Brett Talley

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When I began my course in Cyberlaw, I was somewhat wary about my decision to take the class. I was not at all sure how this would fit into my training as a lawyer, and I feared that I might well be wasting my time. I suppose such skepticism is natural when embarking on any atypical endeavor. Nevertheless, I had tired of the standard “Law and” classes, with their focus on cases and lack of any education in practical skills. At least in Cyberlaw I might learn something about working with the internet, an area with which I was fairlyy unfamiliar.

Still, I was skeptical. I figured out the riddle, but I did not understand its significance, and I wondered why we were doing it. In fact, it frightened me a little. It was different, and if there was one thing that had been drilled into my brain in law school, it was that different is generally bad. In the law, everything is regimented. Much of the law seems like little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. The fact section goes here, the question presented looks like this, the argument should include these words but not those, and do not forget to flatter the court. In a way that is comforting. The pattern is set. No need to be creative; the answers have already been laid down and collected for you in a reporter somewhere. Cut and paste. Riddles though, we do not do riddles.

Then there was the Necker Cube. We looked at the box, and the box changed. Professor Nesson seemed to think there was something significant about this, but I was having a hard time seeing it. I could not see what was so special about this particular optical illusion. Perhaps my mind had lost the suppleness it once had, but at the time I could not see what now seems so simple.

Jaded. I suppose that is the best word to describe my attitude towards the whole project of Cyberlaw. As the semester progressed, however, I found the rough edges begin to soften. It began when I started to see the power of the wiki. I have always had a fascination with the corporate form. Corporations, at least in their ideal state, bring together vast resources, both capital and human, in order to do things that would be impossible for isolated individuals. These resources include the ideas and talents of innumerable people. I saw the same basic idea in the wiki. Take Wikipedia for instance. The average encyclopedia requires a vast army of experts, and no doubt a significant amount of money, to create. With wikipedia, however, one person with one piece of discreet knowledge can contribute and add his knowledge to that of literally millions of others. It is remarkable that literally no other type of organization can bring that many people’s intellectual capital to bear on a problem.

The video game project was another great experience. It is one of the only assignments in law school I have actually enjoyed. I found that it caused me to put myself in other people’s shoes, trying to figure out what they would find entertaining. Amazingly, I still did not recognize any rhyme or reason behind what I was doing. It just seemed like an interesting exercise, another seemingly random classroom event. I do not know if I had a particularly thick skull or if I had been so indoctrinated to act as a mindless drone doing only what I was told that I was incapable of learning anything new, but it was not until we began working on the podcast that a light began to flicker slowly in my brain.

The flash of understanding that is supposed to come to every law student at various points in their career never struck me. For instance, there was no moment when the light bulb went off and I “got” civil procedure. I have always had good grades, but primarily because I am good at regurgitating horn book knowledge onto a piece of paper, not because I actually learned anything. And so it was a remarkable experience making the podcasts. At first, I thought it would be exceedingly difficult to make the other side’s argument, they being wrong and all. I assumed that whatever points they had to make would be fairly worthless and unusable, and that constructing a case of any length would be impossible. When I finished, however, I found myself amazed at how convincing an argument the other side actually had. I still disagreed, but I found myself struggling to parry the thrusts that I had myself created. It was then that I was struck as if by a bolt of lightening from heaven. It was then that everything made sense: the riddle, the Necker Cube, the game, the wiki, it all came together in one flash.

When a moment of clarity comes it is both exciting and embarrassing. Even as I write this, I feel as if my description of what I learned in the course borders on inadequate. After all, from where I now sit, the notion of empathic argument and how it fit into everything we did in class seems almost trivial. And yet at the time it was as if whole new vistas had opened up before me. I began to realize how powerful a tool this was. I began to see how I could use it to make my arguments sharper, my logic tighter. I also began to learn a little bit about the truth. Some might argue that something like the Necker Cube destroys truth, that it somehow undermines the notion that there is a right way to see things. I reject that nihilistic view. Instead, I believe that we can learn from empathy that there is truth, at least a kernel of it, in most people’s beliefs, no matter how different they may be from our own. Furthermore, that two things are true does not mean that we cannot prefer one, or make arguments for our own beliefs. I, for one, believe there is a “best” way of seeing the Necker Cube. I prefer to see it as sitting upright, towering towards the sky and reaching towards better things. I think this view is far better than the alternative, viewing the Necker Cube instead on its side, fallen and debased, a symbol of failure rather than strength.

As I learned more about the empathic argument, I grew more excited to use it. I decided to embark on an entirely different argument in my video than I had done in my pod cast in order that I might explore the empathic argument even further. I can honestly say that Cyberlaw has been one of the few classes that I have enjoyed more as it went on and that I was truly sad to see end when it was over. I hope that the class was as much a success for those who taught it as it was for those of us who had the pleasure to take it.