What Were the Damages in Erie?

A few days ago I posted a video of an NYU civil procedure class performing a skit that somehow is supposed to explain the Erie doctrine.  You can see NYU’s own coverage of the event here.  Now it’s time to look at just how much damage was done.

A semester in law school, not counting exam periods, lasts about 14 weeks.  And, in each of those weeks, an NYU 1L will have 15 hours of class room instruction (see, we didn’t count exam periods because there are no classes then).  Actually, at NYU you’ll have 15.5 hours the first semester, and 14.5 the second semester, if you have civil procedure first semester (which these kids obviously did), but it’s a 5 hour class, and replaced with a 4 hour class second semester.  The weird .5 comes from Lawyering being 2.5 credits per semester, taken both first and second semesters.  I’m just going with the average of 15 hours to keep things tidy.

So, 14 weeks multiplied by 15 hours per week means 210 total hours of classroom instruction for the semester.  Yearly tuition at NYU is $44,820, or $22,410 per semester.  This is just tuition, not total expenses with books, and fees, and room and board.  So, $22,410 for 210 hours of classroom instruction comes out to $106.71 per hour.

The Erie skit, not counting the vapid gifts to the professor (his tenured position and cushy salary doing part time work is his gift, you imbeciles!), lasts about 10 minutes, or 1/6th of an hour.  That’s $17.79 in tuition dollars going to that skit.

Per student.

Now, unless something big has changed since I attended, the 1Ls are divided in to 4 sections, and each section has two different civil procedure groups.  When I was there I believe we had about 450 1Ls, and I believe that number has gone up, but let’s just call it a conservative 50 students per civ pro class.  50 students x $17.79 per student is $889.50.

$889.50 for that sketch.  To me, that doesn’t actually sound like a whole lot of money when you compare it to the total cost of law school.  But, I think going back to the per-student figure is more enlightening.

$17.79 per student in the audience, $17.79 per student performing (yes, they pay to perform in class, not the other way around), and $17.79 per student who’d really rather just get a decent education and be prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation.  $17.79 per student to watch a performance which, given most classes’s attendance policies, students were more or less required to see.

Would you have paid $17.79 to watch that performance?

Would you have financed that $17.79 with non-dischargeable debt which you will be paying off for the next 10, 15, or 20 years?  When you include the interest, that $17.79 could easily blow up to $30 or $40 dollars per student.

But even in today’s dollars, let’s look at how much $17.79 is.  Just a block from where this performance took place (assuming it was in Vanderbilt Hall, which it looks like it is) is the Comedy Cellar.  Ticket prices Monday-Wednesday are $10, Thursday and Sunday are $12, and Friday and Saturday are $18.  The shows usually last about 2 hours, and involve 6-8 comedians performing short acts.

If you went to tonight (it’s Wednesday, so only $10) your opening act would be Modi:

Then, you would listen to 5 other comics who have been on Last Comic Standing, Z Rock, Howard Stern, and written for Dave Chappelle.  After that, you’d get your headliner, Dave Attell:

And then, to close, you’d have schmuck who only got so far as having a half hour special on Comedy Central.

Of course, Comedy Cellar, like most comedy clubs, has a 2 drink minimum.  Domestic beer is $5, imports are $6.  I’ll assume they have something like Sam Adams or another good American beer, so we’re going domestic.  $20 plus tip.  Would you rather pay $22 (tipping only on the drinks, not the ticket, duh) to see these comics, or $17.79 to have your legal education interrupted with an amateur Erie doctrine skit?

Would you rather get:

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16 Responses to “What Were the Damages in Erie?”

  1. evrenseven Says:

    Dave Attell is my hero. I had to change my act around completely when I first started because not only do I look a lot like him (especially when I grow a beard) my cadence and rhythm were basically the same and everyone was starting to think I was biting his material, although it was just subconscious. I’ve gotten to hang out with him quite a bit (not so much recently since he’s blown up) and he really is filthy drunk.

  2. Matt Says:

    Whatever happened to his Insomniac Show on comedy central. I always thought it was one of comedy central’s best. Maybe he got too famous and it was too difficult to film. Alas…all things come to an end.

