Did you know the first law classroom scene from Legally Blonde was Civil Procedure? Well, neither did I until I actually took the class. However, Civil Procedure is a core class for most 1L students. It is important to understand the intricacies of the law and what happens in the background of your favorite legal dramas.
What Is Civil Procedure?
Well, Civil Procedure is just that, class on the procedure for civil law. This course takes you through the process of litigating a civil lawsuit and the intricacies surrounding it. Civil Procedure takes you through the federal civil lawsuit process, but professors usually try to explain differences between the federal and state processes. I know you may be thinking, “Why should I learn this if I don’t plan on being a litigator?” or “Why should I care about the federal procedure when I plan on dealing with only state courts?” Well, there are multiple answers to that. Not only is federal procedure important to understand in general, it affects all civil law (including state’s court rules). Also, as a core class, Civil Procedure is designed to help you start thinking critically as a lawyer. Thus, it is important for all students to take this class.
There are two approaches to learning Civil Procedure: top-down and bottom-up. The top-down approach focuses on the constitutional environment in which the individual lawsuit exists. This approach deals with the history of understanding the Constitution and the modern interpretation of Constitutional importance. The bottom-up approach deals with the life cycle of an individual lawsuit. This approach deals with how parties state their grievances and defenses, gather information and develop arguments, and come together to work towards a resolution. In order to fully understand Civil Procedure, you need to comprehend both approaches.
The Rules, i.e. the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Your figurative bible that deals with all that is Civil Procedure. This will be the focus of the bottom-up approach. You will learn the process of a civil lawsuit and how the Rules create standards that a lawyer must follow when filing and pursuing a lawsuit. The purpose of the Rules was to create one cause of action in civil law, civil action. Prior to the creation of the Rules, Courts required individuals to plead writs or codes as a cause of action in order to hear the case. Now, individuals do not have to worry about their lawsuit being thrown out for pleading the wrong code or writ, they are able to focus on the seeking relief for their claim. The main focus with the Rules will be how courts have interpreted the meaning behind the Rules and how they have affected lawsuits.
Jurisdiction, International Shoe and What?
So, these words sound scary but they will be the focus of one of your semesters of Civil Procedure. The top-down approach to Civil Procedure focuses on the Constitutional restrictions on civil litigation. Jurisdiction means the power to decide the law, meaning the power of a court to render a binding decision on a lawsuit. In order to hear a case, a court must have personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. You will learn about the specific intricacies of each type of jurisdiction and the leading cases that have changed how courts view jurisdiction. It is important to keep both types of jurisdiction straight because each have sub-categories and specific tests. This all can be a bit challenging for a new law student, but it is pretty straightforward once you look at the bigger picture.
Civil Procedure is a class that many students struggle with, especially in their first semester. The whole process can seem distant and confusing but this class does not have to be stressful for you. If you understand the Rules and what jurisdiction is, you have already fought half the battle. Things will definitely be challenging at first (especially if it is your first semester!) but as long as you work hard, Civil Procedure will be a piece of cake! If you need help understanding, get tutoring or purchase a supplement in order to fully grasp this difficult subject.
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