Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Professor Kingsfield Kagan

Elie Mystal (J.D. 2003, Harvard) has a riveting account of his socratic experience with Elena Kagan as a IL in her Civil Procedure class at Harvard in Fall 2000:

Like Frodo on Weathertop, there are some wounds that never fully heal. Professor Kagan massacred me intellectually, and brutalized my pride. I got some form of a B in her class (I honestly don’t remember if there was a modifier — I’ve tried to suppress those memories). Kagan was a frightening professor for those who wanted to match wits with the brightest legal minds in the world. For people like me, people who just wanted to get through law school with minimal mental damage, Kagan was nothing short of terrifying. ...

As a professor, Kagan was one of the last of a dying breed: a purely Socratic law school professor. With Kagan, there was no panel. There was no back-benching. She would just randomly call your ass to the carpet, and you had best be prepared. ...

[I]t came that one Friday morning I was cold-called. I wasn’t even in the ballpark of being prepared. But I didn’t want to waste everybody’s time. So I responded: “Professor Kagan, honestly I didn’t get to all of the reading for today’s class. Sadly, I think I need to pass on this one.”

Bzzt. Wrong answer:

PROFESSOR KAGAN: Well, Mr. Mystal, did you manage to remember your casebook?
1L ELIE: Yes. But like I said, I didn’t …
PROFESSOR KAGAN: Do you think you could be bothered to OPEN your casebook?
1L ELIE: (I have a bad feeling about this.) Yes. Abso…
PROFESSOR KAGAN: Please turn to page [whatever]… Now read.
1L ELIE: (Reading silently.)
1L ELIE: (Channeling Nathan Jessup: I’m not an idiot, I don’t need to read aloud like I’m a five year old.) Umm … Okay. (Much reading aloud.)
PROFESSOR KAGAN: Now, can you explain to me what you just read?
1L ELIE: (I can’t even remember what I blathered.)
PROFESSOR KAGAN: Mr. Mystal, open to page [same page as before], and TRY AGAIN!

At that point I just kind of had a disassociative break. My mouth kept moving, but my mind went into some kind of fetal position. Please stop hitting me, Professor Kagan.

Kagan hated unprepared students, but she reserved her harshest ire for people who showed up to her class late. She’d essentially stop the class, literally — she’d stop talking in mid-sentence. Then she’d wait impatiently for the student to assume their seat. And then make some caustic remark about the importance of timeliness.

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Remember when Democrats blocked the nomination of John Bolton as our U.N. Ambassador, because he was "mean" to employees?

Posted by: Woody | May 13, 2010 8:42:58 AM

It sounds like a good thing she didn't have to teach in the laptop era.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 13, 2010 8:38:23 AM

It's pretty clear that Kagan is one of these ego-maniac "professors."

I hope she doesn't become a part of SCOTUS. Either that or some Right Wing Republican just grills the crap out of her for all the grilling she has done on students.

Posted by: 4Lawyer | May 12, 2010 6:58:34 PM