Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Last Prof Retires

It made me realize how much time has gone by since school days when the last professor I had in law school retired quietly this summer. Next year I might make it to my 45th law school reunion--there are a few of my old friends who now are making an effort to turn up at these occasions--but it will be different knowing that no one on the faculty in my day is still teaching.

Lloyd Weinreb, as with so many of his colleagues, became nationally known--at least in the law school world--as a master of teaching and writing in the field of criminal law and procedure, both of which courses, one required, the other not, I took when a student.  He'd only been teaching for a couple of years then but his casebooks in both courses were already written and in use--in loose-leaf form.  By the time I graduated they were in print and probably used all over the country.

Despite the usual law professor wunderkind background--law review, Supreme Court clerkship, and in his case, practical experience consisting of a couple of years in the U.S. Attorney's office for D.C. and, more exotically, as a staff lawyer on the Warren Commission--he seemed to lack the pretentiousness of so many of the law school faculty.  It was clear from the first day that he actually enjoyed teaching criminal law and procedure.  

He challenged everyone's thinking the way good law school professors should.  When someone was unable to come up with a solid reason for prosecuting a putative defendant, he would push them to supply a good basis or else admit that the prosecution rested on the mere assertion: "because he's a bad man."  He would press the class to define accepted terms meaningfully by re-stating the term--reckless endangerment, for example--and then appending "whatever that is."

While he imparted some of the aspects of criminal practice he learned as a line prosecutor, he drew more shrewdly on the traditional limited-span immersion in the world of practice most law professors have. He would refer to particular instances of decision-making that confronted him or to the decisions every prosecutor, including him, had to make every day as to which cases to proceed with and which to resolve summarily by plea agreement.

It was heartening to read that he was even more of a Renaissance man that most of the law professors seemed to be then and now. He apparently spends his mornings learning ancient Greek and has both taught courses outside his central area of criminal law, such as copyright, with the aim of expanding his horizons, and written some major work on legal theory; no, I haven't read it but I'm more likely to look at something like that because he wrote it, and he probably wrote it just because it seemed like something interesting and worthwhile. 

He's really the only law professor whom I still had plenty of regard for after taking two courses with him. Since he's not that old, I do hope he enjoys many more years of making fine use of his amazing and wide open mind.

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