Homer Simpson Meets the Rule Against Perpetuities: The Controversial Use of Pop-Culture in Legal Writing Pedagogy
Perspectives, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2006
12 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2006
Imagine that you have returned to your first year of law school. In your legal writing course, you are required to finish the year with an extensive brief analyzing a legal problem. After months in your doctrinal courses dealing with mind-bending legal issues such as liquidated damages, substantive due process, felony murder, personal jurisdiction, and shifting executory interests, you are ready to sink your teeth into a challenging legal writing assignment. You want to show your stuff and prove that your writing is law review caliber. Your assignment starts as follows:
Greenacre is a parcel of land bounded on three of its sides by Redacre. James Green, your client, owns Greenacre. Steve Red owns Redacre. Red and Green have been disputing the rights of Green to maintain a dirt road leading from Greenacre through Redacre, which leads to Highway 109. . . .
Fascinating stuff, no? This problem, while possibly viable as a device for inculcating legal writing skills, could nonetheless use some zest. One way to improve its readability and interest level might be to use familiar or humorous character names from pop-culture.
The claim has been made, however, that the use of such names in legal research and writing ("LRW") pedagogy is inappropriate. The argument is that students should take these assignments seriously, and populating one's writing problem with characters from pop-culture makes it less likely that they will do so.
But is this position truly defensible? Do students really take these assignments less seriously if a challenging legal issue happens to be in an amusing context? On the other hand, are there any justifications for the use of pop-culture references in legal writing pedagogy? If so, does the upside outweigh the downside? This article analyzes the issue whether teachers of legal research and writing should dare to go where our sisters and brothers of the doctrinal faculty have gone for years - into the realm of designing writing assignments using pop-culture references as characters as a means by which to balance doctrinal learning with heightened interest. Put quite simply: does a little sugar indeed help the medicine go down?
Keywords: Legal Writing, pedagogy, pop-culture
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