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Small Group Field Trip
January 4, 2008
This past Monday, our small group professor cancelled our 10 a.m. Contracts class and instead scheduled a trip to New York City. We were to see Judge Calabresi, also a Yale professor, sit on the bench of the Second Circuit Court of appeals in the morning and to eat dinner at the New York home of Henry Hansmann, our small group professor who was organizing the trip.
I had gone into the city early, on Friday afternoon, to enjoy a Christmas weekend in New York. With my first brief and my first oral argument behind me, and with exams still four full weeks away, I was able to wander through the Bryant Park Christmas Market and watch the Rockettes’ Christmas Show with no law-school stress putting a damper on the holiday season. Post-Christmas exams no longer seem so bad!
I met up with my small group at the federal courthouse near City Hall on Monday morning. Some had come in the night before, others had caught an early train from New Haven, but nearly all sixteen of us were present for over three hours of exciting oral arguments. After reading many of his articles in our Torts class, our eyes lit up when Judge/Professor Calabresi took his seat on the bench. More generally speaking, to sit in the wood-paneled ceremonial courtroom of the Second Circuit, to be in the presence of three robed federal court of appeals judges, and to hear significant and difficult cases still in their early stages of impacting U.S. case law was tremendously exciting and enriching. The experience was also deeply rewarding. From an academic perspective, the cases spanned many legal topics, from health care to construction to employment to criminal sentencing to maritime jurisdiction, but somewhere in the course of this first semester of law school, without even realizing it, we had learned enough to be able to understand. From a performance perspective, after having survived my first oral argument, I appreciated the opportunity to take pointers from seasoned professionals but was also impressed with my small group’s ability to critique their presentations based on the advice and tips we had absorbed while preparing for our own. I’m looking forward to my professional days now more than ever.
When oral arguments came to an end, a group of us shared a dim sum lunch in Chinatown, near the courthouse. We then had the afternoon free before reuniting at Professor Hansmann’s house for dinner. We met his daughter and his wife, who cooked a delicious meal of paella and penne alla vodka. Professor Hansmann wandered from group to group, sharing his knowledge on subjects ranging from piano to Chinese corporate law in a very causal and relaxed way. Judge Calabresi arrived a little later to dine with us and recounted vivid stories about his parents’ immigration to the United States and his first days as a sitting judge on the Court of Appeals. The whole group was reluctant to leave, but we did eventually catch the 9:37 train back to New Haven and were home in our beds by midnight.
The field trip was a fitting and perfect end to the semester in so many ways. Attending the oral arguments reinvigorated our passions to become lawyers and validated a semester’s worth of study. The close relationships cultivated with and the personal attention received from professors were what made this day possible in the first place, and the relationships were also reaffirmed at many points as the hours in New York went by. First semester at Yale Law School has been a whirlwind experience, but our small group field trip to New York is a snapshot memory I’ll never forget, testifying to how enjoyable and fulfilling it has been.