Batshit crazy law students

I am very serious. Some law students who call themselves feminists have gone batshit crazy.

If you care about the ethics and customs of American lawyers who actually practice law or you care about American legal education and intellectual honesty, please read Debra Cassens Weiss, Is teaching rape law too risky? Sensitive law students don’t want to discuss it, law prof says, ABA Journal (December 16, 2014).* After you have finished screaming, crying or vomiting, tell me what you think.**


*Kudos to Ms. Weiss and the ABA Journal.

**For the female trial lawyer, who also happens to be one of the best around these parts, thanks for sending me the link to this article and your wry comments related thereto.


For this and related matters in the context of the state of legal education, see Scott Greenfield’s excellent piece entitled, The Environmental Cleanup of Toxic Academia published today at Simple Justice.

54 responses

  1. This speaks poorly both of the students who need to grow up and the professors who enable such behavior. I remember an old criminal case we studied as a 1L, I think the term “buggering” might have been used. Of course it was amusing to me, but should anyone have argued that discussing sex crimes in law school was too traumatic, they would have been laughed out of the building.

  2. Stifling law school discourse because of the acute sensitivities of a few is absolutely ridiculous.

    However, I’m not sure that “some law students who call themselves feminists” are necessarily to blame. The article uses the word “feminist” once — noting that feminists were behind reforms to get rape curricula into crimlaw classes to begin with. It would seem to me that feminists would want discourse on rape.

    I also must respectfully disagree that the students are batshit crazy. Michelle Bachmann is batshit crazy. These students seem to be just weak, scared or immature. In any event, the professors who are enabling this nonsense are more to blame. It would be a shame to lose all the ground we’ve gained discussing once-taboo topics because of over-the-top PC attitudes.

    As a second-career lawyer I often found the discussions of the younger students bemusing. But no one discouraged healthy discourse and that’s good.

    An anecdote: I remember in crimlaw class a cohort of mine (a sweet young thing about 23) thought that “digital penetration” had something to do with computers.

  3. If students don’t like it, then maybe the law is not for them. Teachers should stop catering to weak students. So, as John Stussel likes to say”give me a break”.

  4. Now more than a few years ago, my daughters, both at the time less than or around 10, participated in a large swim meet here in central Kentucky. They had some ability, and they swam in a number of events. Ribbons were awarded to the swimmers depending on their placement; there were some fourths, thirds, maybe even a first for all I can remember now; I remember them in a pile on the kitchen counter. I also remember seeing an 18th place ribbon, which seemed more than a bit over the top. I wondered whether we (meaning us parents) might be doing the kids a disservice by cultivating the idea that everyone’s participation should be recognized, that everyone’s wishes should be accommodated, that no one’s feelings should be hurt. I’m loath to sound like the cranky old lawyer it appears that I am but that cohort of children is now in law school, and this story suggests to me what we might call “18th place ribbon syndrome.”

  5. This is somewhat tangential, but I’m not sure how many kudos are due to Ms. Weiss and the ABA Journal. The piece appears to be a bald rewrite of Jeannie Suk’s New Yorker item. If Weiss added any value I’m hard-pressed to identify it.

  6. What gets me is Prof. Suk’s statement that students might believe that challenging discussion of sexual misconduct risks traumatic injury analogous to sexual assault itself. That is for sure crazy. Aren’t we as aspiring law students and lawyers supposed to engage in the hard discussions?

  7. Let me start out by saying that, to an extent, I support the use of trigger warnings or something in courses where this topic may be discussed, even if it’s just a heads-up. I read blogs that use them to good effect and judiciously, and people can skip posts dealing with certain subjects obviously without consequence. Although frankly in the law school context I don’t see how it could be a surprise–my professors throughout college and law school tended to have outlines, give reading assignments, and give previews of upcoming lessons, such that I usually knew what was coming.

    I found the section on rape/sexual assault in my criminal law class to be very interesting, insightful–and feminist. Our professor discussed different legal conceptions of rape and the theoretical underpinnings of them, from patriarchal models to more progressive models. I am extremely grateful to the feminist reforms that made these kinds of classroom lessons possible. To be sure it was hard stuff to listen to at times, and I freely admit that I can’t put myself in the shoes of people who have experienced rape first hand. But with rape/sexual assault in the headlines, in criminal law jurisprudence and in people’s everyday lives, learning the law and history of rape/sexual assault has to be useful and important for those who aspire to be attorneys.

