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January 13, 2005

Posner on the Two Misconceptions of Law Students

Judge Posner writes
I can't resist responding to the two commenters who asked me to identify the principal misconceptions of first-year law students. There are two, and they are closely related. The first is the idea that the law exists somewhere, in a book presumably (or, to be modern, in an electronic database), and that what you learn in law school is how to find the book, and that what law professors do, to justify making you sit in class for three years, is hide the book from you. The second misconception is that legal reasoning is something special , subtle, esoteric, which will enable you once you have learned it to answer a question in a way that would make no sense to a lay person. In other words--and this is what joins the misconceptions--law is a mystery.

Posted by erasmuse at January 13, 2005 03:23 PM

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I've had students in history classes that have the same problem, believing that history exists in some vast encyclopedic, synoptic work that records everything in an objective and impartial manner. And that for some obscure reason the professor never wants to show you or refer you to that book. In teaching some aspect of medieval history, it is surprising for students to realize that often when you read two or three enigmatic and clearly partisan sources, you actually have all that is known about this or that topic (say, the life of Genghis Khan) that you have heard about vaguely from childhood.

Posted by: Chris Atwood at January 15, 2005 02:10 PM

No more plugging tv appearances, Professor Atwood :)

Posted by: Wit H. Held at January 18, 2005 01:37 PM

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