Current Legal Events Legal Studies 30 & 31
1:00 - 2:20 Mondays Peter Suber Carpenter 322 Spring 2000-2001 Syllabus
- Easy web access.
- Good browser (Netscape or MS Explorer, 3.0 or beyond).
- Good email software, supporting clickable web links within email. EC Twig and Eudora, the two email programs most used on campus, are both good enough.
- Willingness to speak in class.
- No specific courses are required and no knowledge of law is presupposed.
- We will meet once a week for an hour and a half. During class we'll discuss legal news from the current week, discuss issues leftover from previous weeks, and prepare for upcoming events like scheduled trials, legislative hearings, and oral arguments before the Supreme Court.
- On other days of the week, we will rely on electronic discussion.
Orientation assignment (for the first week of class)
- Visit the page of legal news sources.
- Start reading legal news online. Experiment with many different sources to see how they differ and which you prefer.
- Try as many legal search engines and news search engines as you can. Learn how they work and their respective strengths and weaknesses.
- Register yourself as an online subscriber to the New York Times. (First-times users must register, but there is no charge for this.)
- Required, daily. Read at least one web-based source of legal news every day, including weekends.
- Required, daily. Read your email. On most days your mailbox should contain threads of electronic discussion from the class.
- Required, sporadic. Legal research to answer questions assigned to you in class. Use electronic or print sources or both.
- Recommended. Subscribe to one or more email news services. (See my list of recommended services, all free of charge.)
- Recommended. Read print sources of legal news. I don't assign any for this course because adding and dropping subscriptions experimentally is too difficult, time-consuming, and costly. But by all means supplement web news with print news if you can, using sources in Lilly Library or your own subscriptions.
- If you are willing to pay for a print source of legal news, then I recommend a 6-month subscription to The National Law Journal for $60. You can order online. (To repeat, this is not required.)
Top Story assignment
- We'll start every class period with a report from two students on the "Top Stories" from the previous week. These are "top" only because they come first in our discussion, not because they are the most important. Each student in the pair will report at least two stories: at least one news story and at least one deepening report on a continuing story.
- Sign up with a partner, first-come, first-served, for one of our class periods. If the enrollment is large, some of you may have to go in teams of three or more. If small, some of you may have to go twice.
- When it's your turn to report the Top Stories, do not post anything to the electronic discussion until after you've reported your stories in class. But after you've reported in class, please follow-up with an email to the class in which you give your sources.
- It's possible that other members of class might post information about one of your stories to the electronic discussion before you have a chance to report it. When this happens, you'll have a choice. Either look for another story, or look further so that you can make a deepening report on the same story. This is why we don't allow postings on Sundays or Monday before classtime. The day and a half of rest allows you to prepare your stories for Monday's class without fear of further preemption.
Work outside class
- Typically, you'll read web-based sources of legal news every day. Now and then (at least once a week) you'll post something to our electronic discussion.
- Let's distinguish news postings, deepening postings, and comment postings. News postings give us the details of a case or controversy not previously reported to the class. Deepening postings give us new facts, law, or analysis on a previously reported case or controversy. Comment postings share your thoughts.
- To pass the course, I'd like you to send at least 10 news postings and five deepening postings to our electronic discussion during the semester. To take the course in the right spirit, I'd like you to send at least as many comment postings.
Comment postings are always welcome. They may be large or small. They may comment on news postings, deepening postings, or on other comments. This is a discussion course, so don't hold back.
News postings in any form are always welcome. However, a posting will only count toward the 10 needed to pass the course if it meets the following conditions.
- It is strongly law-related, not merely political.
- It does not substantially duplicate an earlier posting.
- It states the key facts in your own words, and doesn't merely give a headline or cut and paste an article from elsewhere. (If you give a succinct narrative in your own words, with citations or URLs for your sources, then you will help both those students who want to follow-up and those who don't.)
- It contains a full citation to your source. In the case of web sources, this means a complete, live URL. (See the section on citing sources, below.)
- It contains a descriptive word or phrase in the subject line.
- You have signed it.
- You have proofread it for spelling and grammar. Postings need not be polished essays, but all writing is practice in writing well. Don't forget that members of the general public may subscribe to our email list.
- You didn't post it on a Sunday or on Monday before class.
Deepening postings in any form are also always welcome. But to count toward the five needed to pass the course, they should contain any combination of the following elements: (1) relevant legal background, (2) relevant factual background, (3) new developments, or (4) analysis.
- "Legal background" includes any statute or precedent which might apply to the case. When you are reporting the relevant parts of a statute or precedent, please quote rather than paraphrase.
- If it's not immediately clear what the excerpts of a statute or precedent are saying, or how they apply to the case, or whether they point toward guilt or innocence, then please try to interpret this for us in your posting.
- "Analysis" includes editorials or essays about the case or controversy. Restate the author's thesis and primary arguments in your own words. Don't merely give a URL or cut and paste the commentary.