    I can understand a person wanting to distance him or herself from these issues as much as possible following traumatic events–in which case, I’m not being sarcastic in the least when I suggest that law school and the practice of law really may not be a good avenue.

  8. I thought my criminal law professor handled this issue perfectly 1L year. He prefaced the discussion with a statement along these lines (paraphrasing):

    “Every day we have a wide-ranging discussion and we make jokes and crack wise. But today, we are going to talk about rape. In a class of 80 students, it is a statistical certainty that some of your fellow students have been victims of sexual assault and rape. As we address and discuss this issue, I am asking that your comments be sensitive and be on point. Many of our class hours have been spent with a kind of joyous frivolity as we learn. Today, we will learn and discuss, but I am asking out of sensitivity to your fellow students that we leave that joyous frivolity at the door.”

    My comment cannot begin to convey the seriousness, somberness and wisdom with which he said this. And, to the best of my knowledge, it worked. Our discussion was different that day, but it wasn’t stifled and remained entirely respectful. I am unaware of any student who left that discussion feeling hurt or offended. A professor can be sensitive to his or her students without omitting important aspects of the curriculum.

  9. C. Smith — this sounds like a great professor all around. What a respectful and appropriate way to preface the subject. And “joyous frivolity” the rest of the semester sounds pretty good too!

  10. I think it has less to do with the crazy students and more to do with moronic (usually male) professors who will not take the time to learn how to teach sensitive subjects. They need to run at it straight-forward, with a biological and legal basis. Don’t get all touchy feely about it. Just say it like it is. If the students can’t handle it – they better walk out. (yes, I’m a female lawyer who is just as caring and empathetic as any other female lawyer). And yes, the first juvenile female who I had testify on the stand made me want to weep … but I was “chin up” and kept going until the trial was over. These professors are also teaching mannerisms and how to handle difficult topics with a mixed crowd.

  11. Griff,

    I understand your point about the New Yorker item. But I think you give too little credit to a professional journal and the journalist for highlighting this tragic/comedy which turns out be a damning indictment of legal education. That is particularly so when such an article is likely to piss off more than a few law students who will one day be asked to pay real money to belong to the ABA.

    All the best.


  12. Judge:
    You can say that this is yet another cultural marker. The idea that law students might be offended at the discussion of rape in class is analogous to the recent decision by Columbia and Harvard law schools to allow students to delay exams over their supposed upset about the death of Eric Garner and the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri (go here: My take? You deserve everything you get once you allow the inmates to run the asylum, i.e., allow “feelings” to hold sway over objective reality. The reality is that sex crimes are real and lawyers need to be acquainted with them for reasons that are too obvious to mention. But then again, I am actually of the mind that law schools are training future lawyers, not politically-correct social workers.

  13. chocolatetort,

    Let me play Socrates for a moment:

    Why is it appropriate for the professor to pick one topic–rape–for the avoidance of “joyous frivolity,” but encourage, or least tolerate, that tone for other topics?

    All the best.


  14. I went to a very well regarded law school and was taught introductory criminal law by a very well regarded criminal law professor. His one class on rape began something like “I’m covering this because it is important for you to understand as future lawyers. I, however, will not test you on this. The bar examiners may test you on this subject, so do not skip it during BarBri. If this subject makes you feel uncomfortable, you are free to leave without judgment or penalty.”

    I thought that was a fair way to handle the issue.

  15. This answer keeps being long-winded no matter how I try to cut it down. Alas.

    The concern about treating any criminal matter lightly is that it will have personally affected class participants, whether they experienced it, a friend did, or it’s a Michael Brown/Eric Garner moment where there’s an issue of being targeted for whatever characteristics class participants share. However–Michael Brown and Eric Garner aside, or maybe this goes to the kerfuffle about the trauma from those events–I think the main difference between rape and other crimes is how victims are treated. As someone who was mugged–to be sure, I questioned what I had done that night to be seen as vulnerable or to attract the mugger’s attention or whatever… but I didn’t hesitate to report the crime and never had the experience of anybody being skeptical of my story or blaming me.

