This semester, I went against the popular wisdom and took nothing but seminars. Seminars at BU Law are small, upper-level courses taught on subjects of interest to a smaller number of students than the typical ‘bar course.’ They are generally heavy on the reading, and they do not end with a final exam. Instead, they end with a research paper of around 20 pages. Whew.
Now, it’s time for a brief Thanksgiving break (or, in my case, writing marathon). In order to get my thoughts together a little bit and give readers a bit of insight into the kinds of things we think about in law school, here are the fascinating topics I will be writing about from now until mid-December:
Juvenile Delinquency: The topics in this course were all interesting: history of juvenile law and detention, waiver into adult courts, life without parole, detention conditions, recidivism, and disproportionate minority contact. I did a presentation about the latter for my in-class project, but I did not feel like I had many original thoughts to offer. Instead, the topic of my paper will be so-called “crossover kids” — juveniles who have one foot in the delinquency system and the other in the child welfare system. I will talk about the simultaneous histories of these two systems, one designed to reform children, and the other designed to help them in a very different way. I will propose that there is a need for a specially designed program to rehabilitate, heal, and address the needs of nonviolent crossover kids, one that looks more like the foster care system than a juvenile detention center.
Sex Crimes: This course focused mainly on defining ‘sex crimes’ and ‘sex offenders,’ calculation of recidivism, treatment in and after prison, post-prison consequences, and important case law related to these issues. I knew before the first day of class, when I searched for new or interesting sex offense cases, what I wanted to talk about in my seminar paper. The article I found was about Doe v. City of Lynn, a sex offender residency restriction case decided in Massachusetts this summer. I am fascinated by what I see as a kind of perpetual post-prison punishment and by recent efforts to stop it. My paper will look into the history of registration laws and residency restrictions affecting sex offenders, and at how effective these laws are at stopping sex offenses. I will discuss how, if at all, a sex offender residency restriction might pass muster under Doe and under the Constitution.
Judicial Externship: This course focused on practical skills and ethics for students interning (or externing, which is BU Law speak for internships for credit) with a judge. Working in the Middlesex Probate and Family Court has been quite an experience, which I might reflect on in greater detail in a future blog. In the family court, I have seen vast numbers of self-represented, or pro se, litigants. These folks present an interesting challenge to the court, in part because they may not be quite as familiar with law and procedure as non-lawyers. In my paper, I will talk about how judges are trained to address these unique needs. I will discuss judicial education, and ways to improve the experience of the pro se litigant both directly and indirectly. I will also be speaking to my class next week about this issue, so I am developing paper and PowerPoint simultaneously, a difficult task because the content of an engaging presentation and a well-researched, detailed academic paper can be significantly different.
I realize that not all of these topics will be of interest to all readers, but that’s the beauty of the seminar. You go in-depth on a particular topic that is of the greatest interest to you. Sure, you still have to read about some topics that don’t spark that same excitement, but you do not have to go back and study them all over again. I highly recommend taking as many seminars as you can manage in your two years of freedom to pick your own courses at BU Law.