Going Beyond Doctrine: Critical Perspectives at BC Law

When this year’s 1Ls sit down for their first Property Law class they are likely to discuss Pierson v. Post. The case concerns a dispute over who owned a wild fox killed during a hunt. Lodowick Post and his pack of hunting dogs were in pursuit of the fox, having chased it through a stretch of the town commons when Jesse Pierson suddenly intervened to kill and claim it. Post insisted that the fox was rightly his, as he and his pack of hounds had been in pursuit and were on the verge of capturing it. Pierson countered that a wild animal is no one’s property until it is definitively captured or killed.

Pierson is a 1L classic because it dramatizes the legal construction of ownership. The dividing line between the fox’s state of nature and its state as property is whatever the majority opinion says it is. More subtly, the case also dramatizes a key assumption driving much of Anglo-American property law: settling the question of ownership clarifies many of the rights and responsibilities that shape our relations as political subjects. Pierson can feel anachronistic, with the majority discussing obscure legal treatises and the minority perseverating on the noxiousness of foxes. But the case was not really about a fox.[1]

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The Four Best “Good News” Stories You Need Right Now

1. In twist of fate, Dallas Community Serves 1L Connie Lee’s Family Restaurant

First-year student Connie Lee’s parents run a restaurant where she grew up in Dallas, Texas. “When our state began requiring restaurants to only do take-out or delivery, and issuing stay-at-home orders, my family feared what would happen these next few weeks,” Lee said.

In addition to physically endangering essential workers and their families, COVID-19 financially strains restaurants like the Lee’s and other small businesses with each passing day.

“My family has had the restaurant for 21 years now, and most of our customers have been there since day one,” Lee said. In recent weeks, instead of serving the surrounding community as it normally would, the restaurant and the Lee family has found the community serving them.

“Multiple people called my dad and gave him a pep talk for the first few days to not give up and let him know that he would get through this. A few people had sent us a greeting card with some donations gathered by neighbors,” Lee said.

Acts of kindness and selflessness like this sharply contrast the day-to-day drone of dark news and whirlwind of public health and financial variability. Lee says that expressing gratitude and looking forward to the return to relative normalcy is her focus for now: “I really don’t know what to say but thank you to them, and eventually to give everyone a hug once we are able to meet again. It’s really amazing to see how connected we can feel even in a time of distance and uncertainty.”

2. Alum Paul Trifiletti ’10 Negotiates 5-Day Jeopardy! Run

Athens, Georgia-based attorney becomes five-day champion, wins over $100,000

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Paul Trifiletti’s success playing alongside syndicated Jeopardy! broadcasts encouraged him to try out for the real thing.

Trifiletti passed online qualifying rounds, an in-person audition, and an additional test before Sony Pictures Studios in California called, offering him a shot.

An Assistant District Attorney with the Piedmont Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Trifiletti fought hard from start to finish. Down $1,400 heading into Final Jeopardy in his first game, Trifiletti correctly answered the ’20th Century Artists’ category to pass the leader and collect $21,000 as the new champion.

Perhaps the most notable moment came when a question drew on Trifiletti’s recollections of 1776 Philadelphia, this time beyond the world of Constitutional law. To a question asking for the nickname of Philadelphia 76’er Joel Embiid that “describes the 76’ers strategy of improving the team,” Trifiletti answered “Do a 180.’” In response, Embiid, known as “The Process,” changed his Twitter handle from “Joel ‘The Process’ Embiid” to “Joel ‘Do a 180’ Embiid???.” He has not changed it back.

Trifiletti finished his five-day run with $106,801. According to Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions Tracker, he is poised to return for the program’s 15-player tournament of the season’s top champions.

Back in Athens, a young boy approached Trifiletti upon recognizing him from the show. The Athens Banner-Herald reports that Trifiletti told him to keep studying hard in school and that one day he, too, could be on the show.

“I encourage people who want to try to take the test,” Trifiletti said. “You could end up like me, end up getting on the show, end up winning five games. You never know.”

3. Professor Chirba Invokes Krazinski, Hamilton in Pedagogical Pep Talk

Newton hometown hero John Krazinski and the cast of Hamilton brought Professor Mary Ann Chirba’s Law Practice II class “full circle.”