    So a person who has personal experience with any crimes underwent the trauma of the instant moment. A survivor of rape has probably undergone the additional trauma of facing enormous skepticism and blame, including their own upbringing and internalized blame.

    Plus, I think with most crimes it’s agreed that, at least while acting in a criminal manner, muggers and murderers and so forth are Bad Guys and the mugged and murdered are Victims. Of course there are blurred lines, and of course some gunner is going to press those lines. But generally, I’d be confident that during a class on robbery, no one would seriously suggest that someone who was mugged deserved to be mugged or was asking to be mugged or maybe wasn’t mugged at all or mock victims in some serious way… so they might make light of it, but I wouldn’t be offended.

    In summary, I’m going to make a risky proposition and venture that it’s not entirely the crime itself (although the physical and psychological damage of rape can be extreme) but rather the experience of being a rape victim that makes it so difficult.


  16. RGK,
    Here’s a slightly more encouraging tale about law students and law professors. During my first year, in criminal law, we discussed a particularly heinous crime. A man had discovered that his ex-wife was pregnant with another man’s child, and kidnapped her and purposefully punched her so hard in the stomach that he killed the child. He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The constitutional issue was whether the rule of lenity applied to prevent him from being charged with the murder, because it was unclear whether or not the fetus was a person under state law.

    Obviously a touchy subject. We had some objections in class and people basically said that he was a monster who deserved to be executed, and damn the constitution. Our young, intelligent professor asked those who wanted to see him dead whether his crime was so heinous that he no longer deserved to be protected by the Constitution, that we should ignore the rule of law and just string him up.

    The class got quiet, and one of the angry students admitted that they hadn’t thought of that, and agreed that the Constitution should apply no matter what the person did.

    I don’t know about my classmates, but I never forgot that lesson.


  17. And silly me, I forgot to add–which fits in with my first comment–that rape uniquely brings into focus larger questions about gender roles, gender stereotypes and sexuality.

    I reiterate that I do think all these issues need to be discussed, but since I could imagine a light-hearted treatment of rape descending into ugly territory fast about women and men and husbands and wives, a solemn approach seems like the best course. Of course there are always dimensions (race, class, gender) to other crimes, but I believe that rape really is unique in this regard.

    Again, there’s just not going to be same level of this with other crimes. Jokes and light-heartedness regarding murder or robbery probably aren’t going to belittle women (or male victims of rape in regards to their masculinity).

    Okay okay, stopping now!

  18. Judge You are clearly living in a dream world in which jock law students deal with every question with the manly courage that will make them the rough and tumble real lawyers that the world longs for. I know that this kind of talk may get you elected president of the White Boys from Wahoo, but it serves no other purpose. First you misread the article which talks about inexperience faculty worrying about criticism and avoiding material, not about student complains. . The real complainers are not feminists in the main but the boys who have had to deal with subjects outside their agenda,, say empathy or honor, or in this part of the world folks who think the Republican Platform is an important legal doctrine. The ABA would never worry about these matters, nor I suspect would the chronic complainers about legal education on this blog. Between my wife and I we taught for more than 70 years and neither of sees the world in which we worked for so long. in your comments.
    Nor I think would my daughter, three sisters and a niece who are lawyer be honor to be admitted to the world of honorary white guys called real lawyers. Was thinking of quoting Gramsci , but I will skip the hard stuff

  19. chocolatetort,

    You are a great advocate! Socrates is pleased, although skeptical (because that is his nature).

    All the best.


  20. RL,

    I am already the President of White Boys from Wahoo. Please salute.

    That said, even us white boys know when an ass whuppin has been delivered. But I can take a punch.* This one, while almost too low, is fair enough.

    All the best.


    *I can also throw a punch, but for this blog I mostly prefer rope-a-dope.

  21. Suffice it to say that I agree with this statement by Ms. Suk: “Now, more than ever, it is critical that law students develop the ability to engage productively and analytically in conversations about sexual assault.”

    If not this, what next, law students uncomfortable with talking about murder, or child abuse, et al.?

