My Grandmother was Mrs. Palsgraf: Ways to Rethink Legal Education to Help Students Become Lawyers, Rather than just Thinking Like Them

AuthorIan Gallacher
PositionProfessor of Law and Director, Legal Communications and Research, Syracuse University College of Law. Thanks to Dean Craig Boise for his support. This Article is based, in part, on two presentations I gave in 2015: one at the Association of Legal Writing Directors conference in Memphis, and one, co-presented with Professor Elizabeth Lenhart, at...
To be clear: My grandmother was not Mrs. Palsgraf. My grandmother
was Elsie Olley.1She was from Wales, lived almost her entire life in a
small town in the southeast of England, and spent just over a day in New
York in the early 1980s. I was with her all day, and to my certain
knowledge she was never in a station run by the Long Island Railroad.
But to be honest, if not clear, while my grandmother was not Mrs.
Palsgraf, she was not exactly not Mrs. Palsgrafeither. This Article seeks
to explore and explain that conundrum, and in the explaining, to explore
how law schools can do a better job of helping law students become
practicing lawyers. It begins with a brief discussion of the Palsgraf case,2
both how it is taught and why it is taught that way in law schools, and then
contrasts and compares the facts of Palsgraf with the facts of my
Copyright © 2018, Ian Gallacher.
*Professor of Law and Director, Legal Communications and Research, Syracuse
University College of Law. Thanks to Dean Craig Boise for his support. This Article is
based, in part, on two presentations I gave in 2015: one at the Association of Legal Writing
Directors conference in Memphis, and one, co-presented with Professor Elizabeth Lenhart,
at the Applied Legal Storytelling conference in Seattle. Professor Lenhart helped to
sharpen my thinking on this subject immeasurably, and I thank her for her many insights.
My thanks to David Huber and Lillian Hines, two wonderful research assistants who put up
with a lot of strange research requests, and to Christine Demetros for her good humor and
flawless librarian’s skills. This is for my mother’s parents, Jack and Elsie Olley, neither of
whom are still with us, and my mother, Joan Upton-Holder, and uncle, Clifford Olley, both
of whom are still very much with us and who lived through some astonishing things when
they were young. It is also for my father, Henry Gallacher, and his parents, Henry and
Barbara Gallacher, none of whom had an easy time between 1939 and 1945. As ever and
always, this is for Julie McKinstry.
1All information about my family members comes from family history and personal
knowledge. Although it violates citation protocol, can we agree that repetitive citations to
family lore would be distracting and unnecessary?
2Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928).
grandmothe r’s worst day in order to see why relatively similar experiences
likely produce very different results when the stories are told. The Article
then looks in more depth at the first year in law school, the effect it has on
students, those who teach it, and its relationship to the practice of law.
After concluding that the traditional method of first-year law school
education fails students, the lawyers who will employ them after
graduation, and the clients they will represent, this Article proposes a
series of possible changes to legal education, ranging from the modest to a
radical reworking of the entire law school experience. It emphasizes the
value of simulation-based experiential education in the first year of law
school and advocates that law schools make the difficult decision to
completely change their approach to teaching the law and to preparing law
students to become lawyers.
All change is painful to some, and law schools appear to have a low
tolerance for the pain inherent in the kind of curricular restructuring
mooted here.3But to (possibly) paraphrase Trotsky, law schools might not
be interested in change, but change is interested in them.4And while some
3As William Henderson has noted:
Law schools are ill-equipped to teach many of [the] critical
competencies [required by law students today] . . . . Here is the brutal
truth: the resources to pay for this retooling are going to have to come at
the expense of traditional scholarship. Time is our primary asset; this is
a painful tradeoff because scholarship is the most enjoyable part of the
job for many law professors. Further, unlike prolific scholarship
writing, retooling curriculum does not enhance one’s prospects of
getting a lateral appointment, so many law professors will not come to
the party willingly.
William Henderson, The Hard Business Problems Facing U.S. Law Faculty,N
SCH.REV.(Oct. 31, 2011, 12:39 PM),
/10/index.html [] (quoting Roy Stuckey, The American Bar
Association’s New Mandates for Teaching Professional Skills and Values: Impact, Human
Resources, New Roles for Clinical Teachers, and Virtual Worlds, 51 WAKE FOREST L. REV.
259, 26667 (2016)).
4What exactly Trotsky said is a source of much smoke but little fire. He certainly did
not say, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,” which is possibly
the most famous version of his aphorism. See Leon Trotsky,WIKIQUOTE, [].
It seems more likely that he said, “You may not be interested in the dialectic, but the
of these proposals would involve a radical, and possibly painful,
reimagining of le gal education, it woul d also offer greater choice to
students, reinvigorate law school teaching and curricula, and would,
arguably, better prepare law students to be skilled, professional, and ethical
lawyers. These are surely changes worth considering.
To begin at the beginning. As every lawyer and law student reading
this surely knows, Mrs. Palsgraf was injured while waiting to take a train
to Rockaway Beach in an accident involving two employees of the Long
Island Railroad, fireworks, and a scale.6She sued the Long Island Railroad
for her injuries, won at trial and in the intermediate appellate court, but lost
her case in the New York Court of Appeals when Chief Judge Cardozo
ruled that her injuries were not the responsibility of the Railroad.7It is
likely that almost every reader of this Article could even quote some or all
of Judge Cardozo’s famous, and famously terse, statement of the facts of
the case.8But here is a question: What was Mrs. Palsgraf’s first name?9
dialectic is interested in you,” but there seems to be no documentary support for that
formulation either. Id. Whatever Trotsky did or did not say, though, it is too good a line to
go unused.
5This heading is, of course, an intentional paraphrase of the 2010 book The Immortal
Life of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who, in a very different way, unwittingly provided future
generations with ways to develop their knowledge. See generally REBECCA SKLOOT,THE
6Palsgraf, 162 N.E. at 99.
7Id. at 105.
8As a reminder, here it is:
Plaintiff was standing on a platform of defendant’s railroad after buying
a ticket to go to Rockaway Beach. A train stopped at the station, bou nd
for another place. Two men ran forward to catch it. One of the men
reached the platform of the car without mishap, though the train was
already moving. The other man, carrying a package, jumped aboard the
car, but seemed unsteady as if about to fall. A guard on the car, who
held the door open, reached forward to help him in, and another guard
on the platform pushed him from behind. In this act, the package was
dislodged, and fell upon the rails. It was a package of small size, about
fifteen inches long, and was covered by a newspaper. In fact it
contained fireworks, but there was nothing in its appearance to give
notice of its contents. The fireworks when they fell exploded. The

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