Entering the Atmosphere

[ From the introduction to Chapter 3 - "Methods" ] :

Do you know how to play chess? If so, you probably remember how you were taught, regardless of whether by a tutor or a book: You learned the names of all the pieces, their respective home squares, the method of movement unique to each piece, special rules (queen on color, castling, pawn promotion, en passant capture) and all the rest. Then you began to play. Gradually, you got better at it.

Even if you don't know how to play chess, imagine what it would be like if you sat down at a chessboard with none of the pieces set up -- and you had previously received none of the instruction mentioned above. However, you were still expected to arrange the pieces properly...and then play.

You would not be entirely helpless, though. To continue with this chess analogy, perhaps you've noticed "chess problems" in your daily newspaper. The New York Times, for example, regularly runs such a column. It presents a diagram showing the situation on a chess board after x number of moves by each side. Beneath the diagram is a list of those moves. Perhaps there's even a heading, something like "Nimzo-Indian." The problem then asks what White's (or Black's) next move should be. Or else it says something like "Mate in 3," and the problem consists of figuring out how that happens. There's a brief commentary.

Now, imagine that each day's chess problem is the only instruction you got. Yet, you were expected to gradually figure out what all the pieces are, how they move, and everything else discussed above. And you were entered in a chess tournament that began the instant you first sat down at the board.

As you can appreciate, such daily columns really wouldn't be much help at all. In fact, they might just make things more confusing. (For example, the list of moves is written in "chess notation," not English.)

But that's how law is taught, even though it's vastly more complicated than chess. The "teaching" materials are something like a series of these chess problems, from completely different games. And just as in the chess problem, your adversary (here, the professor) says "Your turn."

Welcome to law school.

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