January 19, 2004

I came into my office this morning, despite the holiday (and the two degree temperature), to draw up the syllabus for Federal Jurisdiction. In the twentieth year of teaching the course, I am finally going to use the grand old casebook, Hart & Wechsler’s The Federal Courts and the Federal System.

The book dates back to 1953 but has only reached a Fifth Edition. I’ve kept all the old editions, unlike all the other casebooks on my shelf, new editions of which frequently arrive in the mail. The three most recent editions I’ve received as a faculty member. The Second Edition I used as a student. The First Edition was given to me by a colleague, cleaning out his office on retirement.

Why did I never use the iconic book before?
1. There was never an up-to-date edition when I was in the mood to experiment with a new casebook.

2. It’s intimidating!
I’m now looking at 1620 pages and feeling it would be wrong to deprive my students of any of the information the authors thought worth including. This surely a delusion because:
1. The book is loaded with arcane details that I am not even interested in.

2. Just covering something in class does not cause the information to take up permanent lodging in the students’ brains—or even in my own brain.
It's one thing to put the page numbers down in the syllabus, quite another to slog through them. When you're the lawprof, you have only yourself to blame when the assignment is a drag, and you have the added burden of needing to justify the reading to the students when you really only wish you'd never assigned it.

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