1.10 Course Planning

Each spring and summer, the Law School makes a tentative determination about which classes[1] will be offered in the following year and who will teach them. Suggestions for new course offerings should be brought to the attention of the Registrar.

J.D. Program – Overview

The First Year

Students in the first year take a prescribed program covering five principal branches of the law—contracts, torts, property, criminal law, and civil procedure. In addition to providing a general foundation of legal knowledge, the program is intended to cultivate legal reasoning skills and to foster an understanding of the development of the law through judicial decisions and statutory interpretation. Instruction in the first year primarily centers on class discussion of judicial decisions (known as the “case method”). In addition to the traditional first-year offerings, all first year students take a course unique to the Law School called Elements of the Law. Elements considers legal issues and their relationships to other fields of thought such as philosophy, economics, and political theory. Each spring, first-year students also can choose an elective from one of 6-8 offerings. These elective courses are also open to other students.  A Dean’s Award is awarded to the best exam in each required first-year class.

All first-year students participate in the legal research and writing program under the supervision of one of the six Bigelow Teaching Fellows (see section 1.4). The legal research and writing class introduces students to standard legal research tools and techniques and requires students to write a series of legal memoranda and briefs. In the spring quarter, each student prepares an appellate brief and participates in an oral argument. The Joseph Henry Beale Prize is awarded to a student in each section of the first year legal research and writing program whose work is judged to be most worthy of special recognition.  Another prize (its name changes to reflect the name of the law firm sponsoring the award) is awarded to a student in each section of the first year legal research and writing program whose spring quarter brief is judged to be most outstanding and deserving of recognition. 

The Second and Third Years

Classes after the first year are all elective.  Prior to graduation, however, all J.D. students must complete classes that meet requirements set by the American Bar Association, including experiential classes and a professional responsibility class.  Additionally, students must complete two writing requirements, which are described in more detail in section 1.14.

Students have freedom to tailor their programs to their own interests and needs, although all students are expected to design programs that will provide them with a strong foundation in the standard subject areas of the law. Students also should find some area or areas to pursue in special depth and breadth, either because of particular career inclinations or for the intellectual value that goes with striving for the competence of the expert. Students are advised against excessive specialization, however, as lawyers are not expected to be specialists when they graduate from law school, and it is impossible to foresee future career changes and challenges. The freedom of the elective policy places responsibility on students to develop a coherent program that provides a sound general background and meets individual interests and objectives. Some specific considerations are set forth below in the section on Selecting Classes. Students receive additional guidance on course selection autumn from the Deputy Dean and the Dean of Students in August before their second year of law school.  Students also are encouraged to consult with the Deputy Dean, the Dean of Students, the Associate Director of Student Affairs, members of the faculty, Career Services staff, or the Registrar for additional guidance on their programs.

As should be clear from the offerings descriptions, the Law School believes in an integrated curriculum. History, economics, other social sciences, and the humanities are often useful (and indeed indispensable) for a better understanding of legal materials. They are not just appended (in the style of “law and ...”), but constitute an integral part of legal analysis.

The curriculum at the Law School changes from year to year as faculty members are encouraged to experiment with new course offerings. In addition, courses and seminars available in a given year are determined in part by the composition of the faculty and the availability of visitors and lecturers. As a result, the curriculum may vary substantially from year to year. Accordingly, students are encouraged to take classes when they are offered rather than risk missing out on a class.

While there can be no assurance that a class offered one year will be offered the following year, a core group of courses is typically offered each year, including: Administrative Law, Antitrust, Bankruptcy and Reorganization: The Federal Bankruptcy Code, Business Organizations/Business Associations/Corporation Law, Constitutional Law I, Constitutional Law II, Constitutional Law III, Copyright, Criminal Procedure I: The Investigative Process, Federal Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Federal Courts, Securities Regulation, Introductory Income Taxation, Labor Law, classes in Law and Economics, Legal Profession, Public International Law, Secured Transactions, and Corporate Tax I and II.

Selecting Classes[2]

Selecting Second Year Classes

Although no specific courses are required during the second year, certain courses are considered foundational and commonly are taken by a large number of students in the second rather than the third year. These courses include: Administrative Law, Business Organizations/Business Associations/Corporations, Constitutional Law I, Evidence, and Introductory Income Taxation.

