Making a Murderer: Oh-So-Many Talking Points

635874987555624158-XXX-IMG-NETFLIX-MAKING-A-MUR-1-1-VGCTGMDU-78432434As the winter break winds down, it’s definitely worth your time to start binge-watching Making a Murderer, a recent Netflix documentary on a real-life criminal case. A very close-to-home criminal case, at that.

The documentary, filmed over 10 years, follows Steven Avery, who was convicted in 1985 of sexual assault. He maintained his innocence and, indeed, 18 years later DNA evidence exonerated him. After he was released, he sued Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. It looks as though that lawsuit starts digging up some very unsavory conduct among officials in Manitowoc County.

But then—Avery is arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Several months later, his nephew Brendan Dassey is also arrested.

I’ll stop there with plot. If you’ve been around Wisconsin, you’ve probably heard of the case. If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve almost surely heard of it. But you must watch it.

For law students, there’s so many teachable moments. For everyone, there’s so much to talk about.

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Judge Catches BP Counsel Sneaking Extra Pages into Its Brief

BPIn a new twist on the BP litigation, BP filed a brief in a Louisiana federal court that seemed to comply with the already-enlarged 35-page limit. But the judge in the case, the Hon. Carl Barbier, uncovered BP counsel’s tactic of reducing the line spacing to cram more material into the brief than the page limit would have allowed. In this way, BP was able to fit in an extra 6 pages worth of material.

Judge Barbier had this to say about BP’s brief:

The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this. Counsel are expected to follow the Court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The Court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here.

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Do Like a Lawyer

The start of the new academic year means a new group of first-year law students, ready for the three-year adventure that is law school. And each fall, those same students hear much about what they’re going to learn in law school. Usually the main thing they hear is that they will learn to “think like a lawyer.”

It’s certainly true that law school will teach students a particular way of thinking critically that will infuse all of their thinking from here forward. It’s also true that lawyers ought to be thinking critically. (So should everyone, in my view.) But law school should do more than teach students how to “think like a lawyer.” It should teach students how to “be” lawyers.

It is on this thought that I am reminded of Steven M. Radke, L’02.  The Law School invited Radke, vice president of government relations at Northwestern Mutual Insurance Co., to speak at its orientation event in fall 2006. Radke gave an entertaining and informative speech to that year’s entering class, the text of which can be found here. At one point, Radke discussed the often-stated law school goal of learning to “think like a lawyer,” a goal, he said, that is a bit troubling, particularly if it suggests that there is a single way lawyers think. He continued,

[I]f, God forbid, I someday find myself being wheeled into an emergency room, I hope the person preparing to operate on me doesn’t just think like a doctor.  I want him or her to be a doctor.

Radke’s point is spot on. Law school should not only teach students how to “think like a lawyer,” but it should also teach students how to be a lawyer. 

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