: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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How I’m Learning to Stop Worrying and Love the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

We’ve finished the first two weeks of Civil Procedure. This is only two days of course, but we’re going by Ragazzo time which means we have three hours of class a night, each hour covering what would normally be the contents of a full class in the fulltime program, ergo, we cover the material for 3 classes (a week) each night. Each hour of class generally covers 15 pages of the textbook, which translates into 45 pages a night which doesn’t count reading the rules (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) and briefing the cases.

In the shower the other day I couldn’t help but think that the process of adjusting to the law school work load reminded me a lot what it felt like to train for the cross-country ski team in high school. (Note: to confused Texans; I grew up in Maine, where no one plays football. If you’re not sure what cross-country skiing is wikipedia it.) The progression went like this (1) you had no idea what you was getting yourself into, which was a good thing, because if you did you wouldn’t do it (2) coach made you do things you were pretty sure the human body wasn’t meant to do and that you were absolutely sure you yourself weren’t capable of (3) you did it anyway, even though it really really hurt, because everybody else was doing it and no one had died yet and then finally (4) all of a sudden you got used to it and it didn’t seem that big a deal.

So, I’m hopeful. It’s going to get easier. It’s going to make more sense by the week (Note that one week = one day in Ragazzoland) This too shall pass. Better yet, other things will seem easier, soon enough we’ll be flexing little law muscles we never knew were there.

Assignment for Monday: pp. 69 – 114 in Fields


Apparently the people who weren’t at orientation were sent the wrong assignment for the first day of class so we got a bit of a reprieve from Ragazzo. It was more than welcome. The syllabus we received has no dates, just the order in which we’ll read things with the rule of thumb that we’ll cover about 15 pages an hour or 45 pages a night. Those are 45 dense and mystifying pages mind you, with the federal rules of civil procedure to be looked up and read as well and briefs to be written. I reread Sibbach v. Wilson tonight for the third time and still come across things I swear weren’t in there the last time. I’m starting to see the necessity of talking it out with other students as you uncover a lot of holes in the process. Even just hashing it out for a few minutes with some of the other folks at the Tailgate in mid-town brought out three things I had overlooked.

I think I like Ragazzo. I don’t doubt that he’s fully capable of taking me behind the woodshed when my name gets called, and I may like him a little less at that point, but fear is an excellent motivator and we need nothing if not motivation at this point. He’s also imminently quotable. My favorite line from tonight – “If you’re not losing money, nothing really bad is happening to you.”

Preparing for the first day…

Our opening assignment for the first day of class was the introductory topic of Field’s Civil Procedure. I found the material to be pretty straightforward, but imagining myself trying to provide some basic explanations, the kind of things I would imagine come up in socratic method, it’s a little overwhelming to get a glimpse of how much I don’t know, and what it means to really know the material.

My main task at this point, with only a vague idea of how to parse out the information, is to create a study methodology to test and refine this first week. I gave myself the afternoon to get through the 30 pages that were assigned and quickly realized that the time it takes to complete a task expands to fill whatever time you give it. Not the most efficient way to work.

I got through the material in an hour. I need to cut that in half and estimate about 30 seconds a page for an initial read through with moderate comprehension. I then wrote out a ‘triage list’ of tasks that I need to perform in order of their importance. My initial list:

  1. Initial Read-through
  2. Brief the cases (case info, facts, procedural history, issue(s), holding, the arguments of majority opinion and minority opinion)
  3. Define any new terms
  4. Identify any other footnoted cases referred to in the material *
  5. List out the lines of questioning that the case is likely to present
  6. Investigate backstory (details of the case beyond that contained in the brief, history of legislation in effect, how it came to be, etc.)
  7. Brainstorm interesting issues and ideas that might form the basis of research in the future

* I was warned more than once to pay as much attention to the footnotes as the text as they often spawn lines of discussion quite different than what one would expect from reading the main text alone.

Doing the brief was harder and more time consuming than I had anticipated. All the facts seem to have some significance, so it was hard to feel comfortable leaving anything out even though it was bloating into a three-page document. If I have any spare time at all I’m going to start briefing cases that appear in the next weeks worth of chapters just so I can get some practice in.

It will be interesting to see if any of this is of any value once we get through the first day.

I just found How to Brief a Case on and it’s the most straightforward thing I’ve found so far.

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