It all starts with Pennoyer v. Neff … Seven weeks later, she’d understand what a genius I am.

Over the course of the quarter, I’ve come to the conclusion that Civil Procedure is my favorite class. It’s not that the other classes I have are less interesting; they are all really interesting, but if I had to choose a favorite, CivPro would be it. I think I’ve known that for awhile, but I haven’t really been able to put into words exactly why I feel that way. That is, not until last Tuesday, when Professor CivPro explained perfectly the sensations that I couldn’t quite put into words.

Before I get into that, I suppose it’s worthwhile to state that Professor CivPro is an excellent professor. Indeed, all of my professors are brilliant and engaging. Prof. CivPro took something that everybody said would be like learning a foreign language and made it understandable and manageable for us. He’s the most “intimidating” of the 1L professors probably, but to me, it seemed that all he wanted from us was to fully prepare for class, to “bring our A game,” so to speak. I have no problem with that, because it’s the same that I expect from myself. At any rate, his stories and examples explaining the concepts were fantastic, both informative and entertaining at the same time. His passion for the subject was evident in his classes. I think it would be easy to say that Prof. CivPro’s lectures and style were what made it my favorite subject, but I don’t think that’s a complete analysis of why I love it. I think there’s another element to it that sparks my love for the subject.

Why then? To borrow a line from Prof. CivPro, “This is ruin people’s lives stuff.” If you don’t know the procedural rules of the courtroom, you can royally screw your client over. Back to last Tuesday. Before I get into it, I suppose it’s worth setting the stage for you. The case we studied involved a transfer from one federal district court to another. The interesting thing was that the plaintiff’s lawyer used the other forum to gain an advantage that he wouldn’t have had in the original forum. Before class, the gentleman who sits next to me and I were discussing the case we were about to cover in class, talking about whether we liked the outcome or not. Gentleman didn’t like it, if I recall correctly. I said that I did… To me, the case was a good example of how a thorough knowledge of Civil Procedure can give someone major advantage over his or her opponent.

More background. In the past, Professor CivPro has told us that one way to tell if you have “crossed an ethical line” is the sleep test. Essentially, when contemplating whether an action would be unethical, ask yourself whether you’d be able to sleep that night after making that decision. If not, then it is probably a safe bet that the contemplated act is unethical. On several occasions, he’s asked us whether we think some decision or other of the Supreme Court is right, and after we gave our answer, he told us that he isn’t comfortable with it. That’s the context for the situation at hand.

In our case that day, the plaintiff was barred from recovery in federal court in the plaintiff’s home state due to the statute of limitations. So, the plaintiff’s lawyer files suit in federal district court in Mississippi (Mississippi has a longer statute of limitations), which allowed the plaintiff to state his claim. Then, the plaintiff moved to transfer the case back to the plaintiff’s home state. He was allowed to do this because the statute of limitations “follows” the suit to the plaintiff’s home state, enabling the plaintiff to recover.

At this point in the class, Professor CivPro paused. His voice got quieter, and he looked at the student who was reciting the case. He asked the student, “What do you think about that? Would you be able to sleep that night if you did that?” The student replied, “I think it wasn’t right.”
Professor CivPro responded softly, “I wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night,” then in his usual, dramatic flare, “because I couldn’t get over how smart I am! This is BRILLIANT!” (At this point, Gentleman and I look at each other and exchange a knowing nod.) “I’d be waking my wife up, asking her, ‘Do you know how smart I am?’ I’d explain to her what I had just done, and she’d say, ‘I don’t really understand, how is that brilliant,’ to which I would respond, ‘Well, it all starts with a case called Pennoyer v. Neff….’ Seven weeks later, she’d understand what a genius I am.”

Now, this was the perfect example of why I love that class. The anecdote is certainly humorous on its own, but in it is evidence of what I’d spent several weeks trying to put into words. A lawyer that knows the ins and outs of procedure can use it in extremely advantageous ways, just like the lawyer in that case did. He had no cause of action due to the expired statute of limitations, yet he was able to use the procedural rules to find a way “around” the limitation of the state and obtain relief for his client. To me, that is the sign of a good lawyer. It’s not just that he knew the rules and could recite them, it was that he knew how to creatively use them to create an advantage for his client. Like Professor CivPro said, it’s brilliant. Just a touch of the evil genius, but not enough to lose sleep over.

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