- Apart from quoting statutes and precedents, the requirements for a deepening posting are same as for a regular news posting.
- If you send out a regular news posting or deepening posting which doesn't meet all the conditions for credit, when it seems that you intended it to meet them, then I'll let you know so that you can fix it and post it again. To save all of us time, please keep these conditions in mind as you write.
- Follow-ups to your own Top Story assignment, giving your sources and perhaps an extra few details, do not earn credit as fresh news or deepening postings.
- After making a news posting, please be willing to enter the discussion generated by your posting and to field reasonable follow-up questions, both in class and by email.
- When should you post some legal news? Err on the side of sharing. If it's interesting, law-related, and hasn't already been posted, then please post it.
- Note that the assigned news postings and assigned deepening postings add up to 15, which is the number of weeks in the semester. So you'll be on track to pass the course if you send out at least one news posting or deepening posting each week.
- Please don't post new cases on Sundays or on Monday before class. To do so might preempt the students with the Top Story assignment for Monday's class.
- Apart from postings to our electronic discussion, there are no writing assignments for this course, and no exams.
Hopes and exhortations
- There are only a few hard and fast requirements for this course. However, if you take the course in the right spirit, or want a higher rather than a lower grade, then there are several things I'd like you to do which I cannot easily reduce to hard and fast requirements. So for the time being, I'll leave them at the level of hopes and exhortations.
- Try to give dates in your news and deepening postings. ("The statute expired on September 30, 2000." "The jury returned its verdict yesterday." "The hearing will be held March 1.")
- Try to make at least as many comment postings as news postings. Write comment postings which reply to news postings and to other comment postings.
- Try to make at least as many deepening postings as regular news postings.
- Read your peers' postings by email. When yours adds a layer of law or fact to theirs, then try to connect it; don't just report it.
- Try to go beyond mainstream news sources for detail and perspective.
- Try to focus on the more important legal issues rather than the less important. For example, let's hear more about cases in which the law is being challenged or changed and less about cases in which it is being applied non-controversially to certain facts (so-and-so was arrested yesterday for doing such-and-such).
- Attend class, and participate in the face-to-face as well as the email discussions.
- If exhortation doesn't work, then I'll think of something else. I'm willing to change the rules to make these into requirements.
Citing your sources
- To cite a web source, give us a full URL. For example, don't write www.earlham.edu. Instead, write http://www.earlham.edu. This is necessary to make the URL a "live link" inside our email software so that we need only click on it (not cut and paste it) to visit the page you are citing.
- Note that a truncated URL with an ellipsis (three dots, "...") in the middle will not enable us to find the original article. If you get your URL from a printout rather than a browser, it will often be truncated. Please check your URLs for truncation. Cut and paste them from your browser into your email to make sure they are error-free.
- For web sources, it's not enough to say "Go to site A, click on option B, then on option C..." or "Go to site A and search for B..." even if these instructions will infallibly take us where you want us to go. The point of giving your readers an active URL is to give them one-click access to your story. We want to encourage follow-ups and sharing by making them as frictionless and inviting as possible.
- If you cite a case or statute, then give either the official legal citation or a URL which jumps to it. If you can only give one of these, give the URL.
- To cite a print source, give us the author, title, periodical, date, and pages.
- To gain perspective on the news; to go beyond the mass media in search of detail and commentary on legal events in the news.
- To discuss the policy questions raised by the legal cases and controversies in the news.
- To learn as much law as is required to understand the news, and to learn how to learn it.
- To become thoughtful citizens who understand the law that governs us, who know how to look up this law, who ask questions about what the law is and ought to be, who read and involve themselves in public debate about the direction of legal change, and who participate in efforts at legal change in light of our understanding.
- One credit-hour.
- No course prerequisites.
- No general education credit.
- May be repeated (once) for credit. If you first take this course as Legal Studies 30, then the second time take it as Legal Studies 31, and vice versa.
Basis of final grade
- This course is graded, not pass-fail. To pass you must do the following:
- Give the Top Stories in class (as many times as the enrollment divides into the number of available class meetings). At least one of your stories each time you do the assignment should be a news story and at least one should be a deepening story.
- Send at least 10 proper news postings and five deepening postings to our electronic discussion.
- Apart from these minimal requirements, you can improve your grade by doing the following:
How you can help me
- This is a new course, perhaps even a new kind of course. I'd like your help to make it work and to improve it.
- Look for new websites, mailing lists, email update services, and other online sources of legal news. I can add them to our page of legal news sources immediately so the whole class can take advantage of them.
- Keep track of how many hours per week outside class you spend on this course. This will help me decide how many credit-hours it deserves.
- Help me find the right balance for meeting the many competing demands on our limited class time.
Return to the course home-page.
Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 1999-2001, Peter Suber.