To Our Lawyer Readers: Any Ideas I Can Use in a Writing Competition?

I'm trying to put on a 2L/3L short writing competition -- just a week, for a short brief based on a short problem.

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To avoid giving an undue advantage to students who are taking particular 2L/3L classes (such as First Amendment law) or who have covered particular topics in their 1L classes that not all sections cover (such as the right of publicity or the disclosure of private facts tort in Torts), I'm hoping to have some statutory scheme that is highly unlikely to be covered in a California law school, whether in a 1L or a 2L/3L class.

Unfortunately, all my ideas so far come either from my First Amendment teaching, writing, and litigation, or from my past teaching of criminal law, tort law, or copyright law, so they're not optimal. Yet I'm sure that there must be something out there that would make a perfect closed problem: Perhaps a state statute or two (preferably relatively simple) and three to five cases, to which I would add a fact pattern and ask the students to write a brief.

It would be best of all if the topic were interesting but not so controversial that students will be unduly distracted by the politics. A case involving a state right of publicity statute, for instance, would have been good if it weren't for the fact that some of our students have studied that in Torts or in First Amendment Law, and others haven't.

My sense is that many of you, as practicing lawyers, have run across plenty of such examples—topics that are basically never covered in law school (or at least in a California law school), but that raise interesting legal questions in close cases, as so many topics do. If you have some suggestions, please e-mail them to me at (but of course please don't post them in the comments here).

The goals of the competition, by the way, are

  1. to let the students who do well show their writing ability, in a way that employers (firms, judges, and others) will view as a good signal,
  2. to give those students a good writing sample,
  3. to give all the participants extra experience with writing, and
  4. to do this without the long-term commitment required by moot court and law review; the plan is to have the competition last a week, and to have the output be a short brief.

Of course, none of this is a substitute for law review, moot court, seminars, and other important writing opportunities; but I hope that it will be a helpful supplement. And if any of you have seen similar competitions at other law schools, please let me know as well (you can post that in the comments), since I'd love to borrow good organizational ideas from others who have done this.


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  1. One area that seems not to have received a great deal of coverage in California law schools is, surprisingly, water law. If you really want to make it alien but provide a well-developed body of case law, gaming law. Nevada cases might provide some ammo if California’s thin.

  2. Eugene, this is monstrously hard. I’ve racked my brain and will continue to do so, but with the four constraints:

    1. Esoteric
    2. Concise
    3. Ambiguous
    4. No potential to identify client (RPC 1.6).

    I’ve yet to think of or recall a good question. Have thought of interesting probate, wage claim, real property and APA cases I’ve handled and each one fails one of the four constraints.

  3. Was the law of slave hiring in the antebellum South consistent with, or a development of, the common law of bailments, in which it was purportedly rooted?

  4. I should have thought that there are plenty of areas of tax where few students have trod before.

  5. I can make two suggestions from:

    1. New Jersey has an Affidavit of Merit statute. N.J.S.A. 2A.:53A-27. In a nutshell, a plaintiff who sues a licensed professional (defined in N.J.S.A. 2A.:53A-26) must file an Affidavit of Merit within a certain time frame. This statute spawned a significant amount if litigation over all manner of things. I can’t imagine it is taught in California law schools.

    2. New Jersey has an Entire Controversy Doctrine. N.J. Court Rule 30A. The Rule itself tells you almost nothing. But over the years there has been a significant amount of litigation concerning its requirements. My recollection is that it was not originally in the Rules, it was a judge-made doctrine that eventually got codified in the Court Rules. For a time in the 1990s, it actually required a party who believed his lawyer committed malpractice to assert the malpractice claim against the lawyer in the pending lawsuit.

    I hope this help.


  6. Perhaps the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act? I don’t know if it tends to show up in law school in California, but I don’t recall covering it in my own law school classes. I stumbled across it working as a summer associate. Fraudulent transfers are one of those things that fall into the cracks between 1L class topics: usually a property issue but not a “Property” one, technically a tort but not the tort of fraud, not a 1L crime, not a Civ Pro issue. Maybe it would come up in a remedies class.

    But UFTA has a lot of areas that can be apolitically contentious. Because it allows a plaintiff to recover either for actual fraud or constructive fraud (based not on intent but on the presence of insolvency), and because there are multiple tests (of unequal elasticity) for insolvency, there are a lot of different types of scenarios you can craft with it. Given the mushiness of some of the insolvency tests, it’s easy to create a set of facts that can yield compelling arguments on both sides.

    1. The trust fund doctrine is a related area that could add some common law flavor.

  7. To follow up with a concrete example (one of many): Defendant conveys a lot of property to a nominal Grantor-retained annuity trust (or “GRAT”). A defect in the trust instrument arguably frees the trustee from the obligation to pay the annuity, and tax-court precedents suggest it thus may not be recognized as a valid GRAT under the tax code. Grantor, however, testifies that the trust pays (or agreed to pay) reasonably equivalent value for the conveyance. Is Defendant entitled to summary judgment on a UFTA claim arising out of the conveyance to the trust?

  8. Folks: Thanks for the comments, but if you have suggestions for specific ideas, please e-mail them to me at instead of posting them here.

    1. A book never written: “Blog Reading Comprehension for Lawyers.” So much for my idea.

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