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Getting to Know Guido
October 17, 2013
I imagine that, if you’re thinking about applying to YLS, you’re already well aware that the faculty here is, to put it mildly, impressive. I’m sure you’ve scoured the website for information about their scholarship, their newsworthiness, and their close relationships with students. You’ve probably even found a few that you’d kill to work with on the faculty’s deep bench. The only thing I would want to add to all that is an explanation of how it all plays out in the classroom.
Take, for example, one of the marquee headliners of the YLS faculty: Guido Calabresi. He has a so-impressive-it’s-almost-comical legal pedigree. I won’t waste the space rehashing it here (as the finer points of his storied career, both as an academic and a federal judge, have been outlined much more thoroughly and eloquently elsewhere than I could cobble together), but suffice it to say that he isn’t called “a founding father of the Law and Economics movement” only on account of his charm.
So what does Guido (always Guido, never Professor Calabresi; he insists on it) do with his tremendous influence over the American legal tradition? He teaches introductory tort law to first-year YLS students. He’s a legal scholar so preeminent he could write his own ticket to any law school or think tank in the world, but he spends his days teaching an introductory course to students who have never so much as read a court opinion before. This semester, I have the great fortune of being one of those students (although at four weeks in, I can proudly tell you that I am no longer a stranger to court opinions).
The most important thing to know about Guido’s class, though, is something that I wouldn’t have anticipated coming in: Guido is easily one of the most adorable people you could ever hope to meet. Please don’t misunderstand me; I mean “adorable” in the most literal sense. It is impossible not to adore this sprightly, exuberant man as he performs his one-man tort law variety hour every morning. During each class, you are guaranteed to witness Guido dancing, screaming, impersonating high-level governmental officials, and gossiping about the Supreme Court. If you have a question, prepare to see him barrel across the classroom, weaving among tables, chairs, and other students so that he can have a face-to-face conversation with you. He’s prone to patting heads, tousling hair, and, on occasion, lightly smacking a nearby student to make a point about personal injury.
He also goes to great lengths to get to know each student personally. In the first week of class, he asked me where I went to get my undergraduate degree, and upon finding out, he rattled off a list of his favorite YLS alumni who’d also gone there and suggested the best ways for me to get in touch with them. He also introduced me to his classmates and former students during the recent alumni weekend. This week, he and his wife hosted a party for our entire class on their farm just off campus. For a man who has taught countless YLS students in the last fifty years, he has an astonishing level of commitment to each individual. It’s enough to make one wonder how his mind can accommodate both his vast legal expertise and the name of every student that he taught forty years ago.
Regardless of where you attend law school, you’ll get to know Guido very intimately: you’ll undoubtedly read his books, his articles, and his court decisions. But unless you’re watching him work out a cogent theory of tort law in person, unless you’re hearing about his Senate confirmation for his judgeship firsthand, and unless you get to see how deeply he cares for his students and for YLS, you’re missing out.