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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo stumbled across “The Paper Chase” (1973) on TCM last evening. I’d never actually seen the movie before but I was a big fan of the teevee series back in my yoot and would be a liar if I said it didn’t have any impact on my own decision to go to law school.

The movie is kind of awful in its early-70’s look and feel but, like the teevee series, does get some things right about the life of a newbie law student. (At least as it still was 30-odd years ago. My eldest niece is a 1L this year and I’ll be curious to pick her brain about what they’re teaching the kidz these days when I see her at Thanksgiving.)

One of the things that made me smile was when Mr. Haaaart mused about the division of his classmates into categories. There were those who hoped to sneak through class un-noticed and uncalled. There were those fully prepared for a Socratic cross-examination but who kept quiet until called. There were those who volunteered answers and wrangled with the profs. (Mr. Haaaart wanted to be one of the third category.)

At least in my own experience, this was perfectly correct. The vast majority of us fell into the second category. A few lunatics and misfits would show up unprepared, to be occasionally caught and humiliated.*** Then there were the go-getters.

Ol’ Robbo went to a very small school. (I think my class graduated something like 114 altogether.) This meant that everybody knew everybody. Collegiality was strongly encouraged while cut-throat competitiveness was frowned upon. In class, this manifested itself in a game called Asshole Bingo. Somebody would print up and distribute bingo cards with class-member names instead of numbers. If during class somebody volunteered an answer or opinion, you checked off their name on your card. If you got a complete row, in order to win you had to volunteer yourself and somehow incorporate the word “bingo” into your comments.

It proved to be quite entertaining.

There was in particular a trio of students known as the “Three Amigos”. They were far and away the worst of the classroom show-boaters and pretty generally disliked, not just because of their hyper-aggressiveness but also because as often as not it was so useless. (One of them picked a fight with a prof’s bail hearing hypo over whether a Learjet had the range to fly from Roanoke, Virginny to Rio without stopping to refuel. Another got into a spat with a different prof over the correct pronunciation of “gaol”. The third had come from a career in local teevee news and posed every question as if she were Sam Donaldson trying to catch out President Reagan in a lie.) If you managed to get a card with all of their names on it, you knew you would coast to victory.

Good times. Good times.

***This happened to Ol’ Robbo exactly once. My first year crim pro professor was a legendary Socratic terror. Nonetheless, I gave into temptation and went on a Mardi Gras barhop instead of prepping. Sure enough, he skinned me properly next morning. I’d had a feeling it would happen and said so several times over the course of the evening. To this day I’m convinced one of his upper class students overheard me and tipped him off. (As I say, everybody knew everybody. A real fishbowl.)

Burying the lede UPDATE: I forgot to mention that, substantively, “Paper Chase” tracked very closely with my own experience of contract law class. In fact, the very first case we noobies faced was the “Hairy Hand” case, Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 (S.P. N.H. 1929).**** Fellah contracts with a surgeon to graft some of his chest skin on to his burnt hand. The graft sprouts hair. Hy-larity ensues. Looking back now, it strikes Ol’ Robbo that this is something of a screwball to serve up to innocents looking to master the basic concepts of offer, acceptance, and consideration, but what do I know? But I bring it up mostly because I’m reasonably sure this same case came up early on in teh “Paper Chase” series, and that I recall being delighted by this fact when I got my first assignment in skool.

No, I’m not a nerd. Shut up.

BTB, I pulled my contracts textbook to look this up. Prolly the first time I cracked it in 30-mumble years. I always bought used textbooks. Skimming back through it, damme if I can tell which were my own annotations and notes, and which were those that came with it when I bought it.

****The Blue Book Nazis can go to hell.


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September 2021