine whether the lease fully complies with the law? 3. Criminal Law. Ask your professor to bring in a copy of an indictment. Compare it to the form jury instructions in your law library to get a sense of how prosecutors structure a case. How much information in the indictment is directly applicable to the criminal charges? What other information is included? Can an indictment be amended based on subsequent fact finding? What role does the grand jury play? 4. Property. Find a copy of a deed to a house. These are available for a small fee at the county recorder’s office. Traditionally, property records have been filed and preserved on microfiche or microfilm, but they can easily be printed out; it may even be possible to download them. Your parents or a local real estate agent may also be a good source for a residential or commercial deed. Does the deed satisfy the requirements for ownership in fee simple? Are there any restrictions? What kind of title appears on the deed and how is it phrased? 5. Civil Procedure. Ask your law librarian to show you the form books for civil litigation in your state or local federal court. Notice how the forms provide instruction as well as allowing you to insert information. Get yourself out of the classroom and into the courtroom by attending a civil law and motion calendar or a trial in state or federal court. You won’t understand the substance of everything that is going on, but you will learn a tremendous amount from the way the court approaches a legal problem (often in dramatic comparison to what your case book emphasizes). 6. Constitutional Law. Web sites provide perspectives that differ greatly from the discourse in the law school classroom when it comes to constitutional issues, particularly with respect to the Bill of Rights. While sites dealing with the articles of the Constitution are less abundant than sites dealing with First Amendment matters, they are out there. Prepare to take the information onscreen with a grain (or possibly a pound) of salt. An Internet search will give you a great idea of how the Constitution works in the hands of ordinary people. If you have time, you might also want to read some of the case studies in “In Our Defense” by Caroline Kennedy (yes, that Caroline Kennedy) and Ellen Alderman or “The Courage of Their Convictions” by Peter Irons. These are just a few simple suggestions for expanding your legal education from the case book to real life. You and your professors can probably think of many more ideas for incorporating the “real” stuff into your law school experience. But don’t overdo it on reality for now — most of you have at least forty years of professional life ahead of you to figure out how things work outside the classroom. Nevertheless, a small dose of applied law is a good complement to academic learning, and I hope these suggestions will spark your curiosity. Lois Schwartz is an adjunct professor at Hastings College of the Law, Santa Clara University, and Golden Gate. She has worked in the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office and occasionally fills in as a research attorney for the Contra Costa County Superior Court.

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