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Law and Society

LES 407

Course Syllabus


Fall 1997 4 Credits

Dennis Fox


Phone: 206-6535

Mon/Wed 9:50-11:30 am

E-mail: contact page

Office Hours in PAC 352


Monday 1:30-2:30


Wednesday 11:40-12:30 and by appointment

Course Objectives


Four Reaction/Analysis Papers


9/15, 10/6, 11/10, 12/1

Interview Paper & Presentation


10/22 Progress Report

12/8 Paper

Final Exam



Class Participation & Attendance


Internet Participation

Extra Credit

Self-Evaluation Paper

Ungraded but Required


Grading: All assignments must be completed to receive course credit!

Graduate Student Requirements

Tentative Course Outline


Course Objectives

In legal studies we examine the role of law in society. In addition to understanding basic legal concepts and structures (as in LES 406 Legal Institutions and Processes), in LES 407 Law and Society we also try to understand their origin and function and to relate the law to other aspects of life. For example, it is often said that law school teaches students to "think like a lawyer." In legal studies, however, it is just as important to understand why law students are taught to think in particular ways and how those ways of thinking affect society. Thus, legal studies at UIS is a liberal arts field that incorporates material from history, sociology, philosophy, psychology, political science, and other disciplines.

Law and Society, then, introduces a wide variety of topics related to law's varying functions. It focuses on social and legal theory and analyzes law and legal institutions from a critical perspective. By the end of the course, students should be better able to evaluate law and legal institutions, especially in relation to equality, justice, and fairness. The course emphasizes class discussion and intensive work on improving analytical writing about controversial issues.

Make sure you understand the requirements in this syllabus and in related handouts. The class format, requirements, topics, and grading system are somewhat flexible. Suggestions, comments, and general discussion about the course or other matters are welcome during office hours or at other times.



With Justice For None: Destroying an American Myth. Gerry Spence, 1990.
A Crime of Self-Defense: Bernhard Goetz and the Law on Trial. George P. Fletcher, 1988.
Terrifying Love: Why Battered Women Kill and How Society Responds. Lenore E. Walker, 1989.
Total Justice. Lawrence Friedman, 1985.

Additional material may be placed on library reserve.
Read daily newspaper about law-related issues.

Recommended: Strunk & White's Elements of Style or a similar book on writing.

Class Participation and Attendance

This is not a lecture course. Class discussion is central both in small groups and in the larger class. You should come to class prepared to ask questions about what you have read, to evaluate the material, and to express your own reasoned views on controversial issues. Your participation should demonstrate that you have carefully read the material and thought about its implications.

Remember that the text authors are trying to persuade you; read critically! Remember, too, that many controversial course issues have no "right" or "wrong" answers. Rather, they require informed discussion. Thus, the views you express in class or papers do not affect your grade. Feel free to say what you really think and to disagree with the books, with me, and with other students. However: You must support your views thoughtfully, demonstrating that you understand the readings and the issues. Don't simply dismiss viewpoints that conflict with your own. Listen to what others have to say.

Participation counts 15% of your grade. We will try to structure class so that everyone feels comfortable taking part. If you find it difficult to get a word in or if you are not used to participating, talk to the instructor. If you tend to talk a lot, remember to give others a chance. Participation is important, but quantity is less important than quality. Regular attendance with minimal participation receives a C for participation.

Productive discussion requires not just careful reading and preparation but also regular attendance. You cannot participate if you are not here. If you cannot attend regularly because of other commitments, do not take this course.


  • Repeated absence (e.g., 3 classes, about 10% of the total) lowers your participation grade.
  • Frequent absence (e.g., more than 3 or 4 classes) can result in a failing grade for the course regardless of your grades on other assignments.


Internet Participation

Constructive participation in the LES Program's e-mail discussion list counts for extra credit. You can obtain a UIS e-mail account and use computers on campus for free. With your account you can also use the World Wide Web as a resource for your classes as well as communicate with your instructors, faculty adviser, and other students. We will discuss details in class.


Four Reaction/Analysis Papers

You will write four short papers, one on each assigned book. These papers are designed to ensure that you read and think about the material and to improve your ability to write clearly and analytically. Each paper should be between 1000 and 1500 words (about 3-5 typed double-spaced pages with 1-inch margins). Write the number of words on the front page.

You will receive a handout for each paper explaining the paper's specific focus. In addition, follow the General Guidelines For Papers handout for both content and form. For all papers, do not just summarize the readings, merely express agreement or disagreement, or comment superficially on a variety of topics. Instead, develop a single theme (explicitly indicated in your first paragraph) as you analyze issues that relate to the course, express and justify your own views, and explain why alternative views are wrong.

These papers are not easy to do. They typically require that you write several drafts in order to narrow your focus and express yourself clearly. Given the word limit, you must speak directly and concisely. There is no room for unnecessary elaboration, wordiness, repetitiveness, or other forms of shooting the bull. If you can't think of anything to say, perhaps you need to re-read the material more carefully. Also: spelling, grammar, and typing errors are signs of sloppy writing. Make sure you proofread!

Grades take into account both substance and writing/communication. If you would like to try to improve your grade, you can rewrite the paper and resubmit it within one week. Rewrites must be substantially improved in substance as well as in writing mechanics in order to receive a higher grade.

Plagiarism is using another person's work as if it is your own. It is dishonest. It also prevents you from learning how to write better through receiving feedback on your own work. If you take any thoughts from outside sources, you must footnote appropriately. Consult any book on proper citation methods or get relevant handouts from the Center for Teaching and Learning (Brookens 460). Plagiarism, even if unintentional, results in a grade of No Credit on a paper and can lead to expulsion from the university.


