St. Thomas Ranked In Top 50 Law Schools

The TaxProf blog notes that using Princeton Review data, the University of St. Thomas in their list of the top 50 law schools in the country. No other Minnesota schools made the top 50 compilation.

It’s interesting to compare the Princeton Review data with the US News list, in which St. Thomas is in the third tier. The compilation combines scores on academic experience,
admissions selectivity, career preparation and having both accessible and interesting professors. These list inevitably come down to whatever subjective criteria that the reviewers feel is most important, but it is interesting to compare the results between the two ranking systems.

Those thinking about law school ultimately should make the choice based not on someone else’s subjective rankings, but their own personal experience. There’s no substitute for visiting a campus, sitting in on a class and experiencing the school’s climate firsthand.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, this isn’t a formal ranking, but a relative weighting of factors performed not by the Princeton Review, but by the TaxProf blog. The Princeton Review did not perform a full ranking based on all their separate criteria. I apologize for not catching my mistake earlier.

Paulson To St. Thomas

Noted Constitutional Law scholar Michael Stokes Paulson is leaving the University of Minnesota to join the faculty of the University of St. Thomas. Paulson is a scholar of the first order, an excellent lecturer, and a very strong addition to the already excellent St. Thomas faculty. As a student at St. Thomas, I’m glad to see that the school is attracting first-rate talent like Professor Paulson, and look forward to having him as a professor some time in the future.

Torts Without Fruit Fillings In Them

I have a Torts final exam in a few hours, so blogging will continue to be light (and by light, I mean non-existent). This is my first final, and I’m finding it to be one hell of a challenge. The trick in Torts examinations is spotting all the relevant issues, and with negligence there are a lot of them. Spotting an intentional tort is pretty easy – someone hits somebody, you have battery. Somebody takes a swing at someone, that’s probably assault (provided the contact was imminent and the person was aware). With negligence, you have a complex analysis involving whether there’s a duty involved, whether that duty was breached, whether there was an actual injury, and a very complex causation analysis to show that the defendant’s negligent conduct was a cause of the injury. It’s very easy to miss things like intervening and subsequent causes along the way. There’s a reason why law school is considered one of the most intellectually challenging endeavors out there.

For those considering law school or those unlucky saps going through finals, I’m finding that doing lots of practice exams is extremely helpful. For Torts, this site has some very helpful practice exam questions, some of which have answer keys that let you see what issues you missed. Outlining is important, but ultimately you don’t get judged on what you know, but how well you can spot the issues and then apply that outline. If you don’t spot the issues, you don’t get the points, and the only way to get good at spotting issues is to practice as much as possible.

If nothing else, I’ve learned one thing: it’s generally a bad idea to carry fireworks on the Long Island Railroad. (And if you get that reference without clicking on the link, you’re either a lawyer, a law student, or absurdly overeducated.)

Academic Freedom Under Attack?

U of M law student and blogger Ivan Ludmer has an interesting piece on the University’s decision to hire former Office of Legal Counsel attorney Robert Delahunty. Prof. Delahunty was one of the authors of a controversial memo that stated that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to captured al-Qaeda prisoners.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Prof. Delahunty is a professor at the University of St. Thomas, and will be my Constitutional Law professor in the spring.

At The Volokh Conspiracy there is also a lengthy series of posts on the controversy as well.

There are two arguments generally getting bandied about here, the first being a violation of academic freedom and the other a questionable determination of legal scholarship.

The first argument is that Prof. Delahunty’s position on the torture issue makes him unfit to be a member of the legal academy. That argument doesn’t fly with the notion of academic freedom. If we are to have an open and inclusive academy, then unpopular, controversial, or difficult opinions must not be shunned on expressly ideological grounds. As one opponent to the Prof. Delahunty hiring has said, this is an issue about ideology. (UPDATE: The student was misquoted. However, the arguments being made are generally ideological ones, regardless of the stated intentions of the petitioners.) Some people have a deep-seated opposition to the use of coercive interrogation methods. They have a right to that opinion, but that does not mean that they have the right to determine who can be a member of the legal community merely on the basis of their ideological beliefs.

The second argument is that the OLC memo was simply sloppy legal work that’s unbefitting of a member of the legal academy. That’s a plausible argument, but as David Bernstein notes, the view espoused by that memo is shared by at least one member of the United States Supreme Court. Looking at the memo doesn’t seem to support the contention that it’s such a sloppy piece of work that it’s completely invalid or a sign of bad faith.

The real test here is this: would there be any controversy if Prof. Delahunty had authored a memo of equal legal scholarship in support of a massive new expansion of federal government powers on environmental issues? Something tells me that the level of controversy would be practically nil. My impression is that the scholarship argument tends to be little more than a façade for the real ideology basis for opposition to Prof. Delahunty’s hiring.

The University of St. Thomas is a Catholic law school that tries to integrate Catholic values into the curriculum whenever appropriate. I don’t think one can make a strong argument that the interrogation methods advocated in the OLC memo are at all compatible with Catholic legal tradition — in fact, Catholic legal theory is quite explicit in its opposition to torture. Yet UST did what I believe was the right thing: brought in someone with an excellent record of legal scholarship who can challenge those beliefs. That’s what the academic community should do.

