After your first year in law school, there is a wide range of classes from which you can choose. There are the traditional doctrinal courses, small discussion classes, clinics, policy projects, and more. At some schools, you can even choose an elective as early as the second semester or quarter of your first year. Thus, you can very actively shape your law school experience based on your interests and aspirations. At the same time, this may seem very daunting. For students who are not especially drawn to a certain practice area, they may be asking – where do I even start?
Here, I will share some practical considerations for picking your classes during law school.
1. Graduation requirements
It is always a good idea to know what requirements you need to satisfy in order to successfully graduate at the end of your three years. Every law school does things in its own way – for example, some require law students to complete research and writing requirements. Students can do so through seminar classes, directed research, or policy work. So pay close attention to your school’s website and resources, and ask questions early on if anything is unclear.
2. Classes you need as prerequisites
Certain upper-level classes require or encourage law students to have taken prerequisite courses, such as Introduction to Intellectual Property, Corporations, International Law, etc. Building a strong foundation in a subject area, typically through a survey class, will help you delve into a narrower topic and better understand the nuances of the relevant laws and policies.
3. Summer work or internship
You may already know what type of summer work you want to try. If that is the case, pick courses that will help alleviate the learning curve during the summer. You can refine certain legal skills or learn about a specific practice area.
4. Gaining practical experiences
Some have criticized law schools for not adequately preparing students for the real-world practice of law. In response, schools have been increasingly offering practice-oriented curriculum, whether through class, clinic, externship, or policy labs, in which students write client memoranda, draft demand letters, or transactional documents, negotiate settlements and deals, create and present policy proposals, and more. If you are hoping to get a balance between the academic and practical, it is a good idea to learn about and enroll in the more practice-heavy classes at your school.
5. Reputable professors
As you spend more time at your law school, you will learn more about members of the faculty – their teaching styles, personalities, enthusiasm in advocating for students, and academic interests. For any law student, especially those who are underrepresented in the profession, the support and mentorship of a professor can be very helpful, whether in choosing classes, deciding whether to engage in research, or applying for clerkships or fellowships. Students sometimes enjoy a professor so much that they will take multiple or all of their classes. To learn more about a particular faculty member, take advantage of course evaluations or word-of-mouth chatter. And don’t be afraid to use upperclassmen as a resource!
6. Exam or evaluation formats
Because professors have various teaching styles, they expect different things from their students and use a range of methods to evaluate performance. Though the grades for most law school classes remain largely determined by a traditional law school exam—the issue spotter—some professors incorporate other components in grading, such as research papers, peer review, participation, and presentations. You may prefer to stick with the exam format, or you may like the diversity of ways to test your understanding, to demonstrate your proficiency with the material, and to receive feedback from your professor and your peers. In addition, you may not want to be overwhelmed by three or four exams at the end of the term, but prefer a combination of examinations, papers, and presentations.
7. Teaching or research assistant
Alright, this is not technically a class, but serving as a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA) can also offer an incredibly rich learning experience. As a TA, you get to sit through a course a second time, explore the intricacies and hard questions, and learn from your students’ queries or points of confusion. You can also gain teaching experience from leading weekly sessions and answering individual questions. RAs have the opportunity to work closely with legal academics on cutting-edge issues in the legal world. They create useful content and understand how their contributions will prove useful for legal discourse and judicial decisions. I would highly recommend that you consider taking on these roles.
You have a lot of freedom to make the best of your law school years. I hope that you are able to take your favorite classes from your favorite teachers – best of luck!
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