  22. Next we’ll be worrying about hurting someone’s feelings when discussing horrible car accident cases, or the standard heinous murder case. I tried a “negligent embalming” case to a jury of 12 good folks in federal district court in Nebraska (Hon. Strom) and no one got all bent out of shape – I had to take them through an entire and detailed embalming procedure with my funeral director client and then go through it all again with my expert to demonstrate that my client did everything within the standard of care. There were unpleasant photographs of the decedent that were shown to the jury by the plaintiff to support her case. Yes, voir dire was challenging and had to be done with a certain sensitivity, but in the end grown ups deal with the reality of life and do their damn job! The professors and students described in the ABA story are simply “bat shit crazy”. You called it right, Judge.

  23. Last I recall (although it’s been a few years now), whether or not to attend law school is a choice. Once having made that choice, criminal law is an elective for those interested in the subject or who may want one day to practice it. If one is so sensitive to real life, then one should choose not to go to law school or, once there, not to sign up for electives that might hurt one’s feelings. Give me a break. Shame on the professors who pander to this nonsense.

  24. Terrapin,
    Criminal law is required for all first year students in most law schools. Although I agree that lawyers (and thus law students) should make the decision about whether to serve as lawyers or not. They have the option, and it’s not a career for everyone.

  25. Realistically speaking, a sizable majority of the people who go to law school will deal with the law of rape exactly twice in their lives: during their mandatory first-year crim law class, and during bar prep. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they should feel free to utterly disregard the criminal law, but the fact remains that this topic is not relevant to most lawyers’ lives.

  26. MOK you are assuming students do not regularly complain about insensitivity with regard to personal injury cases, you are living in a dream world. First complaint to the Dean about me was for using the phrase leg off in torts I in 1971. Year I had 3 pregnant students in medical liability, I skipped some of the more gruesome aspects of bad baby cases, wish I was the kind of man you are, I could have tested the possibility that emotional trauma can produce a miscarriage, advanced ob and real lawyering.

  27. First, I think it’s worth reiterating that this article did not detail any actual student complaints, but only potential complaints from hypothetical students. That said, given the actual complaints from students (at top law schools, depressingly) about having to take finals after the Brown/Garner non-indictments, these potential complaints are highly plausible.

    I strongly believe that these hypothetical students do not deserve the criticism being directed at them. I’ll agree that these people are not fit to pass criminal law, and probably therefore not fit to be attorneys, but there are a lot of perfectly wonderful people who are not fit to be attorneys, and I don’t believe that should be used as a criticism.

    If I have fragile bones, I shouldn’t play football, but nobody would make fun of me for my fragile bones. If I have a fragile psyche based on being a victim of sexual assault, to the point that it makes me unable to even discuss the subject, then I shouldn’t practice criminal law, but do I deserve to be mocked for my fragile psyche? I don’t think so.

    A variously and unreliably sourced quotation goes along the lines, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I do agree with the host and majority of commenters that these hypothetical students do not deserve any special treatment, in a criminal law class or otherwise. If they can’t handle it, they don’t belong in the profession. But they have my sympathy, not my scorn.

  28. Griff,

    But you don’t, while you’re in law school, know whether you’re going to be in that sizable majority or not. I did not anticipate practicing criminal law. But the job market being what it is, and me being scared of self-employment, I took what was offered, and now I deal with the rape cases quite frequently.

  29. I’m a female law student and I definitely did not like discussing rape. Since I identify with the victim, it’s upsetting when the rapist escapes punishment. That said, it’s necessary to discuss it in criminal law, and no doubt others have equally emotional reactions to other crimes. But I would question whether criminal law needs to be a required course at all. If someone is so sensitive she never wants to have to hear about rape (or murder, child abuse, etc), well, she might be a wimp but she can go do M&A and never have to think about it. So why force criminal law on all the 1Ls? Replace it with an accounting course.

    My professor was sensitive in his approach, perhaps too much so: he kept a tight lid on the discussion and told us there would be no rape questions on the exam, because exams are stressful enough.

  30. Griff you might have added that must criminal law courses deal with the general part with only a few cases on specific offenses, usually murder and some part of the theft offense.while books may have changed, last time I looked to pick a book the only rape case in most of them was HL decision on Morgan and mistake, statutory rape seldom appeared since criminal law profs traditionally used the Gretna Green case. MPC and its progeny tended to make gerund grinding common law elements and distinctions obsolete.

