Professor Bobbitt

Professor Bobbitt doesn’t believe a professor ought to try to make friends with his students, but he does want his pupils, the first-years especially, to befriend each other.

This year, it was a field trip to the Frick and MoMA, capped off with sunset cocktails in Bryant Park. Also, a fancy affair at Covington & Burling, from whose offices, at the top of the New York Times Building, you can see the Statue of Liberty.

Professor Bobbitt has advice for you, too. Have a life outside law school. Share notes. In the middle of a take-home exam, take a walk or a nap.

On the final day of Legal Methods this year, he shared a pearl from “my celebrated uncle,” meaning President Johnson. Every afternoon at 4:30, go into a dark room, change into your pajamas and lie down. After half an hour or so, start working again. (He stopped short of recommending that students conduct bathroom meetings, another of his celebrated uncle’s pearls.)

Not everyone takes to Professor Bobbitt’s teaching style. Gillian Horton, a 1L who calls his lectures an “elegant, intelligent approach to the law,” noted that he inspires both intense admirers and vehement detractors. The latter have complained that he hews too closely to his own books, and gets defensive when his ideas are challenged. Professor Bobbitt is aware of the criticisms. In this year’s terrorism seminar, he read out loud a negative course review from a former student, so the class would know what to expect. “Everything the student said is right,” he told them. 

Students who actually get into his class describe his soft but sonorous voice, his dapper seersucker suits—some students have taken to aping them—his white-tipped gray hair and his penchant for using elegant literary allusions (Conrad, Auden, Trillin) to illustrate legal concepts. (Ah yes, he sighed, but do not forget “the Samuel Johnson debacle,” in which no one in class could identify the 18th-century lexicographer to the professor’s satisfaction.)

Most students see him as a dedicated teacher who happens to lead an impossibly cultured and glamorous life.

“His mannerisms just kind of ooze a James Bondian kind of quality,” says Vishal Agraharkar, a former LM student and a teaching assistant for this year’s class. “Someone who acts like that in class and outside class we assumed must have just an incredible personal life. James Bond has a hell of a personal life, so he must as well.”

“You turn around and you realize that he teaches class on Monday and Tuesday and flies around the world solving the world’s problems Wednesday through Sunday,” said Mr. Greiwe, who has been a teaching assistant for three of Mr. Bobbitt’s classes.

A story from the end of last year’s LM course: “I think he had a flight to catch or something,” Mr. Agraharkar said. “He just said, ‘Welcome to law school!’”—here, Mr. Agraharkar demonstrated with a vigorous arm pump—“and ran out of the class. It was pretty surreal.”

He remembers Professor Bobbitt in his seersucker suit, pulling out a cigar he was about to smoke. “That might be blending myth and what actually happened,” Mr. Agraharkar said, “But that’s how I think of it.”

kbell@observer.com

Professor Bobbitt