Every time a new semester rolls around, assembling your schedule can feel like a game of academic roulette. You may spend hours concocting DIY algorithms for finding the perfect paper-to-exam ratio, then fall down a rabbit hole of professor ratings and reviews for a few days. And when the time comes to actually register for classes, it can be a glitch-ridden race of getting into a coveted class that threatens to fill up within 30 seconds. On top of this looms the question of which classes you actually want to take.
Opinions on which classes to take during law school differ widely, and depend a lot on your career goals, your school, whether you are a part-time or full-time student, your learning style, and your personality. For example, some schools may limit their options strictly to doctrinal classes, whereas others may offer more theoretical or experimental opportunities. Additionally, you may have anxiety about bar exam study and choose to frontload those classes during law school in order to put your mind at ease. Or, you may just really like a certain professor and want to take their class regardless of how it relates to the rest of your life. So, deciding which classes to take is both subjective and circumstantial.
That’s why, instead of “should-ing” you about classes, we have instead assembled a sort of menu of options that you may want to incorporate into your schedule. At the end of the day, while law school can feel like a neverending slog, you only have six semesters on average to get the most out of it. So, here are some ways to think about classes that can help you do that.
The most frequently asked question about choosing classes tends to be whether you should prioritize classes that will end up on the bar exam that you are taking. While there is no straight answer to this, there are some things you might want to consider.
First of all, are you going to law school in the state where you plan on taking the exam? The usefulness of a bar class may dissipate somewhat if you are not learning the subject within the context of the state where you will eventually sit for the exam.
The second thing to consider is your own learning style. Most students will go straight from law school graduation to a bar study course, which is designed to teach you enough law to pass the bar exam as though you never encountered the tested subjects before. While this may be sufficient for many bar takers, others want the cushion of knowing that they aren’t seeing the material for the first time.
For the most part, you will not be seeing this stuff for the first time. A bulk of tested subjects are commonly offered as 1L mandatory classes. For the more state-specific subjects, consider your own capacity for and comfort with learning something from scratch within an eight-to-ten week timeframe. You may not feel the need to take all of the doctrinal classes that appear on the bar exam, but if you preview some of the subjects and one in particular makes you nervous, then it may be worth the peace of mind to take it during law school.
It bears remembering, however, that learning and writing for the bar exam looks quite different from law school. So, even if you take a class that will be tested on the bar exam, there will still be an element of “re-learning” once the bar exam actually rolls around.
Launch Your Career
While there are few classes that prepare you more for legal practice than clinics (more on those in Part II!), there are classes that can help you feel more substantively acquainted with the work you want to pursue. A straightforward example is that students who work at law firms are likely to take Corporations. Similarly, students who want to get into criminal practice tend to enroll in Criminal Procedure. While taking classes that offer up the substantive foundations for your work won’t guarantee that you’ll be an expert on day one at the office, it is a great way to start building your confidence around that practice area.
Additionally, some employers want to see that job candidates coming straight out of law school have at least a basic working knowledge of their substantive field. This tends to be the common narrative around taking Federal Courts if you’re pursuing a clerkship. This approach can also be a boost if you want to demonstrate interest that isn’t immediately apparent from your resume.
Further, taking classes that relate directly to the law you think you want to practice can help you make a decision about whether that’s actually the direction you want to go in after law school. If you were considering being a family lawyer, but then found yourself hating all things family law once you took the class, that may be useful information once you start applying for jobs after school.
That said, don’t let class be a deciding factor when it comes to your dreams! For example, if you’ve always wanted to be a public defender, but didn’t do so great academically in your Evidence class, that does not mean that you won’t be an amazing public defender. The distance between study and practice is a significant one, and grades do not correlate with your skills as an attorney. The purpose of these classes is for you to build familiarity with the practice area, further develop your interests, and guide your decision-making – not to make your decisions for you.
In the next part, we’ll go over three more categories of classes that can help round out your law school experience and your preparation for that upcoming lawyering life!
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