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July 11, 2010


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Rick Bales

I think it's nuts that many teachers of Civ Pro (including me until a few years ago) do not make sure students get to see the inside of a courthouse. Over the last couple of years, I've arranged for my students to do oral arguments in a simulation case in front of a real judge in a real courthouse -- and then we follow up with a tour of the chambers, jail, and clerk's office (where the students learn the value of knowing/being nice to the clerks!).

Importantly, I don't arrange transportation -- I make the students figure out where the courthouse is, deal with parking, etc. etc., just like they will when they become real lawyers.

Eric Fink

If I taught Contracts, I would certainly take the students on a field trip to view the Mebane Bridge in Eden, NC (just a short drive from Elon Law), better known to law students as the "bridge to nowhere" from Rockingham County v. Luten Bridge Co. It's not a bad spot for bass fishing in the Dan River.

Alfred Brophy

Pictures, Eric, pictures! Where are the pictures of the Mebane Bridge? And, by the way, I'd thought until just a few moments ago that this was a Virginia case (because I confused this with the Rockingham County in Virginia.) Thanks for adding to my store of local knowledge.

Larry Rosenthal

Visiting a prison tells one side of the story. Will you be visiting any crime victims? Maybe if Foucault had spent some time with rape victims, he would have written a different book.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law


During my first year of law school, my criminal law professor (like most or maybe all crim professors at my school) took us to a maximum security prison in California. Students were able to speak with guards and inmates.

Based on my experience, I say do it - I can't encourage you enough!

Matt Lister

I think that sounds like a great idea, Rick. I like the idea of combing a trip with fishing, Eric, though I think my doubts about the quality of water in the water-ways near Philadelphia makes me a bit afraid to try around here! Larry- have you read Foucault's book? I'm not sure that he's insensitive to the situation of crime victims. But that's not really relevant to the issue I'm particularly interested in here. Thankfully, being interested in one thing at a particular time doesn't mean you have to think other things are not of interest and importance, too. And, as I come from a family of police officers, I know the troubles faced by crime victims pretty well myself.

Patrick- I'm glad to hear that. The Eastern State Pen isn't a working Penitentiary any more, so the students won't have quite the same experience as you did, but hopefully it will still be of use.

Eric Fink

For Al, and anyone else interested, here's a picture of the Mebane Bridge, from the City of Eden's website:

Perhaps the NC contingent of the Lounge should plan a field trip some time?

Alfred Brophy

Yes, absolutely -- we all need a picnic there one afternoon.

Eric Fink

Also, for Matt: As a former Philadelphian, I urge you to take advantage of the excellent fishing opportunities in and near the City of Brotherly Love. Within the City, the Wissahickon in Fairmount Park is a nice place to fly fish for trout, smallmouth bass, and panfish. The Schuylkill has all kinds of fish. And the ponds in Roosevelt Park in South Philly (near the stadiums) have some big bass.

A little further afield, West Valley Creek in Valley Forge N.P. offers good fly fishing for trout and panfish. The Delaware River offers smallmouth bass, shad, and stripers. Good spots for wading (the water this time of year is generally low and slow -- I've actually walked across from PA to NJ, though that was during a drought) are at Washington's Crossing and by the "Trenton Makes, The World Takes" bridge (yes, really!). And I highly recommend a trip to the Little Lehigh, a gorgeous stream in a quiet park just outside Allentown, where you'll also find the world's most quaint fly tackle shop, in an old stone shed.

Matt Lister

Thanks for the tips Eric- I live right by the Wissahickon park and was walking on Forbidden Drive just this afternoon. I see people fish in it a lot, but with all the horse stables along the park and the run-off from Lincoln Drive and the other roads I feel a bit skeptical about the fish from there. With the Schuylkill I worry that it has 3-eyed fish like in the Simpsons! Up by Washington Crossing might be nice, though. Thanks for the picture of the bridge.