The University of Minnesota has the right to uphold whatever standards they want in hiring their faculty. However, if the grounds for withdrawing Delahunty’s offer is one of ideology, that the U of M is abrogating their obligation to support academic freedom. The position of the OLC memo may be morally questionable, but the overheated rhetoric that some have used to attack it is pure hyperbole. The memo may be sloppy legal work — I don’t find that to be particularly persuasive — but if the issue is that Prof. Delahunty supported a position that some find morally reprehensible, that’s still not enough.

UPDATE: The Minnesota Daily has updated the quotation from Mr. Taylor to say that the issue isn’t about ideology. However, that seems to be a less than persuasive arguments based on the attacks being used. Still, the correction should be noted.

Justice Scalia In Minneapolis

This afternoon I had the privilege of attending the formal investiture ceremony of the 33rd District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota, Patrick J. Schiltz. In attendance at this event was none other than Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Scalia was kind enough to take questions from students prior to the event, which was quite an amazing experience. Even those who disagree with Justice Scalia must respect that he is one of the finest legal minds in American jurisprudence today, and that was apparent from his answers. What many don’t know about Justice Scalia is that he’s one of the most engaging and witty speakers I’ve ever heard. Despite having an impressive understanding of the issues, he came across as someone with a set of deeply-held convictions about the law, and he felt no need to gussy up his jurisprudence in any way. With Justice Scalia, what you see is what you get. He believes in the originalist theory of constitutional interpretation, and that’s how he’ll decide.

Scalia gets a rap for being an ideologue, and while that’s true, he’s not ideological in the conventional sense. He isn’t a conservative ideologue in the sense of modern American political conservatism. If anyone has any doubts of that, read his opinions on the flag-burning ban legislation and also his brilliant dissenting opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (an opinion that argued for extensive restrictions on Executive power to detain US citizens which was joined by Court “liberal” John Paul Stevens). He is ideological about his belief in originalism, but that jurisprudence does not make him either some organ of the Bush Administration or a conservative judicial activists. Justice Scalia even said that his belief in originalism even prevented him from doing “all those crazy conservative things” that he might otherwise like to do.

It’s a rare event to be able to get close to a sitting member of the highest court in the country, especially when one is a mere 1L. Not only did I get to see Justice Scalia, but also watch as the state of Minnesota gains an experienced and wise new member of the federal bench. Congratulations to newly-invested Judge Schiltz, and thanks to Justice Scalia for honoring us with his presence.

UPDATE: Powerline has a note about the event as well.

T Minus One

Via Instapundit comes another great round-up of advice for incoming 1Ls. There’s some good stuff there. I also recommend Patrick J. Schlitz, On Being a Happy, Healthy, and. Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and. Unethical Profession, 52 Vand. L. Rev. 871 (1999) — not only because he’s a former member of the St. Thomas faculty (now a federal judge), but because it is an excellent piece on how to avoid burnout. Then again, we’ll see by May how well that advice holds up…

Meanwhile, I did find some success in getting a backpack for law school. I ended up with the SwissGear Synergy laptop backpack — the construction on it seems quite substantial, and the only downside to it is that it doesn’t have wheels. However, it does manage to fit in two casebooks plus my citation manual, plus my pocket copy of Blacks, with a good amount of room to spare. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but the fact that it appears to be less likely to fall apart before the end of the year is a nice benefit. It seems to strike the right balance between holding everything I need and being too unwieldy to take through the skyway system.

Of course, being a Mac fanatic user, I had to get a nice shiny new MacBook. My trusty iBook G4 still works fine, but being able to have more screen real estate is important, especially when I can have one side of the screen for my reference materials, and another for my outline. The MacBook is a bit larger than the 12″ iBook, but it seems lighter and is quite a bit thinner. It has everything I liked about my iBook and adds quite a bit in terms of processor power and features. I would highly recommend getting 1GB of RAM however, as that makes a huge difference in performance, and is crucial if you intended to run Windows through Parallels.

Not only that, the new Intel Macs come with the absolutely excellent OmniOutliner. My study techniques have always involved writing hierarchal lists, which is what OmniOutliner does very well. My plan is to use it with a three column setup – one column with my outline, one column for associated cases, and another for questions I might want to bring up later. I’ll be curious to see whether or not this setup works well in class.

Of course, I’m not the only one who is a Mac-using law student — fortunately the exam software St. Thomas uses (Securexam) appears to work on Macs, so long as Microsoft Office is installed. I’m not sure if that works with Intel Macs, which use Rosetta to translate the PowerPC code of Office into Intel-compatible code, but if worse comes to worse I can install Windows and Office through Boot Camp, which should be acceptable. More and more are allowing Macs to use exam software, either through native clients or through Boot Camp on the newer Intel Macs, but not all do. As always, if you’re not sure what your law school requires, it’s a very good idea to ask.

One of the benefits of having been a blogger for the past five years is being able to read large amounts of material and analyze it critically — there’s a reason why top-notch bloggers happen to be in the legal profession. Writing, like anything else, is a skill that gets better with practice. I’m hoping that five years of blogging will be a help in having the analytical skills necessary to make it in the legal field — but we’ll see how well they apply.

I’ll try and provide more observations and notes as I go along…