The Case That Almost Kept Me Out of Law School
I have spoken to a lot of people that are starting law school in the coming weeks. Those conversations got me misty-eyed reminiscing over my own pre-law school days. In fact, I remember quite clearly the first case I ever read for law school. It was the week before law school and after reading the case for my Legal Process class, I almost dropped out.
Not only do I remember the case I read, but I remember where I sat while reading it. Two weeks before law school I bought myself an Ikea desk. I dedicated one corner of my apartment to be my work area. I even spent a day drilling holes in the wall and installing shelves for the large number of books I assumed I would soon possess. A fact my landlord was less than pleased about when I moved out. But I digress.
There I sat at this poorly assembled desk, and I opened my Legal Process book to the first assignment. Like many incoming 1Ls, my professor had assigned us Pennoyer v. Neff. I had to not only read, but brief the case (whatever that meant), and gain some kind of understanding from the case. Imagine my frustration then, when I confronted paragraphs like these:
Except in cases affecting the personal status of the plaintiff, and cases in which that mode of service may be considered to have been assented to in advance, as hereinafter mentioned, the substituted service of process by publication, allowed by the law of Oregon and by similar laws in other States, where actions are brought against non-residents, is effectual only where, in connection with process against the person for commencing the action, property in the State is brought under the control of the court, and subjected to its disposition by process adapted to that purpose, or where the judgment is sought as a means of reaching such property or affecting some interest therein; in other words, where the action is in the nature of a proceeding in rem. As stated by Cooley in his Treatise on Constitutional Limitations, 405, for any other purpose than to subject the property of a non-resident to valid claims against *734 him in the State, ‘due process of law would require appearance or personal service before the defendant could be personally bound by any judgment rendered.’
It is true that, in a strict sense, a proceeding in rem is one taken directly against property, and has for its object the disposition of the property, without reference to the title of individual claimants; but, in a larger and more general sense, the terms are applied to actions between parties, where the direct object is to reach and dispose of property owned by them, or of some interest therein. Such are cases commenced by attachment against the property of debtors, or instituted to partition real estate, foreclose a mortgage, or enforce a lien. So far as they affect property in the State, they are substantially proceedings in rem in the broader sense which we have mentioned.
Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714, 733-34 (1877). I spent at least two hours pouring over this case. I was determined to grasp everything from this case. Right before my eyes started to bleed I gave up, closed my book, and cringed. Had I signed up for three years of this? Was I completely doomed?
Of course Pennoyer is not indicative of the rest of law school. But I couldn’t predict that at the time, and it scared the heck out of me.
Apparently I’m far from the only one that was subjected to this hazing ritual. In fact, months after this assignment, our Legal Process professor told us a story about Pennoyer. He was in New York’s Central Park and encountered a homeless man. Upon learning that he was a law professor, the man informed my professor that he had gone to law school. He then went on to recount the facts and relevance of Pennoyer with gusto.
So, to those of you starting law school in the coming weeks, take heart. It gets better. And there is worse hazing you could go through.
Do you remember the first case you read in law school? Or the one you hated the most?