I Could Have Aced Property At Harvard Law School (At Least I Could Have In 1871)

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

If only I was born 125 years earlier . . . The Wall Street Journal Law Blog recently reported on the decision by Harvard Law School to make available every law-school exam given by the school between 1871 and 1998 .  The example the Journal uses to support its theory that law scho0l exams were easier in 1871 — the article is entitled "It's Official: Law School Exams Used To Be Easier" after all –  comes from a property exam:

Define a tenancy in severalty, a joint tenancy, and a tenancy in common. What are the incidents of joint tenancies and tenancies in common? How may they be severed by act of the parties or act of law?

While I may not be able to answer this question off of the top of my head right now, I am certain that I could get most of it right, and definitely knew the answer to questions like this when I was studying for my own property final. 

Before you start feeling good about yourself (like I did as I was reading the article), consider the contrasting example of a property final exam question from 1995:

Ames is one of three states that retained, after the Married Women’s Property Acts, the traditional definition of tenancy by the entireties. Under this definition, the husband had the exclusive right to control the use, profits and disposition of the property. This meant he could exclude his wife from the premises for any reason or no reason, sell without her consent, and dispose of rental property in any way he pleased. Several hundred-thousand married couples acquired property as tenants by the entireties up to 1981, in which year the Ames legislature passed a statute declaring that for the future when a c0uple took property by the entireties, they would have equal control rights. In a case before the Ames Supreme Court, a wife who had taken property with her husband as a tenant by the entireties in 1954 urges the Ames Supreme Court to treat her as having equal rights with her husband. Write a memo for a justice of the Court reviewing the pros and cons of taking some kind of action with respect to pre-1981 conveyances.

The modern-day question is more nuanced, hypothetical in nature, and requires a deeper understanding of the law.  It also helps explain why I didn't do better in property when I took it in 1999. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s