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Tulane Property Law classes and Mardi Gras go together like purple, green and gold

February 16, 2023 12:00 PM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

Tulane Law students in the Civil Law Society take Vice Dean Sally Richardson's property law walking tour. The neutral ground is a perfect spot to highlight the legal connections between the law and Mardi Gras. (Photos: Alina Hernandez)


Tulane Law Vice Dean Sally Richardson is back on the Mardi Gras circuit, teaching students and practitioners alike about property law with the backdrop of the carnival season. 

“It’s fun to be able to connect up legal concepts – and sometimes antiquated legal concepts, at that – to something that is as easily relatable as Mardi Gras,” Richardson said. 

For the past eight years, Richardson has been leading a Mardi Gras & Property Law walking tour for Tulane’s Civil Law Society.  The group walks down St. Charles, learning about different property law doctrines as they apply to Mardi Gras. Topics like possession, intellectual property rights, law of finders, and principles of law and economics all feature into the tour. 

Throughout the tour, Richardson asked (or cold-called, depending on your perspective) students about topics like the rule of capture and how it applied to catching beads thrown from the floats. 

Students quickly responded -- the person who catches the beads owns the beads, right? That prompted a series of hypotheticals: What if two people grab the beads? What if there is violence involved in catching the beads? What are the customs around catching beads around Uptown?  Are there different customs when you are closer to the French Quarter?  As always, students were highly engaged in thinking through the different scenarios, while the locals lining the parade route eavesdropped on the tour, or followed along for a block or two.

Richardson also talked law and economics with the students, asking them about the true value of a glittery shoe from the Krewe of Muses. Students agreed the Muses shoes is one of, if not the most valuable throw during Mardi Gras, but not in terms of money.  As Richardson pointed out, the law of scarcity increasing the value of an item directly applies to the glittery heels students hoped to catch Thursday night.   

“Students enjoy the Mardi Gras Property Tour because it’s a chance to get together outside, enjoy the Carnival season, and see first-hand how Louisiana’s laws apply to this historic celebration,” said Tanner Bryant, this year’s President of the Civil Law Society.

Earlier this week, Richardson also delivered a lunchtime presentation for the New Orleans Bar Association’s Real Property section, as she has done for the past few years. This year, the NOBA announcement of her talk captured the spirit of carnival and lawyering in this unique civil law tradition.

“Property law and Mardi Gras go together like peanut butter and jelly,” the announcement read. “Like salt and pepper, cream and sugar, Mardi Gras and property law are two peas in a purple, green, and gold pod.”

It’s not just Civil Law Society members and the Bar Association who get what is a quintessential New Orleans legal experience. Richardson, who considers herself a King Cake connoisseur, brings multiple varieties to her property law classes the Wednesday before Mardi Gras for students to sample.

“It’s Mardi Gras season and showing a sampling of King Cakes from the area is fun for the students. In Common Law Property we are discussing possessory and future interests and the Rule Against Perpetuities.Talking about what conditions we can put on transferring things through the lens of a King Cake is a good way to begin the class,” said Richardson. 

Students who took Richardson's tour -- even those that are local -- thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

"Dean Richardson's tour allowed me to see Mardi Gras through a different lens, " said Ricky Bordelon, a first-year law student. "Even as a local having been to parades many times before, I was amazed at how much the law and Mardi Gras are intertwined. In her captivating and enthusiastic style, Dean Richardson made this connection between law and—in my opinion—one of the greatest celebrations in the world come to life before my eyes on the St. Charles neutral ground."

And the tour is something that happens only in New Orleans.

“The property tour with Dean Richardson was such a fun experience," said Annie Gitter, a 1L.  "It was a wonderful time coming together as civil law students and people who love Louisiana, and learning about how property laws, statutes, and custom apply to Mardi Gras while we walked the parade route!"