Learning the Law…or Something Else?

March 5, 2010

M.T., 2L

One of the hallmarks of a YLS education is a diverse, interdisciplinary set of course offerings. Sometimes my friends at other law schools question the amount of “real law” that I’ve learned, seeing as I’ve taken such classes as Neuroscience & the Law, Work and Gender, and – currently – Ethics in Literature. While it’s certainly true that these small seminar courses aren’t your typical doctrinal “learn the rules and apply them” courses, I don’t think they’re any less meaningful or instructive for lawyers-to-be.

In my neuroscience course, for instance, we talked about the real-world implications of using fMRI scanning techniques to evaluate the mental states of accused criminals. Many of our readings were from scientific journals while others were ripped straight from the headlines. It’s hard to imagine more “real” law than that.

My seminar on the intersection of labor law and gender involved watching popular movies and award-winning documentaries, but it also required us to do careful readings of Supreme Court opinions on workplace discrimination and the enforcement of gender norms. Sometimes, seeing a scholarly theory play out on screen gave us a new way to think or talk about the underlying concepts.

This semester I’m enrolled in Ethics in Literature, which is taught by a law professor/New York Times best-selling novelist. He uses works of fiction (each week, a different novel or play is the subject of discussion) to ground ideas about professional responsibility and ethical dilemmas that we will likely face as practicing attorneys; it would be pretty boring to simply read and memorize the rules of professional conduct.

In short, I’m glad that Yale and its professors – some of whom trained not just as law professors but as scientists, professors of other academic disciplines, or practitioners of wholly separate trades – continue to offer interesting courses that are framed in non-traditional ways. It’s nice to construct a class schedule with some variety, and it can be rewarding to see how the law expands beyond traditional boundaries of what can be found within a legal casebook.