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1.1 J.D. Program Degree Requirements

1L Program Requirements

Students in the first year take a prescribed program covering five principal branches of the law:

  • Contracts
  • Torts
  • Property
  • Criminal Law
  • 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 an introductory course unique to the Law School called Elements of the Law. Elements considers basic legal issues and their relationships to other fields of thought such as philosophy, economics, and political theory. All students complete the first year legal research and writing and experiential learning program under the supervision of one of the six Bigelow Teaching Fellows (see Section 2.13).

Each spring, all 1Ls take four courses. The first is a Constitutional Law class, which students bid on from a set of options. Those options are: (1) Constitutional Law I, which covers constitutional structure, separation of powers, and federalism; (2) Constitutional Law III, which covers the individual rights of equal protection and due process; and (3) Criminal Procedure I, which focuses on constitutional rights at issue in criminal investigations, i.e., searches, seizures, and interrogation. The second is a Statutory Law class, which students bid on from a set of options. The third is a Transactional class, which students bid on from a set of options. Finally, 1Ls will have a range of electives to choose from as their fourth spring course.

1L Awards

A Dean’s Award is awarded to the best exam in each required first-year class (excluding the spring electives). The Joseph Henry Beale Prize is awarded to a student in each section of the first year legal research and writing and experiential learning 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 whose spring quarter brief is judged to be most outstanding and deserving of recognition.

Requirements in 2L & 3L Year

Classes after the first year are all elective, with the exception of a class in professional responsibility, as required by the American Bar Association (“ABA”). There is no set quarter in which students must fulfill this requirement. Aside from the requirements of specific courses, however, all J.D. students must complete certain categories of classes that satisfy other requirements set by the Law School and the American Bar Association (“ABA”), as explained here.

The Law School requires all J.D. students to be in residence, full-time, for nine quarters of no fewer than nine credit hours per quarter. Each of those credit hours must be successfully completed (i.e., students must pass and receive credit toward their J.D. degree).[1]  J.D. students must complete and pass a minimum of 105 credit hours, and also must complete two substantial pieces of writing. Additionally, all J.D. students must complete eight credits of classes designated as meeting the ABA’s experiential learning requirement. 

After completing the first year, all J.D. students also must complete 40 credits in non-clinical Law classes or “core” classes.[2] Core classes are designated each quarter in the online course schedule at http://registrar.uchicago.edu/classes.[3] Credits earned through participation in journals and the Hinton Moot Court Competition count towards the 40 core credit requirement.  Please note, however, that first-year classes, including electives taken during the first year, do not count towards the 40 core credit requirement; the requirement is for classes taken during the second and third year. However, a student who takes a class designated a first-year elective during the student’s second or third year may count the class towards the 40 core credit requirement.

Students who have passed a state bar exam in the United States prior to matriculating in the J.D. program at the Law School may be exempt from certain required classes.  Such decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis by the Dean of Students and Deputy Dean depending upon legal coursework completed at other institutions.

Summary of J.D. Program Degree Requirements

  • A minimum of 105 total credit hours completed and passed
  • 39 hours[4] of required first year coursework
  • 40 core credit hours in the second and third years
  • Students must be in residence, full-time, for nine quarters of no fewer than nine credit hours per quarter
  • Two upper level writing projects (WP and SRP)
  • Successful completion of a class designated as meeting the professional responsibility requirement
  • Successful completion of eight credit hours of coursework designated as meeting the experiential learning requirement pursuant to ABA Standard 303.*

*Students will receive two experiential learning credits in the spring of their first year as part of their Legal Research, Writing, and Advocacy course. Heading into their second year, students are strongly encouraged to choose a pathway of courses that will allow them to complete at least six more experiential learning credits by the end of their second year, for a total of 8 experiential learning credits by graduation.

[1]Furthermore, failure to complete nine credits during a quarter may trigger an obligation to return student loans, if the loans require a student to maintain full-time status.

[2] Students who transfer into the J.D. degree program from the Law School’s LL.M. program must complete 20 core credits. Students in the 3 year JD/MBA program must complete 35 core credits. Students who earn simultaneous J.D./Ph.D. degrees from the Law School must complete 30 core credits.

[3] Faculty members defined as core for purposes of this requirement are permanent faculty at the University of Chicago Law School, Visiting Faculty, Emeriti, members of the Clinical faculty, Professors from Practice, Senior Lecturers at the Law School, and, when teaching a course in the Law School, assistant, associate, and full University of Chicago professors (such as Booth faculty teaching in the Doctoroff program). Lecturers in Law will be deemed core only in exceptional circumstances when so designated by the Deputy Dean because they are teaching a foundational course normally reserved for permanent faculty. Bigelow and other Fellows, as well as Lecturers in Law, are excluded in all other circumstances.   

[4] Students who matriculated prior to Autumn 2020 are required to have 40 hours of first year coursework