Law School Discussion

Curious about WMCL Section One profs, MJF, first case briefing

Hey all,

I have been assigned to Section One, with Richard Murphy for Civ Pro, Phebe Haugen for Contracts, Marcia Gelpa for Property, Michael Steenson for Torts, and Deborah Schmedemann plus an adjunct for WRAP. I am also curious about Jane Evans, WMCL Staff Attorney for the Minnesota Justice Foundation. MJF seems to be a pretty established and respectable place to get some experience.

Any advice about these people or about MJF would be welcome. I have heard that Haugen has been around for a few decades and is well-liked, though her close coordination with Heidenreich concerns me. Someone recalls that they share materials and styles. I have heard good things about Steenson from a State of MN attorney (my sister-in-law).

I also welcome constructive criticism of my first attempt at case briefing, available at I know that the CAPTION needs adjustment, but the rest of it? I plan to brief in Google Docs so I can quickly bounce back and forth between a Mac and Windows, and to use a website of my own for notes and such.


Re: Curious about WMCL Section One profs, MJF, first case briefing
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2007, 08:43:29 PM »

I'm an incoming 2L, but I didn't have any of the profs you will be other than Prof. Shmedemann, who is the lead prof for WRAP in all sections. With WRAP, the adjunct will teach your smallish dozen or so student homeroom, and there is where almost all of the work involved with WRAP happens. The full section WRAP class lead by Prof Shmedemann tends to be mostly lecture, and frankly, somewhat remedial.

Prof. Steenson substituted a couple of class meetings for my torts prof (who had a familly emergency) and he seemed quite good.

MJF does provide opportunities for those interested in volunteering, but like so many things, the opportunity is mostly what you make of it.

Now as for briefing, what you've got looks like a good start. It is important to remember why you are briefing the cases you read. It mostly comes down to 2 main reasons, to be prepared for class discussion in the nearterm, and to use to distill rules/theories of law (that can be applied to other facts) out of for your outline and/or exams. While avoiding embarassment can be a great motivator, and while it is important to know what you and everyone else is talking about in class, in the end, it's the exams that count. This means your style of briefing will need to adjust as you go so that you can make sure that you're putting in everything you need and leaving out what may confuse you or just waste time. Some profs are more Socratic than others, and they tend to ask more gotcha type questions... like who the judge was, or a procedural tidbit that doesnt really effect the result... while others are mostly interested in the underlying legal reasoning. The facts are important, but mostly as a template that the reasoning is applied to, and as compared/contrasted with other (frequently hypothetical) fact patterns. I suppose what I am saying is that casebriefs are just tools, and you will probably need to adjust your style as you learn, and even from subject to subject. Eventually most folks stop doing anything resembling a formal case brief, but that requires a lot of practice in case reading and learning what to note, and what is clutter.

What do/did you use for outlining?
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2007, 02:58:33 AM »
Thank you, paintboy, regarding briefing. What you wrote jibes with what I've heard.

Regarding exam prep, how early did you - or any 2L/3L reading this - start outlining, what did you use for that, and were any outside sources (e.g. outlines of others) helpful? Did you outline solo, or collaborate? I may use OneNote or just WordPerfect X3 for outlining.


Re: Curious about WMCL Section One profs, MJF, first case briefing
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2007, 07:14:33 AM »
I did most prep solo, but that isn't necessarily a recomendation, just how it worked out for me as the year evolved. For whatever variety of reasons, I didn't enmesh with any group that would have had value as a study group... in hindsight I think I should have tried harder to socialize and develop more of a in-school support network ...not to say that it would have taken as formal a form as a "study group" even, but there would be greater potential for ad hoc discussion and support at least.

As for outlining in particular, I did it as I went along rather than compiling it later on. I imagine my outlines were more rambling than those of the edit-and-refine folks, but then again I'm an audio learner, and my note taking is... well, not my strongest area... :-\

I used the Outliner program from Storelaw, which helped keep my notes from becoming overly free-range. Outliner also had outline templates based on the 1L casebooks available, which provided headings and subheadings preformatted, and that saved me a lot of work (once again, the data entry side of note taking being a weakness for me) The templates also had built in cases pre-entered, with 2 of the 4 casebooks even having citations pre-entered. Each case's section had tabs for my brief, in-class notes, outside source notes, and even could provide an online brief from either lexis or westlaw (if the citation is entered)... which can help a little on those jammed up and less than prepared occasions. But, as seems to be a recuring theme, results may vary.

Also, I found commercial outlines pretty helpful for establishing understanding as the year progressed... helping to simplify/distill concepts as well as confirm (or correct) that a concept was what I thought it was. Also, some classes seemed like better fits for commercial study aids. Property in particular has some rather formula-driven subjects (future interests, estates in land, etc)

However, I found the commercial outlines to be less helpful for end of semmester exam prep (though not totally without value). At that stage I think the commercial outlines can give a false sense of clairity that can crumble when faced with an exam's muddy fact pattern... better to be prepared for the mud.

I suppose everyone has to find their groove.... whatever combination of anal and zen that works for them, the trick is finding the right mix sooner than having a thick skin doesn't hurt. 


Re: Curious about WMCL Section One profs, MJF, first case briefing
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2007, 07:58:28 PM »
I had Haugen last year for Contracts and she is good - but quite "old school". She has a reputation for being a tough grader, and I was devastated when I got my fall exam grade. However, I really took notice of what she wrote in her "post-mortem" and I turned things around. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I got an A in the end and actually came top of the class. (OK, that was trumpet-blowing...)

Her big thing is this: define every concept before you start to use it. And define it comprehensively and correctly. Literally, "it depends upon whether or not A made an offer to be B. An offer is......" and so on. I actually found of all my professors that she is the most "learn and churn" of them all, which surprised me.

Re: Curious about WMCL Section One profs, MJF, first case briefing
« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2007, 03:33:16 AM »
Thank you slylives, and again to paintboy. Nerves aplenty woke me early today. My first class is in a bit over five hours. I did the reading, but we shall see. I think that I am most nervous about Murphy for Civ Pro, just because his style is less known and the case we start with (Pennoyer v Neff) was challenging.

As for briefing, I dunno. May try OneNote during class.

Re: Curious about WMCL Section One profs, MJF, first case briefing
« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2007, 05:12:58 PM »
I used OneNote during class and it was absolutely invaluable - I really can't speak highly enough of it. For the first couple of weeks I was putzing around with Word, and when I noticed how incredibly organised one of my buddies was, I took her advice and made the switch.

One word of warning - study groups. I heard all these people talking about how they've got groups together and they were dividing up the outlining, etc...and I started to panic and quickly started a group with some of my WRAP homeroom buddies. Big mistake. They were all very smart people, as I am, but it was still a waste of time. Even with the best will in the world, conversation gets side-tracked. Inevitably someone (or two, or three) turns up unprepared and the session turns into "tell Mr. Orange what he should know about Statute of Frauds.." From then on, I studied alone and I was much better off.

Hope your classes went well today!