The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

When the attorney argues the wrong case, or when the professor teaches the wrong class.

It has happened to the best of us.


Last week, an attorney began arguing a case before the Ninth Circuit. It quickly became apparent that he was arguing the wrong case. The lawyer had another Ninth Circuit appeal scheduled two weeks later. Somehow, he inverted the arguments. After everyone realized the situation, the panel gave the lawyer a 10 minute recess. He switched gears, and argued the correct case. You can watch the video, starting around the 4 minute mark.

This sort of slip-up can happen to the best of us. There but for the grace of God go I.

Several years ago, I was scheduled to teach Property I and Property II on the same day. On the first day of class, for whatever reason, I thought that Property II was in the morning and Property I was in the afternoon. But in reality, Property I was in the morning, and Property II was in the afternoon. Of course, the schedule was correct on my calendar. But in the haste of the first day, I didn't bother looking.

Shortly before class began, I quickly glanced at the photo roster. I recognized the face of a student who had attended my 1L orientation session. (He had a very distinctive beard, that stuck out in my memory). Huh, I thought? How could a 1L be taking a 2L class. Then it hit me. The student was a 1L. Property I was in the morning. With about 2 minutes before class started, I quickly re-oriented myself. Fortunately, I had already prepped for both classes, so there was no problem. The students never knew the difference. But I had a mini-freakout moment.

All too often students tell me that they read the wrong assignment for class. I have sympathy in such cases. But I also try to call out their bluffs. I will usually ask the students to discuss the case they allegedly read. Sometimes they can. Other times, they lied.