Your legal education will be shaped largely by two factors — your courses and your professors. In fact, these might even determine what area of law you decide to practice (or not practice) once you graduate.
As important as your law school courses and professors can be, you may not have much discretion in choosing among them. This is especially true during your first (1L) year when many law schools organize incoming students into cohorts, or sections, that have the same first-year schedules.
While you'll likely have more freedom to choose your second and third-year classes, your options could be constrained by limited course offerings or scheduling conflicts, especially if you have an internship or other extracurricular activities.
That being said, it's helpful to have an understanding of the types of classes you'll take in law school as well as the colorful personality types you may encounter among the faculty.
Typical First Year Law School Courses
Depending on where you end up going, you can usually find a law school's course information online. For example, UCLA School of Law not only posts its course list online but also schedules for the various first-year sections with links to faculty web pages. There's not a lot of flexibility with these fixed first-year schedules, although it may be possible to switch sections and schedules early in the year if required.
When it comes to your first-year classes, it's important to remember that these will typically include subject areas tested on the bar exam, such as:
First-year will also include a course on legal writing. In some programs, the legal writing course covers two semesters — giving students ample opportunities to develop their legal research skills and learn the writing styles required for legal briefs and the bar exam.
Course Scheduling Strategies
Getting through your first-year law courses is definitely an accomplishment, and it's true that things do get better, but you shouldn't take your eye off the ultimate prize — passing the bar exam. As a 2L and 3L, you'll likely have greater flexibility to choose your courses and professors with the choice of taking various electives. This is the time to take on upper-level courses that interest you or are relevant to the type of law you want to practice, such as:
- International law
- Criminal justice
- Immigration law
- Environmental law
- Intellectual property
- Civil litigation
- Health law
- Human rights law
- Administrative law
However, there are additional classes that are often considered "electives" in the course catalog but would be helpful to take before studying for the bar. These classes can include:
- Business Law
- Family Law
- Community Property
- Criminal Procedure
- Professional Responsibility
- Wills and Trusts
If you're looking to wrestle the bar exam right after you graduate, there are a few different strategies you may want to consider with respect to these additional bar courses. While you can spread them out over your 2L and 3L years, another approach would be to load most of them into your 2L schedule. This would hopefully give you more time in a less stressful third year to plot your post-graduation course and even start your bar preparation early.
Another option would be to load your 3L year with the additional bar courses so that they are fresh in your mind and you can maintain a high tempo leading into the bar exam. The downside, of course, is that this will leave less time for post-graduation planning. And you'll have less flexibility when you might also want to take on an externship or other work experience.
Many programs also require students to take an experiential learning course in advocacy during their second or third year. These courses allow students to dive deeper into legal practice and often include moot court-style trials.
Law School Faculty
Law professors come in all varieties, from the punctual and precise inquisitor to the disheveled brainiac who quotes footnotes from Supreme Court decisions with frightening ease. Although you'd think it would be hard to quantify the qualities of a good professor, some have tried.
Regardless of whether your school ranks as great, terrible, or in between for teachers, as a 1L, you'll need to learn the personalities of your professors quickly. But keep in mind that law school, like the courtroom, does involve some degree of theatrics. Your professors may put on a show during the first few weeks of law school to set the tone for the class or to fulfill some unspoken duty of initiation. Whatever the reason, just know that most professors are friendly and helpful and can be an incredible resource for you during and after law school.
The best way to find information about faculty members is to speak with a 2L or 3L who took the class before you. Or, better yet, to meet with the professor during office hours when the stage lights are off. This is not only a good time to review your class questions, but also to learn about curricular and extracurricular opportunities.
Your Next Steps
Getting into law school and surviving law school are two very achievable outcomes made easier with the right preparation. Whether you're considering law school in the future or are in the thick of it now, the attorneys at FindLaw for Law Students have the information, resources, and the benefit of hindsight to help you achieve your goals.