Intellectual stimulus package: recommended media from the faculty members of New England Law | Boston.
We wouldn’t consider this a syllabus, but we do think these favorites from a few of New England Law’s faculty members make good viewing, reading, and listening for anyone contemplating law school.
Professor Peter M. Manus
Teaching: Administrative Law, Contemporary Property Concepts, Environmental Advocacy, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Environmental Theory And Politics, Property.
Scholarship: environmental movement, environmental law.
Practice: Director, Environmental Advocacy Project, Center for Law and Social Responsibility, New England Law | Boston.
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- Convoluted plots, nail-biting suspense, and a world that’s morally adrift—what’s not to love in the old noir mysteries? The Asphalt Jungle, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and The Big Sleep are favorites both in print and on film. Noir presents the justice system as just one element of society, as prone to corruption as any other. It’s an escapist genre, but it’s built on the grittiest elements of reality. My favorite writers include the original noir greats Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich, the Euro-noir dark lit stars like Derek Raymond, and today’s noir heavies such as Jason Starr and James Sallis.
- I will always count Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action as a personal favorite. I was a practicing environmental lawyer in Boston at the time the book came out, so I knew a lot about the events and even some of the characters. Fortunately, none of my friends were major players in the case. The lawyers do not come off in a very positive light.
Teaching: Civil Procedure, Evidence, Legal History.
Scholarship: “medical treatment exception” evidence, ancient legal procedures.
Practice: former Chief Counsel, Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, Inc.
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Paul W. Kahn’s article “Why the United States Is So Opposed” is an eye-opener to a fundamental difference between the American and European views of law. Kahn suggests that Europeans see law as an extension of reason, whereas Americans see law as an extension of politics. That insight has informed my study and teaching of both Constitutional history and human rights law.
The television show “The Wire” provides a continuing lesson in evidence law and its importance. Nearly all of the police officers’ frequent arguments about when to make an arrest are focused on how strong the case is. That in turn is a function of how much of the evidence will be admissible in the suspect’s trial.
Teaching: American Indian law, business organizations, indigenous peoples’ rights, property.
Scholarship: American Indian law, religious freedom, property rights, tribal sovereignty.
Practice: corporate and securities law.
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Daniel Richter’s Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America is a great read if you want to understand the development of the law in its historical context. Richter shifts the focus from a fixation on the westward extension of white settlement to the experiences and understanding of tribal members looking eastward from Indian country. It fosters a much broader understanding of the development of American Indian law and policy.
My Life in San Juan Pueblo is a rich collection of both traditional and personal stories by the gifted Tewa storyteller and language teacher Esther Martinez. Her book and her words on the accompanying CD give me a great appreciation for the worldview, values, and sense of kinship and belonging that have been at the heart of the San Juan Pueblo community for hundreds of years.
Milner Ball’s Called by Stories: Biblical Sagas and Their Challenge for Law is also on my list. Ball explores the ways in which biblical stories (primarily the stories of Moses and Rachel and the Gospel of John) intersect with law, conceptions of justice, and the practice of law. He ties insights from these stories to contemporary issues like Native Hawaiian sovereignty in a thought-provoking and moving way.
A film I keep going back to is Children of Men (2006). It drives home a deceptively trivial but important insight into how much our present hopes and aspirations are predicated upon our ability to pass on what we have accomplished to others. Despite its bleak depiction of a future defined by individual concerns, the film manages to leave me with a sense of hope—embodied in one tiny newborn.
Teaching: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Privacy Law.
Scholarship: constitutional law, privacy law, The Massachusetts State Constitution.
Practice: environmental, land use, Internet, and government enforcement litigator; former law clerk, New Hampshire Superior Court and N.H. Supreme Court.
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Miracle on 34th Street—the original 1947 version, with Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, and Edmund Gwenn—has lots of lawyerly action, including that famous scene near the film’s end in which Payne, as lawyer Fred Gailey, demonstrates that Gwenn’s Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus. But the most interesting bit is earlier, when Gene Lockhart’s Judge Harper declines to summarily conclude that Kringle is insane because he is advised that such an unpopular determination could cost him re-election to his judicial post. Right there, in a single marvelous scene, is the entire debate over whether judges should be democratically elected or appointed by the chief executive. And the arguments begin anew over what we should expect from our judges whenever the president has the opportunity to nominate someone to the United States Supreme Court.
Michael Clayton is a thriller that happens to concern the work of lawyers. But the filmmakers did their research. A small army of associates works late into the night to close a deal, and their looks of concentration, distraction, and abject disinterest are just right. Better still is George Clooney’s title character as he slowly pieces together the central puzzle of the plot and the ethical dilemma at its heart. (SPOILER ALERT) With his decision at the film’s end, he finds his moral compass—the one that is available to all lawyers in similar circumstances—leading to a sense of justice.
Anyone who is considering law school should read Scott Turow’s One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School. And everyone who has decided to attend law school should then read it again after the first year to see whether it really spoke to their law school experience. These days, hopefully, it does not. I believe the first year of law school has changed more since the publication of Turow’s book in 1997 than in the previous 80 years. The experience is now decidedly more humane. Still, an important part of it is unchanged—the teaching of legal principles and their application in a handful of doctrinal areas through a question and answer methodology. When it works well, it pushes students to think about the logical connections between what courts have decided before and what that experience tells us about how they would resolve related issues today. It’s a skill that distinguishes lawyers from everyone else. It remains at the core of the first-year experience.