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Course Selection at Law Schools

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The Professional Responsibility course is a required upper-class course at most law schools. Other than that course, there will be few, if any, required courses in your second and third years of law school. Your choice of courses largely will depend upon your interests and career choices.

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There are several upper-class courses that a large number of law students normally take, however, that are foundational for other advanced courses and that provide a well-rounded legal education. They include commercial paper, corporations, criminal procedure, evidence, family law, jurisprudence, real estate transactions, sales, secured transactions, tax, and wills and trusts. Other courses that are important to a well-rounded legal education include bankruptcy, conflicts, and employment law. Because of the increasing globalization of the practice of law, it is also important for you to take one or more courses that will expose you to international law or comparative law. Your law school may have several courses that you can take in sequence as a specialty track.

Rather than being guided by subject matter alone in selecting your courses, you also should take into consideration the professors who are teaching the courses. If you have had an especially successful learning experience with a professor in your first year, you should take a course from that professor in your upper-class years. In addition, your law school may have faculty members who are renowned for their expertise or views in a particular field, and it would benefit your legal education to have an opportunity to be exposed to those views by taking a course from that professor.

You also should seek to have one or more small class or seminar learning experiences in your upper-class years. A seminar experience typically enables you to focus in an intensive way on a narrow subject matter. In this setting, you will have the benefit of intense examination of an issue in a small enrollment class in which you can participate actively. In addition, you will be directed to conduct research into that issue and prepare a paper reporting the results of your research. This experience will further develop your research and writing skills.

If your law school grants academic credit for courses taken in other departments, consider taking some non-law school courses in your upper-class years. After having the benefit of training in critical thinking in your law school education, you will be astounded at how enriching the courses in other disciplines will be with your new perspective. These courses also can expand the context in which you evaluate issues in your law school classes. Some helpful non-law school courses include accounting, economics, finance, history, political science, and public policy.

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Students often think it is important to take courses covering subjects that are tested on the bar examination. While that is a natural temptation, we believe that factor should be a minor consideration in course selection. You can prepare adequately for the bar examination in your bar review preparation, even for subjects you did not study in a law school course. It is more important that you take a wide variety of courses. Seek to become well educated in the law, so that you can counsel your clients most effectively. Furthermore, in taking a wide variety of courses, you unexpectedly may discover a subject that you really enjoy and that will become a practice specialty for you.

International Programs

You should participate in a program of international study offered by your law school or by another law school if at all possible. Studying abroad will give you a better understanding of how common legal issues are addressed by different legal systems in different cultures. You also will learn a great deal about the country in which you study, including its political and legal systems and its culture. The insights you gain will be valuable to you as the practice of law becomes increasingly globalized, and they will help you look at the American legal system from a broader perspective. International study programs often take place during the summer, but some schools also offer semester study abroad programs.

Joint Degree Programs

Joint degree programs provide opportunities for interdisciplinary study and for a course of study specifically suited to your particular career goal. In a joint degree program, you can obtain a law degree and a degree in another discipline in less time than would be required to pursue the degrees separately. Some examples of these degree programs include:
  • Law and Business Administration (JD/MBA)
  • Law and Economics (JD/MA or PhD)
  • Law and International Relations (JD/MA or PhD)
  • Law and Public Policy (JD/MPP)
  • Law and Medicine (JD/MD)
  • Law and Public Health (JD/MPH)
  • Law and Journalism (JD/MA)
A joint degree can be an outstanding credential for a career that bridges the two subjects.

Summer Clerkships

Law firms traditionally hire students to clerk at the firm during the summer break between your law school years. These law firm summer clerk-ships are in great demand by law students, because they are excellent educational experiences and frequently law firms hire their permanent associate attorneys from their summer clerkship program. In a summer clerkship, you will do legal research and write memos, and you will have an opportunity to attend real estate closings, trials, depositions, client meetings, and other practice-related events.

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You should seek such a clerkship during at least one, if not both, of your law school summers. It is a good opportunity to explore questions you might have about your career decisions, such as type of firm, geographic location, and type of practice specialty. In addition to law firm summer clerkships, summer employment opportunities may be avail-able with judges, administrative agencies, or corporate law departments.

Typically, larger law firms will conduct interviews for their summer clerkships at your law school during the fall semester. From these interviews, they invite some students to their offices for more extensive interviews. Smaller law firms normally interview during the spring semester when their hiring needs have been defined more clearly. But do not wait for employers to come to you at the law school. As with all types of job searches; you should take the initiative. Send a letter expressing your interest in employment and a resume to the employers for whom you would like to work. Talk with family members and friends about employment possibilities, and take advantage of the re-sources of your law school's Career Services Office. You should get acquainted with the services' and resources of that Office at the beginning of your second year of law school, if you have not already done so. During your second and third years of law school, you will be busy juggling job interviews with all of the many other time demands of your course work and extracurricular activities.

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