The Five-Minute Law School: Everything You Learn In Your First Year, More or Less (


It’s August, and for thousands of anxious college graduates – mostly twenty-somethings — that means the beginning of their careers as law students and, if all goes well, eventually as lawyers.

In recent years, a cottage industry has developed in which faculty at prestigious law schools teach miniature summer versions of their regular courses to entering law students. The promotional literature for one such program is typical in promising to “teach you everything you need to know to succeed in law school before you begin classes.”

This is hyperbole at best. There are undoubtedly many ways in which legal education could be improved, but extending its length is not obviously one of them. If anything, the great pedagogical challenge for law schools has been how to justify keeping students for three years, when they learn roughly eighty percent of what they’re going to absorb in a single semester.

Still, it is not really surprising that students who have learned from popular fiction that law school will pit them against hyper-competitive peers in a zero-sum game of mastering the law’s mysteries, would succumb to the temptation of the prep programs. But what about the thousands of students who did not shell out the big bucks to get an edge, however small? Are they doomed to get B’s, and ultimately to land jobs at firms where partners drive Hondas rather than BMWs?

Hardly. If the prep programs can condense the first semester of law school into a week or a day, I can go them one better: I offer below the first year of law school in about five minutes. With thanks to Don Novello, who, as Father Guido Sarducci, created the five-minute university, I present the five-minute law school. (Disclaimer: Reading this column will not enable you to be admitted to the bar in any jurisdiction of the United States.) (more…)

Michael C. Dorf is the Michael I. Sovern Professor of Law at Columbia University in New York City. His 2004 book, Constitutional Law Stories, is published by Foundation Press, and tells the stories behind fifteen leading constitutional cases. His next book, No Litmus Test: Law and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in early 2006.