  31. L your argument does not work because you can not take everything, criminal law would have been little help in a zoning firm. One of my sisters negotiated construction contracts for lng carriers with a ship yard in Poland, how does a good old discussion of rape in law school have helped her.

  32. A few years ago when I was a 1L, my criminal law professor prefaced the our discussion of rape by telling us that he did not teach rape cases before he received tenure, that he was somewhat reluctant to do so even with tenure because of the potential to offend, and that if we were offended at any point we could leave the classroom with no repercussions to our grade. He also noted that we should be aware in our discussion that, statistically speaking, several of our fellow students had been raped or sexually assaulted. I don’t recall anyone leaving the class, but the discussion that followed definitely colored my impression of several of my fellow students for the rest of law school. For the end of semester exam, we were given a choice between several essay prompts: scenarios involving homicide, rape, and burglary. It is my recollection that the vast majority of the class chose the rape essay prompt.

  33. Additionally, when I took the California Bar Exam in July 2013, one of the essay prompts (or maybe it was a performance test?) involved rape. Students who did not learn about rape in school would, therefore, have been at a disadvantage seeing this issues for the first time on the bar exam.

  34. Jim started listening to discussion between NE lawyers at Northrup’s and Dixon’s when I went with my dad for breakfast on Saturday. 64 years later I am still waiting to hear productive and analytic conversations between lawyers, though they are close if NU football or Blue Jays basketball is the subject.

  35. My whole point is that these students need to grow the hell up. It was obviously true in 1971 and is true now. We all tend to be whiners, but it seems to be worse nowadays at all levels. I’m waiting for the first case of PTSD following a traumatic hang-nail event. Yes, I am a grumpy old man, whining away about the other whiners.

  36. Also, people need to get over their sensitive egos. If you are an attorney, you’re being hired to fix a problem. Who cares whether you’re offended by a problem?

  37. It just seems worse. Law school is about growing into the law which does not happen in one freshman class. With the years we create golden memories but to steal from Mark Twain, I remember when I was a law student but I do not remember how I was a law student.

  38. Southern Law, depends on the problem, there was a great book my dad made me read called Woe Unto You Lawyers about an English barrister practicing in the old PDA Division dealing with his own divorce. Sure its out of print but was a help in understanding what clients were going through. Not much help in my own divorce.

  39. I am a South African law graduate and court transcriber. In a country with devastating rape stats as well as a culture of activism, I shudder to think what would happen if this came to our shores. Quite simply, if victims are too sensitive to study rape, they should pursue another career path. However, I believe this would amount to a sad loss to the justice system. Seeing perpetrators brought to justice is the best course for closure for victims in most cases and to “soften” our understanding of rape in law school would be more of a disservice to those who are victims of same than sitting through an uncomfortable topic in law school.

  40. My crim. law prof. took a very different approach. Although he prefaced the discussion with what you might consider a trigger warning, he made so many jokes while on the topic. However, he never targeted the victim in his jokes; it was always the prosecution, the defendant, the very problematic history of rape laws, witnesses, students answering questions, and factual situations surrounding the cases. Prior to that discussion, I thought he just might be the funniest person I knew. After that discussion, I knew it because he had everybody in stitches.

    It’s interesting that I now that I reflect upon that section of crim. law, no student ever engaged in victim blaming, mockery, or other behavior that would set off triggers for survivors of sexual assault. Anybody who would have come close would have probably been ridiculed by the professor. By setting the tone and controlling the discussion with a quick wit, he was able to get through the section without any kind of PTSD or even hurt feelings.

  41. Dear sensitive student and liberal professors who don’t know how to practice law,

    Great idea. Let’s not teach people how to prosecute these crimes…perfect. That way, we (generalized female we) can continue to “cry rape,” get what we want out of it (higher grades, transfers, attention, etc), let men (another broad generalization) continue to think we are nuts, and then allow a dangerous (potentially, if it was a rape) person run around raping other people. Awesome.

    Or…here is an idea. Enjoy your Harvard law education, avoid taking criminal law classes, study environmental law, advise contractors how to make city buildings green for your career, and leave dealing with this difficult topic to ppl who are willing to get their hands a little dirty.