At the beginning of the year, nearly every student in Professor Mary Ann Chirba’s Law Practice class was completely unfamiliar with legal research, analysis, and writing. BC Law’s flagship first-year Law Practice program introduces students to the work of a lawyer through legal problem solving in a simulated law practice setting. To set the stage, Professor Chirba showed students the clip of Lin-Manuel Miranda singing the opening song from Hamilton for the first time in public. She emphasized Miranda’s masterful display of linguistic precision, cogent argument, and word economy.

Off-broadway workshops were years away for Hamilton at that point, not to mention the popular adoration and critical acclaim it continues to enjoy. Similarly distant yet attainable, Professor Chirba explained to her students, was the endgame of the Law Practice journey: becoming efficient and effective legal practitioners.

“That was then, this is now,” Professor Chirba wrote in an email to her Law Practice class earlier this month, linking to the Hamilton cast’s surprise appearance on John Krazinski’s mini-series, Some Good News. “You are working on your final memos and need to focus on precision, concision, and TONS of large and small choices” regarding the content, phrasing, sequence, emphasis, and cohesion of the final product. Parting with words of encouragement relevant not only to her class but to anyone grasping for a ray of inspiration, Professor Chriba wrote of the clip:

“It will remind you that people are good, your future is bright, and you cannot throw away your…”

4. Multigenerational Teaching, Learning Offer Lessons in Law and Levity

To give his first-year Constitutional Law students a needed boost on April Fool’s Day, Professor Daniel Farbman turned to uncommon teaching assistants.

Professor Farbman posted two “administrative” videos on the course website, titled “Class Mechanics Update Video” and “Grading Policy Update Video.” He then instructed the class to watch them in preparation for a discussion to follow.

It turns out that they were videos of his two adorable children — one giving a lecture on her bouncy ball and another reading The Pigeon Needs a Bath.

“I was having a tough week, but these videos cheered me up!” said 1L Yeram Choi.

Earlier this month, Professor Ingrid Hillinger’s Bankruptcy class unexpectedly became a continuing legal education session.

A student revealed that her father, a bankruptcy attorney at a major national firm, tuned into the virtual class to brush up on his doctrinal footing, and he said he loved the experience.

Boston College Law faculty and staff’s extra efforts to keep student learning on track with some levity along the way have made the past few weeks brighter.


Ryan Kenney is a first-year student and loves to hear from readers. Email him at ryan.kenney@bc.edu.

Distance Learning in the COVID-19 Era: A Reflection From Governor Swift

Today I am hosting a guest blog post from Governor Jane Swift, who is currently the Rappaport Center for Law & Public Policy Distinguished Visiting Professor.


The ironies abound. First, the course I am teaching at Boston College Law School is titled, “Governing in the Era of Facebook: Privacy, Propaganda & the Public Good.” The entire course is premised on the speed of innovation and how it is rapidly changing the nature of work and learning and challenging the legal and regulatory sectors. Second, I have been an executive in the Education Technology industry for nearly two decades. I have run online learning companies and sold and delivered online courses to schools and colleges. So, if anyone should have been ready to quickly pivot their face-to-face teaching as a Rappaport visiting professor from traditional delivery to online, that guest professor should have been me. If I could play a guitar or sing, however, I would have written and tried to get this video to trend.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCe5PaeAeew&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1jsCv4x-qVlKUGzmzGvJRH3DnXkKCI0EvKIkBHvFFh6K8UGvPlGxi1w8g 

One thing is really important to put in perspective from the get-go. What is happening this spring semester, where schools are continuing to deliver coursework to college and university students, is decidedly NOT online learning. True online courses, like the ones my colleagues and I built at Middlebury Interactive Languages, take months and sometimes years to build. They depend on professionals with specific expertise in course design to translate pedagogy from in-person to online. Even in online learning, there is huge variation in the degree of features and functionality, the use of video and audio, whether assessments are embedded in the course, and how those are proctored. None of that can happen at scale, securely in a three day or two week period. Instead, what you see now would more fairly be categorized as distance learning or – and even this is a stretch – as blended learning.

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Equitable Grading in Times of Crisis?

Dear BC Law Community,

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), has created a widespread public health crisis, larger than what most of us have seen before in our lifetimes. This is not, however, the first-time members of our community have faced an unprecedented life circumstance. Your classmates deal with issues such as food insecurity, homelessness, chronic physical and mental illness, family tragedies, and much more, on a daily basis. When members of our community face these issues, absent a pandemic, we tell them to suck it up. We tell them the curve is what it is and they just need to find a way to solider through, or we contritely tell them “hey, B’s are still passing,” when we all know full well that in a tight  job market, the arbitrary difference between a B and a B+ can be the difference between employment and unemployment. An overly competitive curve is all well and good when it only effects the have-nots, but when it starts to affect the “haves” as well, then we start paying attention.

