So you’re considering law school, but you want to have some idea of what you’re getting yourself into. What are the requirements for actually receiving a law degree? What classes do you need to take? Luckily, most law degree requirements are relatively straightforward–you need to complete a particular number of credits, including a handful of required first-year courses. While some law schools also have a writing requirement, there are otherwise few obligations on what law students need to do in order to graduate with a degree. Unlike undergrad, you’re not required to choose a major or any other form of academic track. While many schools create suggested tracks for students interested in particular areas of law, everyone in a standard JD program graduates with the same degree.
Most law schools have dedicated pages detailing their specific requirements, but we’ll outline a few general requirements that most schools share.
Most significantly, as a first-year law student (or 1L), you’ll probably be required to complete particular courses. 2Ls and 3Ls have a great deal of flexibility in their schedules, but most law programs adhere to a strict 1L curriculum, with the possibility of one or two electives. Below, we’ll outline the standard 1L courses that you’ll take at most schools.
Civil Procedure involves the study of the process of civil litigation. Civil procedure courses will follow the process from the commencement of a lawsuit through final judgment. You’ll study relevant statutes and rules of court. Most law schools place an emphasis on the federal rules of civil procedure, but you may also study state rules if most of your school’s alumni tend to practice in-state.
Introductory constitutional law tends to focus on governmental structure. You’ll learn about constitutional topics like judicial review and the allocation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. You’ll likely study some of the most famous Supreme Court cases, including Marbury v. Madison
, Plessy v. Ferguson
, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore
, and Obergefell v. Hodges
. Throughout the class, you’ll probably spend time learning about and debating the various methods of constitutional interpretation.
Courses on contracts involve the study of the legal enforcement of promises. You’ll learn about the doctrine of consideration, which is foundational to all contracts. You’ll also study how promises can be enforced, the legal aspects of the bargaining process, courts’ role in protecting against fraud and duress, the consequences of non-performance of obligations, and remedies for breach of contract. Contracts is the foundational course for any student planning to be a corporate or transactional lawyer.
If you’re a Law & Order fan, you might think you already know everything there is about criminal law. But the actual study of criminal law involves a deeper look into how criminal statutes incorporate objective offense elements and mental states. You’ll study these elements, as well as specific conduct that gets criminalized, focusing on texts like the Model Penal Code to understand how criminal law is applied in practice.
The study of property law deals with the possession and ownership of land. You’ll learn about restrictions on the ownership and use of land. Principles such as nuisance, trespass, concurrent interests, and eminent domain will play a major role in the course. You’ll also likely study the relationship between landlords and tenants, and learn the difference between invitees and licensees.
Tort law is concerned with assigning duties of care and liability for injuries. You’ll study–among other principles–negligence, malpractice, duty, emotional and economic harm, causation, strict liability, and products liability. You’ll learn about the legal implications of situations ranging from automobile accidents to wild animals being kept as pets to the sale of defective food products.
Legal Research and Writing
In addition to what are known as the doctrinal courses, many law schools also require that students take a practical course in legal research and writing. This course introduces students to the practice of “writing like a lawyer,” which is likely dramatically different from any other type of writing they’ve done. Additionally, students will also learn the ins and outs of programs like Westlaw and Lexis, the primary legal research databases. Many law school graduates count their legal research and writing course as among the most useful and applicable law school classes.
Most law schools have relatively few upper-level requirements. Once you reach 2L, you’re largely free to design your own curriculum. So long as you complete the minimum required credits, you’ll be able to receive your JD. One common requirement, however, is a writing component. Many schools require students to complete at least one course that involves a substantial research paper. This requirement is intended to ensure that students gain experience performing in-depth legal research and writing–skills that are necessary to the practice of any type of law.
While all of these requirements may seem daunting, Quimbee is here to help. Our study aids
and case briefs
give you everything you need to perform your best in every course. From day one of 1L through graduation (and beyond), you’ll be able to use our extensive library of resources to study smarter and more effectively. Check out Quimbee today!