Interview Paper and Class Report

To help you apply the course material, you will interview at least two people about their interactions with the legal system, focusing on a common theme (e.g., discretion in law; law and gender; racial discrimination). More details are provided in the Interview Paper Guidelines handout. This semester-long project includes the following:

  • submit a progress report by October 22 describing your paper's theme and indicating whom you intend to interview, why you chose them, and what kinds of questions you intend to ask.
  • write a paper (due December 8) in which you describe and contrast their experiences and analyze those experiences with reference to course concepts.
  • present a brief report in class on your final paper.

The paper and report are worth 30% of the course grade.



The exam on December 15 is worth 15% of the final grade. The primary focus is analysis, not memorization. We will discuss details and possible exam formats in class.


Self-evaluation Paper

Your self-evaluation paper, due December 17, provides an opportunity for you to assess your work in this course and to reflect on what you have learned about the subject matter and about yourself. The typed paper should be at least 500 words.

Evaluate your learning with respect to the course as a whole and each course component: attendance, participation, assigned reading, papers, and preparation for the final exam. You should (a) reflect on what you have learned, critically examining your strengths and weaknesses in each area using specific examples; (b) give yourself a grade using the criteria described below; and (c) explain the reasons for your grade.

Although I will not grade the evaluation, it is required. You are in the best position to know the a mount and nature of the time and effort you put into this class. Sometimes that can be conveyed best to the instructor through a thoughtful, thorough, honest self-evaluation and can make a difference in the case of borderline or erratic grades.


Graduate Students

In addition to meeting all regular requirements at a graduate level of competence, graduate students must write more in-depth papers using scholarly materials for each of the writing assignments. See the instructor for instructions. Other course modifications may be made as appropriate.



Teachers at UIS are required to assign grades when asked to do so by the student. This can be a difficult, frustrating, and sometimes destructive task. I am glad to provide evaluative feedback in the form of written comments and one-to-one conferences, but reducing a subjective evaluation to a single letter is a gross oversimplification. Grading fosters excessive competition at the expense of real learning, and makes distinctions among you for the benefit of institutions over which you have little control. Although the significance of a single grade is often minimal, I know that worrying is inevitable when your overall GPA affects graduation honors, postgraduate education, and careers.

To reduce your anxiety, consider taking the course on a Credit/No Credit basis. If you do so, your transcript will indicate either Credit (for undergraduates receiving at least a C and for graduate students getting at least a B) or No Credit, and the course will not count in your GPA. (Remember, though, that to receive a C, all work must be completed in satisfactory fashion, with regular attendance. Students who plan on just getting by with a C sometimes miscalculate and end up with No Credit.)

If you choose to receive a grade, keep in mind that I take grading seriously. I use the system described in the UIS Catalog, modified by pluses and minuses:

A = Excellent B = Good C = Fair D = Marginal But Passing U = Unsatisfactory

Final course grades are based on the weighted average of all assignments, though I may give less weight to a single grade that is much lower than your others.

Note: Upper-division college students generally are expected to work about two hours outside class for every hour in class (eight hours a week on outside assignments for a four-credit course). Some students need more than eight hours to do adequate or better work. If you do not have enough time available, you should not take this course.

Students who are interested in the material and who work hard to meet all course expectations, read all assignments carefully, attend class and participate regularly, and routinely produce good work typically receive a B. Students whose truly excellent work goes beyond course expectations and requirements receive an A.

If you have questions or concerns about your grades, please see me.


Tentative Course Outline

8/25 Course Introduction


Spence: Preface ("Starting")
Fletcher: Preface
Walker: Chapter 1, pp. 3-5
Friedman: Chapter 1: The Problem Stated

Bring today's newspaper
Think about: What is each book's purpose?



9/3 Spence: With Justice for None   Part 1: Justice for None: What's Wrong?

1 Justice
2 Lawyers
3 Law Students
4 Law Schools


5 Juries
6 Judges
7 Trials


8 Labor
9 Insurance
10 Corporate Crime

VIDEO: Ethics in America #8: Truth on Trial

9/15 Continue Discussion

Paper #1 Due


9/17 Spence Part 2: Justice For All: What Can We Do?

11 New Lawyers
12 New Law Schools
13 New Judges


14 New Law
15 New Voices
16 New People
Ending Up


9/24 Fletcher: A Crime of Self-Defense: Bernhard Goetz and the Law on Trial

1 A Shooting in the Subway
2 Passion and Reason in Self-Defense

9/29 3 Tolerant Reason

10/1 4 The Significance of Suffering

10/6 Continue Discussion

Paper #2 Due

VIDEO: Ethics in America #2: To Defend a Killer


5 People Matter
6 Trying the Truth


7 What the Jury Saw and Heard
8 What the Jury Did Not Know

10/15 9 Perfecting the Law

VIDEO: Frontline: Inside the Jury Room


10 Arguing Toward a Verdict
11 Mixed Messages

10/22 Continue Discussion

Due: Interview Paper Progress Report


10/27 Walker: Terrifying Love

Part I: Cheating Their Destinies
Chapter 1: When Love Turns to Terror

10/29 Part I: Chapters 2-4

11/3 Part II: Why Battered Women Kill

Chapters 5-8

11/5 Chapters 9-11

11/10 Part III: The Law

Chapters 12-15

Paper #3 Due


11/12 Continue Discussion

11/17 VIDEO: Little Injustices: Laura Nader Looks at the Law


11/19 Friedman: Total Justice

1 The Problem Stated
2 The Law: Creature from Inner space
3 The Birth of a Modern Legal Culture

11/24 4 The Security State

11/26 NO CLASS

12/15 The Due Process Revolution

6 American Legal Character

Paper #4 Due


7 Sexual Behavior and the Law
8 An Assessment
9 Epilogue



12/10 Open topic


12/17 Course Evaluation




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Page updated November 25, 2007