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Kagan’s Civil Procedure Class Was ‘Nothing Short of Terrifying,’ Blogger Says

Posted May 14, 2010 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is being praised for healing rifts as dean of Harvard Law School, but she also has a tough side, as Above the Law blogger Elie Mystal can attest.

Mystal took Kagan’s civil procedure class and learned that Kagan doesn’t have much patience for students who are unprepared. He took home a B in her class (he can’t remember if it was a B, a B- or a B+), but not before he tangled with her. “Professor Kagan massacred me intellectually and brutalized my pride,” Mystal writes at Above the Law. “For people like me, people who just wanted to get through law school with minimal mental damage, Kagan was nothing short of terrifying.”

Mystal recalls one Friday morning when Kagan called on him, and he asked if he could take a pass because he hadn’t done his reading. Mystal remembers the exchange this way:

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.

Mystal obliged. Then he had to summarize what he read. Kagan apparently wasn’t satisfied. “Mr. Mystal, open to page [same page as before], and TRY AGAIN!” Mystal recalls her saying.

Mystal ran into trouble a second time when Kagan called on him and rather than answer her question, he began to read aloud from the case book. His stunt didn't go over well.

Mystal ended up in Kagan’s office and describes what happened: “I was pretty forthright about how I found civil procedure so boring I felt like I needed a defibrillator every time I walked into her classroom. She chuckled. It turns out Kagan has quite a sense of humor (so long as you are on time). She started quoting Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked, about how rules were the key to defending the rights of minority populations in this country. It was a compelling argument. I mean, it didn’t make me like civ pro, but it made me like Kagan a lot more.”

Additional coverage:

Harvard Crimson: "Elena Kagan’s Management Style Amped Up Pressure at Harvard Law School"

New York Magazine: "Kagan Was Tough, Open, Say Students"

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