  3. bl1y Says:

    Not really sure. Hard to imagine how low your ratings have to be for Comedy Central to not be able to match the $500 you would otherwise be making in a small basement comedy club.

  4. Wells Says:

    I think you might be approaching this from the wrong angle.

    They are Law school students, in a law school. Even if the skit wasn’t as entertaining as a comedy schitch of equal value, it might still be worth it. The real questions are…

    (1) Did the students learn the Erie Doctrine?
    (2) Is the Erie Doctrine Important?
    (3) Would it have taken less time for them to learn it some other way?

    For all I know, it could be the best $17.79 worth of law school tuition they ever spent.

  5. bl1y Says:

    Watch that video and tell me whether you understand Erie any better…or at all.

  6. jdpainterguy Says:

    @ 2:08

    You have a point there, and now that you said it, I am thinking of an old Happy Days episode where Potsie made up a song to help him remember info for Biology class. Fonzie even helped Potsie to write it.

    Here it is:


    The NY Pieper bar review class is chock full of mnemonics (not put to music) All memory devices.

    But you are getting into teritory that asks: How do people learn?

    If you feel this type of teaching will save a student from 6 figure debt, then tell NYU to get out their harmonicas and hanging organs and turn the whole damn school into a Musical comedy.

    Like Mary Poppins on friggin’ steroids.

    But watching the Erie thing reminded me of a comment someone once made on a Youporn video clip. He said:

    “Hey thanks Mate!
    I had a good wank watching that one!”

    I think the commenter was Australian for some reason.

  7. bl1y Says:

    jdpainterguy: The difference between the Erie song and the Pump Your Blood song is that the latter contains detailed information and is enunciated well enough to be understood. “Just plead it” doesn’t really tell me a lot about the Erie doctrine.

    I have no problem with mnemonics devices or other study aids, but this isn’t one, this is just 10 minutes of cutesy shit that doesn’t actually get to the meat of the matter.

    On the other hand, if you were studying, say, biology and trying to come up with a way to remember the order of phases in meosis and someone in your study group shouts out “Pet My Ass, Twinkie!” Well, you’re going to remember Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase and Telophase for years to come.

  8. Henrich Jonas Says:

    I do not understand this Erie business. What is all of this about?

  9. Henrich Jonas Says:

    Here are jokes that are funny–not this Erie stuff:

    Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are going dead?

    Why do banks charge a fee on ‘insufficient funds’ when they know there is not enough money?

    Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

    Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?

    Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?

    Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?

    Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

    Whose idea was it to put an ‘S’ in the word ‘lisp’?

    If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?

    Why is it that no matter what color bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?

    Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?

    Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?

    Why do people keep running over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?

    Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?

    How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?

    Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that’s falling off the table you always manage to knock something else over?

    In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?

  10. J-Dogged Says:

    1) 17 bucks to see an awful Erie Doctrine skit is still better than seeing Creed or Nickelback live, both of which likely cost far more.

    2) 17 bucks an hour to watch complete and utter shit like this still beats paying 17 bucks an hour to be subjected to some douche’s horribly mangled version of the Socratic method about Pierson v. Post or Pennoyer v. Neff or some other 19th century crap that has no relevance to the modern attorney.

    @Wells: “(3) Would it have taken less time for them to learn it some other way?”

    Um…yeah. Law school classes, IMO, are a horrible waste of time when it comes to teaching the actual material. It would take me maybe 15 minutes to explain equal protection rational basis review to a lay person completely unfamiliar with legal concepts. My con law class spent 2.5 hours on it.

    For anyone who can score 155+ on the LSAT, I’m convinced they could learn the material better by reading a Glannon Guide or similar material and consulting an outline than sitting through 80-90% of lectures. There are exceptions, of course, but my experience in law school has been that most classes are needless. I have a PMBR lecture series for property that lasts 5 hours and taught me the exact same stuff (plus some extras on water access rights) as my property class that took 56 hours in-class and probably 50-75 hours outside of class.

    That’s how inefficient law school is, IMO.

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