In planning a program, students should consider some courses to be predicates for more advanced work in the same general field. In the field of business law, for example, a second-year student should consider taking Business Associations/Business Organizations/Corporation Law and Corporate Tax I, which provide a basis for advanced work in the third year in such courses as Bankruptcy and Reorganizations, Business Strategy and Securities Regulation.  Administrative Law most often has been taken as a second-year course, since it is a survey of general principles in the field and thus forms a background for understanding the operation of administrative agencies and procedures in a variety of special subject areas, such as labor law, securities regulation, taxation, public utility regulation, the communications industry, etc. Students who plan to take Trial Advocacy or to work intensively in a Clinic program typically take Evidence, and possibly a course on criminal procedure, in the second year.

It is important that students strike a sensible balance in structuring their program between traditional courses such as Business Associations/Business Organizations/Corporation Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence and Tax on the one hand, and seminars, workshops, and more specialized courses such as Art Law and Legal Interpretation, on the other. Students should try to divide their traditional classes between the second and third years to maintain this sense of balance. In addition, students are required to fulfill one of their writing requirements before the end of the second year.

Selecting Third Year Classes

The third year provides an opportunity for students to round out their knowledge of basic subject areas and to take courses in fields of special interest. It also should have distinct intellectual objectives, including (1) taking advanced classes in a field in which students have acquired some foundation in the second year; (2) taking classes that cut across subjects previously studied and emphasize the application of legal principles to concrete problems as they come to the lawyer in practice; and (3) interdisciplinary studies that help give students a broad and critical appreciation of legal institutions and their development.


Students may graduate at the end of all four University quarters, although the vast majority of students graduate at the conclusion of the spring quarter. Students wishing to graduate in Autumn, Winter, or Summer quarters must follow certain guidelines when selecting classes for their last quarter.

All papers for Summer, Autumn, and Winter candidates for graduation are due approximately two weeks prior to the University’s final grade submission deadline. Please check with the Registrar for details. These deadlines are firm and may not be over-ridden by faculty.


(1)        Students graduating in Autumn who need to complete Autumn coursework may not register for exam classes because final grades are due to the University prior to the start of final exams.

(2)        Depending on the academic calendar for the specific year, students graduating in Winter might be able to register for exam classes, provided that:

i)        The exams are take-home and self-scheduled or scheduled sufficiently early in the exam period; and

ii)      The student agrees to take the exam(s) at least one day before final grades are due to the University; and

iii)    The faculty member agrees to grade the exam so as to meet the University’s grading deadline.

Unless all three conditions are met, the Autumn rules above apply.

(3)        The Law School offers no Summer quarter classes for purposes of graduation, and students may not take Summer quarter classes in other University units and apply them towards the J.D. degree without written permission from the Dean of Students.  Students may, however, complete pending Law School work from prior quarters or enroll in classes required to fulfill graduation requirements of a dual or joint degree other than the J.D. degree and therefore officially graduate at the end of the Summer quarter. 

Students who graduate in the Summer, Autumn and Winter quarters may participate in and receive their diplomas during the University-wide Commencement ceremonies for their respective graduation quarter.  They also may participate in the Law School  Diploma & Hooding Ceremony subsequent to the quarter of their graduation, but they may not participate in the spring University-wide Commencement ceremonies, be issued an actual diploma during the following Law School Diploma & Hooding Ceremony, nor participate in the prior academic year’s Law School Diploma & Hooding Ceremony.

[1] Each year, the Law School has a broad array of offerings. For purposes of this Student Handbook, “classes” refers to all of the Law School’s offerings with a classroom component and includes courses, seminars, and simulations. “Courses” refers to those Law School’s offerings with a classroom component that are not seminars or simulations.

[2] Students receiving federal financial aid must demonstrate continuing progress in their program of study.  Student Loan Administration assesses progress by reviewing a student’s grades each quarter; specifically, SLA expects students on financial aid to have at least one graded class within 35 days of the conclusion of the exam period.  Thus, all students receiving financial aid are strongly encouraged each quarter to take at least one class that will be graded at the end of the quarter.