As I'm working on a short paper on a long-lost Karl Llewellyn work -- it's two paragraphs long, but wow does it have the classic Llewellyn style -- I've been hunting around the New York Times archives. I went there in search of a petition he filed with the Massachusetts governor around the Sacco-Vanzetti case. (Thanks to Natalie Hull's fabulous book on Pound and Llewellyn, I learned about the petition. You may recall that many years ago I mined one of Natalie's other books for information on the origins of Roe v. Wade in the North Carolina Law Review.) The petition is well worth some commentary down the road. There are a bunch of familiar names on it, as well as a lot of ones I'd never heard of before. I suspect it says more about Llewellyn's circle of friends and whom he could quickly get to sign a petition than it does about the attitudes of law professors generally. But at some point those names may be worth some more commentary -- lots from Columbia and Yale, unsurprisingly -- and also some from the Universities of Missouri, Kansas, even Oklahoma. Even one person who ended up as dean here at UNC -- and the building where I work is now named after him.
Soon I'll be talking about Llewellyn's lost work -- a stand against lynching -- and what it says about Realism and Realism's connection to the Civil Rights Movement. So far as I can tell (and books.google's reach goes far), no one has dealt with this work before. But right now I want to talk about something close to the hearts of students. Apparently in the late fall of 1930 or early spring of 1931 Llewellyn was frustrated with his contracts class' performance, so he said something along the lines of 1/3 of you are going to fail (or ought to fail or some such). And then he lowered the boom on them with a difficult exam, which led a contingent of them to complain to him. And you know what? The New York Times (which I guess filled the role that abovethelaw fills now about law school scandals) picked up the story and ran it with the headline "DENIES STUDENTS' CHARGES: Dr. Llewellyn of Columbia Holds His Law Examination Was Fair" on February 15, 1931. Here's how Llewellyn walked back from his statement:
Accused by students of saying that he would like to see 35% of the first year class flunk because of their laziness, and with having given an unusually difficult examination in contracts, Dr. Karl Nickerson Llewellyn declared yesterday that students who went over the test with him were unable to convince him of its unfairness.
Dr. Llewellyn could not recall his exact words, "but what I meant to say was that no matter how good a man's natural endowment may be, if he does not work when he gets to law school that he will find that he has to be flunked."
I'm working on this Llewellyn paper in honor of my class' impending twenty-fifth reunion, which is at the end of this week, but I realize that the Times article may be more reflective of our experience at Columbia than Llewellyn's lost essay! Now, what I really need to do is track down that final exam, so we can all judge whether it was harder (and/or less fair) than his others. Next time I'm in Chicago I really need to spend some time at the University of Chicago law library, with the Karl Llewellyn papers, boxes 121 and 122, which have Llewellyn contracts exams from the late 1920s to the 1940s. Then we can all judge for ourselves whether that exam is substantially harder than previous ones! (Of course, I'm expecting old exams to be frightfully difficult.)