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May 25, 2014


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What does the work of an investigative journalist teach us about the proper preparation and propounding of requests for the production of documents and subpenas, taking depositions of parties and witnesses (and the differences), utilizing relational legal data bases to organize and retrieve information buried an a warehouse full of documents, arguing motions and defending motions to compel, evidentiary privileges in court and the effect thereof on discovery, and on and on and on and on?


John Steele

Anon, UC-Irvine has a similar course and as a practitioner I like seeing those offerings.

Yes, law students should learn the official modes of civil discovery available under the rules. But lots of lawyers can't rely solely on those modes (e.g., class action lawyers, IP infringement lawyers, and any other civil litigator who needs to gather facts before the complaint is filed, criminal defense lawyers, etc.). And all lawyers have an advantage if they learn to gather and marshal facts. Learning how to gather facts from a variety of sources is a core skill for law students.



Are you truly convinced that "investigative journalism" - in the sense of "Harvest of Shame" and Watergate, etc. - is really a part of the practice of law for the vast majority of attorneys?

The course purports to use journalists to teach future laywers how to "develop[] strategies for investigations, interview[] witnesses, and identify[] and deal[] with large amounts of documents."

Leave aside for a moment the fact that the examples you have provided typically don't involve "large amounts of documents" at the pre-litigation stage (with exceptions, of course), and let's consider interviewing witnesses.

Have you ever been interviewed by a journalist? How would you compare that approach with the way that an attorney would need to approach that task? Does a journalist need the background of knowledge about the work product privilege (and atty client, especially with a organization) necessary to be effective when conducting interviews in connection with a matter that might be litigated?

Moreover, as you probably know, attorneys often (and in criminal prosecutions usually perhaps) use investigators whose techniques would differ from those of most "investigative journalists," IMHO.

Developing "strategies"? That is just too vague a reason, again, in my view, to aspire to the pretense of teaching journalism in a law school, or worse still, to the pretext of claiming that journalists could ever effectively function as attorneys, or have much at all to teach aspiring attorneys about the techniques and considerations necessary in connection with LEGAL WORK. The presence of attorneys at every major news organization attests to the necessary and vital differences here.

I have no objection to the notion that law students should be permitted to take courses in other departments of the university. Perhaps law students who wish to practice patent law should be taking hard science courses. But law profs are increasingly using this notion in order to further dilute the meaning of a "legal education" and pretending to offer law students expertise in subjects that have, in reality, some common skill sets but no significant independent value to aspiring ATTORNEYS.

This course is probably very interesting, and, perhaps will develop information useful to the community, just as journalists should and sometimes do. There are lots and lots of worthy activities and EVERY ONE OF THEM can be argued to impart some skill important to good lawyering: Meditation, Science, Accounting, Economics, Knitting.



The referenced article notes:

"The team ... created extensive spreadsheets and downloaded 700 court documents into an e-discovery system ... . The team analyzed 100 prosecutions in which sentence had been pronounced and for which the federal sentencing guidelines could be discerned. The team then interviewed attorneys, defendants and national experts on federal prosecution."

So, this project did involve some training referable to training attorneys. Mostly, though, it seems to me, a project better tailored for the school of journalism. Some use of the e-discovery system comes closer to a legitimate part of a "legal education" (though, would the persons in the referenced firm say that attorneys, or paralegals, perform like work?). There also appears to have been some comparison of the actual sentences with federal guidelines.

Again, a very worthy and noble and admirable project and not to be mocked or denigrated. Just moved to the journalism school: again, IMHO.

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