For newly arrived LL.M. students from abroad, an unvarnished view of the U.S. civil justice system

When roughly 300 foreign LL.M.s filed into Tishman on August 17 to watch the movie A Civil Action, it was not to get a respite from their studies. Before the official start of classes on August 31, the students – who come from more than 50 countries – are taking a two-week course titled “Introduction to U.S. Law.” It’s hard to imagine a single case that could teach more about how a lawsuit unfolds (warts and all) than the toxic tort litigation chronicled in the movie, so instructors of the introductory class screened it while the LL.M.s were studying civil procedure.

The day after viewing the courtroom drama (which is based on the best-selling book of the same title), the students returned to Tishman to hear one of the actual lawyers on the case talk about his experience. Kevin Conway, part of the team that represented plaintiffs claiming that industrial chemicals in ground water were responsible for numerous cases of leukemia, touched on matters including discovery, expert witnesses, judicial bias, attorney misconduct, causation, bifurcated trials, settlement discussions, the cost of litigation, and more. He also fielded questions from more than a dozen students, whose questions ranged from the technical (Why did the case move from state court to federal court?) to the philosophical (Can the system described by Conway and portrayed in the movie really lead to truth and justice?). One student asked how the protracted and financially draining lawsuit had changed Conway’s approach to the practice of law. His response: “I’m much more open to settling a case, rather than going to trial.”

Posted August 24, 2011

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