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Simpson book is a "must read' at Harvard

Ever wonder who buys the paperbacks that appear within days of celebrity scandals?

Just ask the entering class at Harvard Law School, where Juice: The O. J. Simpson Tragedy is required reading.

Sitting between stacks of weighty legal tomes at the campus bookstore, Juice ("With 32 pages of photos") looks like the result of a mix-up at the warehouse. Indeed, some students think including the book in a course at a prestigious law school was a big mistake.

"How much will it boost sales when the publisher can put on the back of the next edition, "Required reading at Harvard Law School' "? wrote second-year student Shannon Liss in the law school newspaper. Liss decided to write a column after returning to school three weeks ago and hearing criticism of the book from other students.

The book is on the reading list of "Introduction to Lawyering," a mandatory legal skills class that teaches first-year students how to research, write and argue cases.

For the past several years the course has focused on a drunken-driving case, and some students criticized it for being too dry. This year, the class is studying the O. J. Simpson murder trial.

It's not boring anymore.

Peter Murray, a professor who is teaching the course along with Charles Nesson, said they chose the Simpson trial for three reasons: It contains important legal issues such as jury selection and scientific proof; the large amount of publicity allows students to follow the case as it unfolds; and it has captured the public's attention.

"It has engaged the students, and we were hoping it would," Murray said.

He dismissed Liss' concern about boosting Juice's credibility as unlikely. "I don't think it's targeted to the kind of audience that would care if it were on the required reading list at a law school," he said.

Gregory Duhl, a third-year student who helps teach the class, said focusing on the Simpson case has also provided a forum for discussing social concerns that may not arise in other classes.

"This is one of the few courses in Harvard Law School where students are actually discussing spouse abuse and racial issues," he said.

All 535 first-year students take the class this semester. Each of them will choose a topic from the trial _ such as the admissibility of DNA testing as evidence _ research the issue, write a brief and present an oral argument. They also have formed electronic discussion groups and will be able to draw on a data base on the trial created for the course.

Nesson, the professor who teaches the course with Murray, is known for including unorthodox materials in his courses. He assigned the movie My Cousin Vinny for one of his classes last year and The Verdict this semester.

Like those movies, coverage of the Simpson trial serves as an engrossing vehicle for examining legal issues, said Rowan Gaither, another student teacher.

"If you want to use audiovisual tools, you can use something provided by the American Bar Association . . . or you can show My Cousin Vinny and have everyone laughing," he said.

Even so, requiring a paperback with a picture of a knife and a photograph of Simpson, his late wife and son on the cover was something else.

"Everyone thought that was absolutely ridiculous," first-year student Dawn Robertson said. "It was sensational and horribly written. It was kind of a joke."

Despite disparaging remarks about the book, centering the class around the Simpson case appears to be working.

Nicole Bearce, a first-year student, said she tried to avoid Simpson coverage all summer and was disappointed to arrive at school and find it on the syllabus. But she welcomed the opportunity provided by the case to discuss issues of domestic violence, class and race in a legal context, and she now finds herself following the coverage with a new-found appreciation.

"It's kind of neat to come home and turn on the TV and understand what's going on," she said.