Considering Law School? Here’s What Torts is Like


Law professors and bloggers Eugene and Sasha Volokh have posted torts exams at The Volokh Conspiracy for fun. Torts, if you are thinking about going to law school, is pretty much a microcosm of what law school is all about. You study for an entire semester only to spend 3+ hours so that you can parse a question like this:

At about 9 pm, Midas let loose with the latest ultrasonic blast, and Cerberus went berserk. As it happens, Helen had just been petting Cerberus, but Cerberus promptly bit Helen’s hand. She naturally tried to get away, but Cerberus surged forward so sharply that the leash ripped, leaving Cerberus free to chase after Helen.

Helen ran out of the house, and in the dark fell into a pit that Priam knew about but hadn’t bothered filling. She fortunately broke her fall with her arms, but as a result broke her wrist. Cerberus was still running behind her, so she got up and kept running. She climbed over a short fence, trampled on some roses (which, unbeknownst to her, were Midas’s—the fence, it turns out, marked the boundary between Priam’s land and Midas’s), and kept running, Cerberus at her heels. She then fell into a pit on Midas’s land, and sprained her ankle.

Think that sounds like fun? That’s actually a pretty small portion of Eugene Volokh’s final essay exam from last semester. And here are the instructions:

Analyze all the tort claims that could be brought as a result of this situation. You need not predict which of them would win and which would lose, but you should analyze them as thoroughly as you can, giving the best arguments for both sides. Assume that all this conduct is governed by the law of the State of Ilium; but because Ilium doesn’t have much caselaw on these subjects, Ilium judges are potentially open to following any of the rules that we have discussed in class. If for some issue, we’ve studied two or more different rules followed by different jurisdictions, please analyze under each one, and say (if we discussed this) which is the majority rule and which is not. But do not discuss the policy arguments for or against adopting any one of the approaches; it’s enough that you identify and discuss each approach.

Note-taking may be the most critical skill for a law student to have. That, and a photographic memory.

Read “My Torts Exam” and “My recent Torts exam” at The Volokh Conspiracy.


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  • Bryce Schmidt

    Ah torts. Even though I ended up practicing personal injury and workers’ compensation, I truly hated that class. That probably had more to do with the professor than the subject matter though.

    I remember a college philosophy class where the professor emailed everyone his final exam question. It was extremely convoluted and involved brains in vats controlling trolley cars and causing all sorts of chaos. It was actually a joke, but some of the other students apparently freaked out about it. I thought it was great. I wish I had kept it, but unfortunately I deleted it.

  • Dooty is a beach

    I always loved hypos about pits. I hate it when they are used as multiple choice though: “1. someone dug a pit and as P was falling into pit they grabbed D to break their fall. was the grabbing an act?”

    An act? Seriously? Did we ever read a case where the issue was about an act? So was there intent? Who knows… Think I will skip that question.

    “2. Two morons are throwing a frisbee in a park at bicyclelists driving down a path. The object of their game is to throw the frisbee low (so the bicyclist can not see it) and as close to the bicyclist as possible. On the 695th throw, one of the morons throws the frisbee and hits a bicyclelist about his person causing a harmful contact. Discuss.”

    Hmmmm, I see that language from the Restatement and know the prof is trying to trick me into saying it was battery, but intent might be missing here as well. It is not assault because the bicyclelist never saw it coming. Res ipsa–nope no barrel falling out of a building and I didn’t really read that case anyway. Hmmmmm…… guess I will go for negligence and if I have too much time left and no one has turned in their exam to go drink straight bourbon at post-test bar review, maybe I will type some crap about Cardozo and a duty to the world.