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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, October 02, 2014

I think of myself as a procedure mavin, but I'm really more of a state court guy. It would never, ever happen that UB would ask me, or any other adjunct, to teach Federal Courts, but it was one of my favorite courses in law school, and it is a subject that is endlessly interesting to think about. Professor Georgene Vario writes here about some approaches to the topic-- she teaches it as "Complex Litigation and Federal Courts" and has, in the past taught it as a straight-up Hart and Wechsler course and as a class about the politics of federalism and separation of powers, as well as thinking of it as a sort of "Best of Civ. Pro and Con Law". All of these are appealing approaches.
 Try not to be intimidated by the cases and concepts, I would urge them. Instead, think of our constitutional system as a great ballroom with various dancers—the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, the judiciary, the administrative agencies, the states—all taking their turns dancing, and all taking their turns leading or following.
What I enjoy about Civ Pro is it is where the practical meets the theoretical, and I think that would be my path in. In my Discovery class I explain the difference between state practice in courts of general jurisdiction and federal practice by telling the students that state courts are like petri dishes, where cultures are encouraged to  grow. Federal court is more like an organism with a complex immune system. Some bacteria are beneficial, and thrive, but others are perceived as an attack on the organism and are attacked and rejected. In New York Practice we say, here are the tools. In Federal Practice many of the tools are the same, but the space you have to work with them is a lot more constrained. To understand why that is, and how to deal with those constraints requires the student to cover a lot of ground, and it isn't everyone's cup of meat, for sure. I'm not so sure that most lawyers even need to understand it, but the ones who are interested in it are probably going to be the lawyers who are the most satisfied by the weird intellectual rigor of our glamor profession.

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