    Someone who can get out of my own head

  42. SDNSLC,


    When I preside over jury cases, I always try to lighten the mood, especially in criminal cases. Life is nasty. Gentle humor makes life tolerable and, as you point out, understandable. Good for your professor. Thanks for your engagement.

    All the best.


  43. I ponder where the sympathies would lie if the law student was sensitive due to her father having been wrongfully convicted of rape? It’s quite curious that the only assumptions reflected by those who can understand why students suffer such sensitivities are those which confirm their bias, assume the reasonableness of their feelings and deny that there might be any feelings that are similarly reasonable but in conflict.

    What if the Harvard 3L sought the delay of final exams because he was traumatized, or need time to fight the injustice, of the persecution of P.O. Darren Wilson? Would his feelings still warrant the same concern?

    We all have feelings. They aren’t all the same feelings. Are they all equal or are some more equal than others?

  44. SHG,

    You failed to provide a trigger warning that intellectual honesty was about to be discussed. Bad, very bad.

    All the best.


  45. This reminds me of the time a reporter from the Toledo Blade asked my kindergarten class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told him, “a plumber that doesn’t have to fix toilets.”

    I completely sympathize with not wanting to re-traumatize anyone who’s gone through a horrible situation, but at the same time, the course material is the course material is the course material.

    I would think that if any student sought to enter a profession that required instruction that would dredge up difficult feelings or memories, then that student would need to psychologically or emotionally prepare himself or herself for that coursework (perhaps with the help of a mental health professional).

    Either that or pick a field or specialty that isn’t going to put the zap on his or her head.

  46. I won’t mock the idealism of students. Excessive careerism and cynicism is corrosive to legal education and the practice of law. But I will mock Harvard Law Review Editor William Desmond for asking for an extension on his law school exams because of his participation in the Ferguson/Garner protests. Desmond states that lower grades were the “cost” of his activism but that just because he was willing to pay that cost doesn’t mean that he “should have to.” Progressives rightly ask “Why should things be they we they are?” but they veer too much into “Why should we have to do this or that to accomplish our goals.” I’m a fairly liberal Democrat and a plaintiff’s lawyer, so I sympathize with these students. But they haven’t learned that activism has a high cost and risk. My losses in the political, legislative and legal arena have real consequences to others and myself — consequences that are a lot more severe than getting a B in a third year law school class. If you aren’t willing to accept the consequences of your activism you undercut the importance of what you are fighting for.

  47. Cousin David,

    You forgot to mention that the Toledo Blade is “One of America’s Great Newspapers.” That according to the paper’s masthead.

    Your much older cousin, and fan,


  48. One of the first things dad did when I showed him how to use the web was hit the Blade’s obits. God bless that man.

  49. Back in 1984, my last year of law school, one of my classes was a seminar at which each of us chose a topic, wrote on it and made presentations to the (small) class and faced comments and questioning by the classmates. There were about a dozen of us.

    My topic was cameras in the courtroom and during my presentation I discussed a comment Wigmore had made about the value of open trials. Back in his day, people attended court as a from of entertainment/civic participation and he told of a trial during which a witness was contradicted by a member of the audience and used this as an example of the importance of trials being open and public.

    At the time, a trial from (if I recall correctly) Rhode Island was being televised in which a group of men were being tried for gang-raping a woman on a pool table in a back room. It was a very publicized trial and there was much talk about the need for privacy where sex crimes were beign tried.

    Somehow, the “bubble” used to disguise the complainant disappeared and her face was shown. She was recognized as a woman who had made several such complaints in the past and had failed to cooperate with authorities. Her credibility was suddenly an issue.

    As I started discussing this and Wigmore’s comments about how open trials can lead to new and unexpected information, a woman in the class burst into tears and stormed out, never to return.

    I tell this story here, as recalled with 30 years in the rear-view mirror, because I think as lawyers and would-be lawyers, we need to be able to talk about virtually anything, as long as we do it in an appropriate manner and setting. In the classroom, students should be able to say anything as long as no personal attacks are being made. How else do we try out ideas?

    Of course, 30+ years later, the internet is proving that this may not be a good idea — to many know-nothing, racist and bigoted comments are being thrown around and there’s no real way to regulate them. The internet may very well be the thing that finally does kill free speech as we knew it, say 20 years ago.

    It does seem that we are going to hell in a handbasket.

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