Tagged in: exams

1L Dispatch: Fun with Fictional Fact Patterns

Questions on law school exams work like this:

There are not very many. The most I had was four and the fewest was one. Each question is broken down into different parts. The exam typically assigns you a make-believe role to play, such as the clerk for a judge, or a junior prosecutor in a hypothetical jurisdiction. It starts with a fact pattern.

This is a little story. It lists the events that have brought these fictional people to your fictional door. The idea is to replicate a situation that may happen after we have left the nurturing bosom of academia and find ourselves in actual practice. This means that we have to take what we know about substantive law and apply it to different real-world circumstances. Events in life are usually messier and less obvious than the test cases we have been studying all year.

After the fact patterns come a few specific essay questions, some of which involve additional or alternate facts to the ones in the pattern. They all require you to demonstrate the concepts covered in the class, though its not always obvious how they apply. Actual resolution of the issues is important, although it doesn’t seem to matter so much whether you are right or wrong. Maybe is enough as long as you show your work.

I’m still waiting on the results of my exams and trying not to compulsively check them online every hour. I’m also thinking back over the whole process. Whether it be to help students digest the facts or because it makes them seem cool, some Professors like to sex the facts up with references to pop culture.

For example: In my Contracts class I assumed the role of a lawyer negotiating a Duff beer distributorship as it passed from one Homer S. to a certain Peter Griffin. Now, my feelings regarding the hierarchy of cartoons is well documented and it was kind of fun to see my man-child love of animation have some bearing on a contracts final. It is a little cutesy, but no one ever accused law professors of not being cheesy.

In Civil Procedure, I had to find the correct jurisdiction and venue for a case involving Scrabulous, the facebook application that I am pretty sure sucks up more law student man hours than the entire history of the Erie doctrine. This lead to some less-than-subtle nudging and winking from the professor about the possibility that students even played the online version of scrabble during class, which my back of the room vantage point confirms. I always wonder what its like for professors in the age of laptops. Back in the day, they had at least the illusion of full attention from their rapt pupils. While I’m sure there were more than a few doodled games of tic-tac-toe, the act of physical note-taking at least makes the Professor feel like he has the attention of the class. He has to know that the backs of our screens conceal solitaire hands and other rivals for our cognitive space. Ours took the exam as an opportunity to wink at us over this, but it made for a good problem because instantly the class could relate to the events of the fact pattern.

On tyhe one hand, these references can come off as a little lame. I’ve rolled my eyes more than once, but usually with at least a half-smile. Pretending to work for Duff beer didn’t really help me understand the problem any better. I would have likely messed up the assignment part of the question with or without the presence of Peter Griffin. But it does demonstrate the humanity of our professors and confirm that they don’t spend all their free hours staring at the walls of their studies and pondering the parol evidence rule.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel like they sail over my head. Criminal law did not seem to have any, unless I missed them and this is surprising because in class, the professor never saw a Star Trek reference she didn’t like. Before her class, I never imagined I would be examining the mental state of Cardassian assassins. I felt sure that her exam would be filled to the brim with name-dropping from the deepest depths of geekery, but I didn’t notice any.

Too bad.