Eric Fink

Oh, you definitely shouldn't eat anything you catch in any of those streams! But for Simpson's-style 3-eyed fish, I suggest the smallmouth bass fishing by Three Mile Island in the Susquehanna. Fly fishing legand Bob Clouser has his shop in nearby Swatara.

Bill Reynolds

In Baltimore, the UM law school looks out on the graveyard where the principals in Marbury are buried. Always worth a trip (but it's a very short one!).

When I teach Civ Pro I always have my students visit court and write it up.

Orin Kerr


My own guess is that this visit will be great. At the same time, it's difficult to react to your idea without knowing how you teach your course and what you're trying to get out of the visit. As you say in your response to Larry Rosenthal, there's "an issue you're interested in" that is triggering the visit, a particular vision of the prison that you want to emphasize; the question becomes is how the visit will advance (or impede) that vision and how that vision fits into the broader goal of the course. I don't think we can make that judgment without knowing how you teach the course; given that, I suspect you'll just have to try this out and see how it goes. My 2 cents, anyway.

Matt Lister

Bill- that sounds great. Orin- thanks for the encouragement. Though my guest-blogging stint will be over well before I do the field-trip, perhaps I'll be able to convince the "loungers" to let me report back on it after the fact.

Nick J. Sciullo

I'm very excited to hear of the incorporation of Foucault's work into a criminal law class. Foucault is one of the strongest influences in my take on the law and my scholarship. Not only do Foucault's works provide an important way to critical engage the world through what were then new ways of doing theory/history/criticism, but they address some of the hot button issues in current legal scholarship mental health, prison reform, sexuality and gender studies, etc.

I never went on a field trip in law school, but I would have loved to have had this opportunity.

Chad Emerson

As someone who teaches Property and Land Planning & Development, field trips (I actually call them "Site Visits" in keeping with the real estate theme) are a very useful tool to give them context. We visit infill sites, brownfield sites, greenfield name it.

The main reason is that awsuits, regulations, and statutes are not simply 2-D words on a page. Instead, they result from real world, 3-D things that happen everyday--that are experienced every day. Giving students that type of tactile opportunity to encounter the law in a real world setting really advances experiential learning which, in my opinion at least, sticks with them longer and deeper.

Matt Lister

Nick- I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one interested in this stuff. I've never taught Foucault before so we'll see how it goes over. Chad- that sounds very useful. I'm glad to hear of such things being done.

Doug B.

Great post, Matt, especially because I am a huge "fan" of the Eastern State Penitentiary ("ESP"), and I have shown a video I bought there to some of my sentencing students. Couple of quick thoughts in light of the thread:

1. I think law school field trips always are worthwhile, and I wish we might work the concept into law school norms -- e.g., having a fews days each semesters which are "reserved" for student trips and some faculty funds to support the trips.

2. Because ESP is much more of an historical site than really a place to expose students to modern incarceration realities, I wonder if you might also find a way to get to a local jail to provide some modern day contrasts for the students.

3. Make sure students hear about my favorite bit of ESP trvia --- i.e., that ESP had indoor toilet facilities/plumbing before the White House did.

Matt Lister

Thanks for the suggestions, Doug. I might try to visit a working jail, but am not sure. In my particular case, it's largely the historical aspects of the ESP I'm interested in- why prisons developed as they did and the like. But there would obviously be some interest in seeing a working jail or prison, too.

I either didn't know or had forgotten that bit about the toilets. That's really great.

Michael Bromby

Interesting ideas and thoughts here - I know that my postgrad forensic psychology students all go on various visits to courts, prisons etc. over the year, but then there are only 20-25 of them each year.
No-one's really addressed the large numbers issue - and although I may have 50 in a law class (not really a large number either!) I'm not sure I'd get them all in even the largest public gallery in the city!
The link for the picture of the Mebane Bridge (above) got me thinking - I'm very unlikely to ever go there, but the image helps to build up a 'picture' for the case.
Whilst pictures, videos (also above) can be useful if a field visit is neigh on impossible, I still like the idea of a visit and will try to think of more possibilities.

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