November 28, 2007

Using Film to Teach Legal Writing: The Case of Dogville

Elyse Pepper, St. John's University School of Law, has published "The Case for "Thinking Like a Filmmaker": Using Lars von Trier's Dogville as a Model For Writing a Statement of Facts," as St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-0083. It will also be published in the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute. Here is the abstract.
Notwithstanding the consensus that cases are won on facts - not law, scant attention is paid to persuasive fact writing in the law school curriculum. At best, we instruct students to ?tell a story,? and provide them with a few organizational guidelines. The result is one newly-minted class of lawyers after another who struggle to enlighten the court about ?what happened? to the parties in the case at bar. This article considers how movies can help law students make the connection between storytelling and legal outcomes. Not only do the films that captivate us as an audience address the themes we must communicate as advocates, but the narrative, structure, and style of a film can serve as a model for conveying a story to the court. Using Lars von Trier's 2003 film, Dogville, the article explores the philosophy and process of crafting a series of events into a persuasive statement of facts. Examining the film's storytelling techniques, and borrowing many of them, allows the advocate to build a convincing narrative that promotes the logical reasoning advanced in the brief's argument section.

Download the entire paper from SSRN here.

November 26, 2007

Legal Times notes that this year's Shakespeare Theatre Company's mock trial presented the spectacle of Theodore Olsen, former solicitor general of the United States, and now with the firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, defending President Edward Plantagenet, Jr. against impeachment charges brought by the House of Representatives. Acting as counsel for the House was Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben. Among the judges for the trial was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Here's more about the trial from the company's website. The trial was based on Christopher Marlowe's Edward II.

In past years the STC has put on mock trials involving Hamlet.

November 16, 2007

Erik Jensen, Case Western Reserve Law School, has published "Law School Attire: A Call for a Uniform Uniform Code." It is forthcoming in the Oklahoma City University Law Review and is available as Case Legal Studies Research Paper 07-30. Here is the abstract.
Law professors dress scruffily, and we need to do something about that.

[Yes. That's it.]

Download the entire Article from SSRN here.

Professor Jensen is the creator (instigator?) of the school of buffalo law jurisprudence. See Wheir's the Beef? Buffalo Law and Taxation and A Call for a New Buffalo Law Scholarship, 38 University of Kansas Law Review 433 (1990).

Droit Moral, IP, and the World of Harry Potter

Gary Pulsinelli, University of Tennessee College of Law, has published "Harry Potter and the (Re)Order of the Artists: Are We Muggles Or Goblins?"
Here is the abstract.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, author J.K. Rowling attributes to goblins a very interesting view of ownership rights in artistic works. According to Rowling, goblins believe that the maker of an artistic object maintain an ongoing ownership interest in that object even after it is sold, and is entitled to get it back when the purchaser dies. While this view may strike some as rather odd when it is applied to tangible property in the “muggle” world, it actually has some very interesting parallels to the legal treatment of intangible property, particularly in the areas of intellectual property and moral rights. Because of the way these parallels have been developing and growing, we seem to be becoming more goblinish in our willingness to recognize ongoing rights in artistic objects, including allowing the artist to collect a commission on subsequent resale of the work. Practical and social considerations suggest that we are unlikely to go as far as recognizing a permanent personal right in the creator that lets him or her reclaim such an object after a sale or other transfer is made. However, we are moving closer to recognizing some forms of the collective right that the goblins actually seem to demand, a cultural moral right in important cultural objects that enables the descendants of that culture as a group to demand the return of the object. Thus, we muggles may not be as far from the goblins as we may have at first believed.
Download the entire paper from SSRN here.

November 14, 2007

Singing Law School Professor

Today's NPR Morning Edition has a story about Mark Pettit, the singing Contracts Professor of Boston University Law School. According to reporter Tovia Smith, Professor Pettit really spices up the classroom with student-provided parodies of standards like Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and Britney Spears' "[You're] Not That Innocent." Read the story here.

So, does Professor Pettit's IP Law colleague discuss the use of these parodies in his/her class? Or would that spoil the fun? [Yes, probably].

[Cross-posted to The Seamless Web].

November 12, 2007

Arthur Conan Doyle as Sherlock Holmes: The Slater Case

Lindsay Farmer, University of Glasgow, has published "Arthur and Oscar (and Sherlock): The Reconstructive Trial and the 'Hermeneutics of Suspicion'" in the International Commentary on Evidence, volume 5, article 4. Here is the abstract.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made a significant contribution to the campaign to free Oscar Slater, wrongly convicted of murder in 1909, and imprisoned for eighteen and a half years. This paper examines the trial of Oscar Slater in the light of the argument made by the historian Carlo Ginzburg that the nineteenth century saw the development of a new evidential paradigm as exemplified by the method of Conan Doyle's creation Sherlock Holmes. This is discussed in the context of the development of the `reconstructive' trial in the late nineteenth-century, by looking at changes in the types of evidence admitted to trials, at the changes in the law of evidence and at the relation between the detective and legal counsel. It argues that, like detective fiction, the trial was structured around a `hermeneutics of suspicion' that was institutionalised in certain features of the reconstructive trial. This encouraged jurors and other observers to distrust appearances and to make judgments based on their interpretation of the evidence and the appearance of the accused. Ironically, this contributed to the miscarriage of justice in the case of Oscar Slater that Conan Doyle later sought to challenge by use of the same method.

Download the entire article from the Berkeley Electronic Press here.

November 4, 2007

Super Size Me

Regina Austin, University of Pennsylvania Law School, has published "'Super Size Me' and the Conundrum of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Class for the Contemporary Law-Genre Documentary Filmmaker," at 40 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 683 (2007). Here is the abstract.

According to director Morgan Spurlock, the idea for "Super Size Me", the hugely popular documentary that explored the health impact of fast food, originated from a news report about "Pelman v. McDonald's", one of the fast food obesity cases. Over the course of his month-long McDonald's binge, Spurlock became the literal embodiment of fast-food's ill-effects on the seemingly generic American adult physique. Spurlock's take on the subject, however, ignores the circumstances that contributed to the overweight conditions of the "Pelman" plaintiffs who were two black adolescent females who ate their fast food in the Bronx. One of them was homeless during the relevant time period.

The paper discusses what the circumstances of the "Pelman" plaintiffs might have been, including the incidence of obesity and overweight and related diseases in minority populations, the correlation between obesity and food insecurity, the significance of fast food restaurants in poor urban minority communities, the relationship between fast food and soul food, race-specific cultural attitudes regarding women's weight, and race/ethnicity-related restraints on leisure. To be sure, based on past experience, a white male filmmaker like Spurlock might have found it difficult to tackle these subjects (especially in a film that is otherwise lighthearted and humorous) without encountering substantial criticism. Furthermore, most of the factors are irrelevant to the law of products liability, which pays little attention to inequities in the demographic distribution of risk. However, allowing generally disempowered subjects like the "Pelman" plaintiffs an opportunity to reveal their reflexivity about their situations is one way of combating disapproval and prompting deeper analysis of a social problem; Spurlock's television series "30 Days" is a fine example of that. Alternatively, filmmakers like Spurlock might display more reflexivity or critical self-assessment about their techniques for bringing only part of a complex issue to the screen . . . on the screen itself.

Download the entire Article from SSRN here.