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Talk of Law Schools: Forget Torts, Let's Watch O.J. Trial

By Sam Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Talk of Law Schools: Forget Torts, Let's Watch O.J. Trial


Sam Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IT'S not as gripping as Melrose Place, but it's close.

That's the consensus on Hudson Street, where four housemates, all students at Harvard Law School, are watching the O.J. Simpson murder trial in their living room.

Here, and everywhere else law students live and gather, talk of torts and contracts has been usurped by issues like prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark's lapel pin, and detective Mark Fuhrman's jacket.

"People in law school are usually so overworked that they lose touch with the outside world," says Hudson Street resident Tim Eckstein. "If something isn't going to help their grades or increase their earning potential, they don't bother. But the O.J. trial is different - a lot of people are shamelessly glued to the tube."

A sampling of law students around the nation suggests that Mr. Eckstein and his housemates are not alone in their enthusiasm. While viewership has ebbed since the opening statements, most aspiring attorneys say Simpson trial-watching is still high on their dockets.

"I admit it, I think it's fascinating," says Jeremy Brown, a student at the University of Buffalo Law School in New York. "I've been a prisoner in the library for the last two years, so I've never seen an actual trial. It's interesting to watch the lawyers at work, to watch them think on their feet."

Mr. Brown explains that many students in Buffalo feel a personal connection to the case because they grew up admiring Simpson, who was a star tailback for the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

"O.J. is a local hero," he says. "People here are hoping he doesn't also become a national disgrace."

Back on Hudson Street, Eckstein says the demands of trial viewing even prompted him and his housemates to chip in for a second TV.

Now, he explains, they can monitor the trial while playing Sega Hockey or watching the Fox soap opera-esque drama "Melrose Place" at the same time.

According to Mark Sims, a second-year student at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, no fewer than 20 of his peers are gathered at any time to watch the trial in their law school's lounge.

He says students are spellbound by the examination of witnesses. "These are some pretty skilled litigators," Mr. Sims says. "They're like walking, talking textbooks." No escape

But even if law students try, few can completely escape the Simpson trial: Most say they hear a daily update, or at least a reference to it, in class. Professors, particularly those teaching criminal law and evidence classes, say the trial is an invaluable teaching tool.

"It's a law professor's dream, in some ways, to have a case like this," says Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor and member of the Simpson defense team.

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