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Typical Law School Curriculum

Instructor: Rachel Diamond
Learn more about the classes you'll be expected to take in a typical law school curriculum. Find out what's covered in each and how you can prepare for each course before you start your law school program.

Curriculum at a Typical Law School

The typical curriculum for a JD program takes three years to complete. The courses most law students take in their first year of law school are predetermined. This is to make sure that you understand the backbone of our legal system before you explore more specific subject areas. After your first year, you'll be able to choose your focus area for the remainder of the program.

Common First Year Courses

Civil Procedure

Civil procedure teaches you the rules for playing the litigation game, including who you can sue and in which court. The major phases of a civil suit are covered - pleading, or how to prepare legal documents; discovery, which covers how the parties share evidence; and the rules of trial, including who gets to talk first. Some civil procedure classes include a role playing aspect, and some may include written assignments.

Check out Study.com's lessons on The Federal Judicial System for more detailed information about civil procedure, including short videos and quizzes to cement your understanding of the process.

Contracts

A first year contracts course lays the foundation for the study of commercial and consumer law. In this class, students learn the contracts basics: formation, or when a valid contract is formed; interpretation of contract terms; what constitutes a breach of a contract and the remedies for breach, like damages or requiring performance of the contract terms. Many contracts courses focus on the Uniform Commercial Code.

Our lessons on Contract Law Basics are a great way to complement your contracts course with definitions and examples of core topics.

Criminal Law

In a criminal law course, students learn the definitions of different crimes, including burglary and murder. Various defenses are considered, like mistakes of fact, mistakes of law and self-defense. This course usually covers aspects of criminal responsibility, including accomplice liability and mitigating circumstances such as insanity or intoxication.

Study.com's Criminal Law in the U.S. series of lessons can increase your understanding of the characteristics and purpose of criminal law.

Property

Who owns the valuable minerals under your back yard? Can your landlord raise your rent arbitrarily? These are a couple of the questions a property law course answers, by teaching about the ownership of natural resources and landlord/tenant law. Other commonly-covered subjects include easements, intellectual property and eminent domain.

See the brief and engaging lessons on Property Law for a simple way to master the basic concepts in property law.

Torts

A tort is basically a reason why one person can sue another, usually because one party has harmed the other. This includes things like car accidents, a contractor that did shoddy work and buying defective products. A torts class typically covers the elements of negligence and liability, as well.

Check out Study.com's torts in business law lessons for more information on common causes of action.

Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is a study of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. An introductory class might cover the powers of the three branches of the federal government as they are laid out in the Constitution, as well as the amendments that give rise to the most litigation, like the due process clause or first amendment liberties.

If you need to brush up on your constitutional law basics, the lessons on Constitutional Law in the U.S. cover the most commonly cited constitutional amendments in short videos that take about five minutes each.

Additional Degree Requirements

Law schools allow students to choose their own courses for the second and third years. Students may be encouraged to take courses that cover topics that come up on the bar exam. Some law schools also offer focus areas or programs that allow students to pursue certain subjects in depth.

Most law schools require students to take additional specific classes or complete projects prior to graduation. This often includes completing two writing requirements, a substantial research paper and a smaller writing project. Nearly all law schools also require students to take a course in professional responsibility or ethics.

Some law schools also require:

  • Legal Research and Writing: A legal research and writing course teaches you how to think and write like a lawyer. This includes learning about the most common legal research techniques, such as interpreting statutes and finding case law, both in the library and online. Students often prepare mock pleadings, memoranda and appellate briefs. This course may include a moot court aspect.
  • Moot Court: Moot court is a trial trial - a chance for students to practice trial arguments in front of volunteer judges with nothing more than pride at stake. Typically, a team of two students prepare an appellate brief and compete against their fellow students for a prize or to go on to a national moot court competition, of which there are many.

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