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A Call for Compassion and Understanding

Today, I am hosting a guest blog post by Robert Lydon, a first-year student at BC Law.

I cannot describe the relief I felt when I received the Dean’s email about the grading policy change. Relief because I would not have to choose between my family, my health, and my academic career. Relief because I now have the flexibility to be there for those who need me. 

I am just one of the students the administration probably had in mind when they rendered this decision. As of last week, I’ve learned that my brother, father, and brother-in-law are now unemployed after construction was shut down in Boston. They are all concerned about how they are going to pay their bills. My mother is a disabled two-time cancer survivor, and I cannot express how dangerous this illness could be for her. Despite this, she continues to help care for my grandmother, who is recovering from a recent hip fracture and is also extremely vulnerable. I live at home with my parents and am worried about their health, economic well-being, and housing security. I am far from the only one in our community affected, nor am I the most adversely affected by this global upheaval.

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We Are Human Beings First And Law Students Second

Editor’s note: due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Boston College has moved all classes online and sent students home for the semester. The BC Law Impact blog has suspended its normal posting schedule, and bloggers are now focused on writing about the impact of the shutdown and the current state of the world on their academic and social experiences as law students. We are all in this together; let’s find our way through together.

I am a law student who, like everyone else at BC Law (and literally everywhere else on Earth), wishes this wasn’t happening.

I am a student attorney trying to figure out how to help my clients, since the courts have all but shut down.

I am a millennial who has grown up in endless war, and I probably have a lot of residual trauma from multiple mass shootings in my community.

I am a teacher whose first grade Hebrew students are going stir-crazy in their homes while I try to teach them on Zoom.

I am a daughter of parents whose small business has been shuttered in this crisis.

I am a sister worrying about my siblings who are suddenly out of work without a safety net to fall back on.

I am a partner of a full-time graduate student, who is also doing his learning and his part-time teaching jobs from our apartment.

But before all of those things, I am a human being living in a community that is being tested like never before, in ways large and small.

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Moving Beyond 1L Grades: Words of Wisdom

I think we can all relate to the feeling you get when you walk out of a final thinking you nailed it, only to find out a few weeks later that your grade was not nearly what you expected. When this happens as a 1L, however, I think the stress is even worse. All you have heard about for the months leading up to finals is that only your first-year grades matter and if you fall outside of a firm’s cutoff, you have a very big uphill battle ahead of you.

Well, even if this happened to you, your fellow 2Ls and 3Ls are here to tell you that you don’t need to beat yourself up, it will all work out, and it’s now time to move on with your second semester. Below are their words of wisdom:

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The Fall from Grace: Tackling Choice and Moral Culpability in Class

“This seems like a philosophical question.”

My classmate was trying to parse the Supreme Court’s reasoning in two cases with similar facts and different outcomes. Our professor did not seem enthusiastic about the prospect of a philosophical discussion. Some professors teach introductory law classes like a foreign language, immersing students in legal syntax and vocabulary until its functioning becomes intuitive and fluid. Imagine trying to teach French students to conjugate a verb while they’re working on a grand theory for the union of sound and thought. You would get further by just drilling, “Je vais à la plage. Tu vas à la plage. Il/Elle/On va à la plage.” So our professor responded with a pointedly practical answer spelling out the officially recognized legal rule at work in the two decisions.

But there was an interesting, philosophical issue beneath the surface of the Court’s reasoning, even if we didn’t have enough time to cover it. These are the two cases:

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Don’t Let The Curve Make You Unkind

Coming into law school, I had many choices to make. Several of them were financial: where I would live, how much I would take out in loans, and whether I could hold a part time job during 1L (that final one was a no, which made things very tight during those many months of learning how to Bluebook and outline). I had to decide who I would befriend on the first day of orientation, who I would trust as study partners, and who I would go to when I was having a horrible time with my lot in life.

One thing I was determined NOT to do was to allow the confines and constraints of law school to turn me in to someone I would be ashamed of, or someone I just didn’t like.

And then I met “the curve:” the infamous, fixed grading system that pits section mate against section mate and keeps many law students up at night.

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